Saturday, December 25, 2010

NFL Week 16 Picks: Atlanta Falcons Look Good in Showdown with New Orleans

AP Photo/Nell Redmond

Week 16 means its crunchtime in the NFL. Four teams have clinched playoff berths and more are at stake this weekend.

The highlight of the week: Atlanta against New Orleans on Monday Night Football. Last year's Super Bowl champion goes up against the current division leader. The game is a great chance for the Falcons to show that they are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl this year.

Who else will win?

Carolina (2-12) at Pittsburgh (10-4)

Thursday on Twitter I picked Pittsburgh to win.

Dallas (5-9) at Arizona (4-10)

Instead of building some momentum off a big win against the Broncos in Week 14, they scored only 12 points and lost to the then one-win Panthers.

The Cowboys have played much better and much more competitive since Wade Phillips was fired.

Dallas wins.

New England (12-2) at Buffalo (4-10)

New England has beaten almost all the top teams in the NFL this season. They’ve won six in a row, including games against the Steelers, Colts, Jets and Bears.

The Bills aren’t one of those teams, but they are competitive. The Patriots won’t take them lightly, especially a divisional match on the road. But can the Patriots play at that high a level every week? Especially that patchwork defense?

Buffalo wins.

New York Jets (10-4) at Chicago (10-4)

The Jets had a big win against Pittsburgh last week and if they can beat the Bears they’ll make the playoffs.

Outside of the NFC West, the Bears have the worst home record of any division leader in the NFL.

New York wins.

Baltimore (10-4) at Cleveland (5-9)

The Browns are on a two-game losing streak coming at the hands that have fewer wins combined than the Ravens do.

Baltimore wins.

Tennessee (6-8) at Kansas City (9-5)

The Titans really came out and stuck it to the Texans last weekend, but the Chiefs are 6-0 at home.

Kansas City wins.

San Francisco (5-9) at St. Louis (6-8)

They hype of the division before the season was how the Niners would finally put it all together this season and win the division. They started out 1-6 but are within striking distance. They are 3-1 against the division.

San Francisco wins.

Detroit (4-10) at Miami (7-7)

The Dolphins, namely Dan Carpenter, blew it last week. Their defense has done their job though and a Lions’ offense led by Drew Stanton is not that potent.

Miami wins.

Washington (5-9) at Jacksonville (8-6)

The Jaguars are still tied for first in the division, but not clinching when they had the chance could come back to hurt them. They should be able to take out their frustrations on the Redskins, who are coming apart at the seams.

Jacksonville wins.

Indianapolis (8-6) at Oakland (7-7)

The Colts were able keep Maurice Jones-Drew in check last week, holding the Jags to only 67 yards rushing. The Raiders strength all season has been their running game, but no one is as good as Jones-Drew.

People have been casting the Colts out all season, but as long as Peyton is behind center they still have a chance. They’ve been in pressure situations before and have done well.

Indianapolis wins.

Houston (5-9) at Denver (3-11)

The Texans have lost three games in a row, giving up 30-plus in each of them. The Broncos, however, have lost five in a row and given up 30-plus in four of them. They also have had their own troubles at scoring, something that wasn’t the case in the beginning of the season.

Houston wins.

San Diego (8-6) at Cincinnati (3-11)

The Chargers are performing their usual late-season surge, winning six of their last seven games. They should make quick work of a bad Bengals team that will be without Terrell Owens, their leading receiver.

San Diego wins.

New York Giants (9-5) at Green Bay (8-6)

The Giants defense has been destorying quarterbacks all season and either a woozy Aaron Rodgers or an inexperienced Matt Flynn will have a long day.

New York wins.

Seattle (6-8) at Tampa Bay (8-6)

Seattle is stronger at home than on the road, and west-coast teams have a hard team travelling east.

The Bucs may be without a number of players, but LeGarrette Blount is playing and playing extremely well. Tampa is eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

Tampa Bay wins.

Minnesota (5-9) at Philadelphia (10-4)

The Vikings quarterback situation has been disastrous all season, while the Eagles’ has been magnificent. Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy (with a sprinkling of Brent Celek) have combined for an electric offense.

Philadelphia wins.

New Orleans (10-4) at Atlanta (12-2)

Atlanta is seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per game, is in the top five in turnover differential and has given up the fewest penalties. The team is undefeated at home this season and Matt Ryan is 19-1 in Atlanta throughout his career.

New Orleans is a good team, but Atlanta has been the most consistent.

Atlanta wins.

This week: 1-0

Last Week: 9-7

Season: 139-85

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011 NFL Mock Draft: Who Do The New England Patriots Pick With First Six Picks?

AP Photo/Dave Martin

With the help of trades, the New England Patriots have six draft picks in the first three rounds of the 2001 NFL Draft.

There are so many variables to the draft this far away: final draft position, the Patriots tendency to trade picks and whether juniors will enter the draft or return to college for their final season.

Anything can happen in the draft. Sure things become busts (Ryan Leaf) and unknowns grow into legends (Tom Brady). Still there are some positions the public knows the Patriots need to shore up. With so many picks so early in the draft the Patriots could really add some young firepower to a team that already holds the best record in the NFL.

Having that many picks also means the team can gamble on a player or two. Also working in favor of the Pats is that there is a glutton of offensive lineman and pass rushers, two things the team could really use.

Who are some potential targets?

Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

The rumor mill has it that Bill Belichick wants to draft a running back. The team has a lot of free agents at the position (as well as players at the end of their careers), so they could grab someone for depth purposes. If they want a new starter though, they should take Ingram early.

The former Heisman Trophy winner is a bulky runner who runs hard and efficiently. He also is solid in the passing game too—although his blocking could improve. He has a good skill set and is strong enough where he can step in and be productive immediately.

Many liken him to Maurice Jones-Drew or Ray Rice. He would be an added weapon to the Patriots offense.

Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue

Kerrigan’s senior-year campaign—leading the nation with 26 tackles for losses and had 12.5 sacks—may have jumped him on the big board just out of the Patriots’ reach, but if he’s around he is a player that they need to seriously look at.

His stats prove that he can get to the quarterback. He has an array of moves and can come at the quarterback from many different angles, something the Patriots defense in the years of the Super Bowl champion teams did very well.

Kerrigan is applauded for his non-stop motor. He may be a little small for the end position in the 3-4 (6’4”, 263 pounds), but he has the skills New England needs.

Brandon Harris, CB, University of Miami

It seems like the Patriots have taken a corner early in the draft for the past few years, but you can’t stockpile enough players at the position. The Patriots learned that the hard way this year. When Leigh Bodden went down with an injury in the preseason, many youngsters were thrust into the position, possibly not yet ready.

Some of those players have struggled (i.e. Darius Butler). The unit as a whole has been good enough to bend but not break.

Bodden should be coming back, but that would give another youngster—hopefully—the proper time to develop.

Harris is rated as one of the top corners and should be available in the middle of the first round.

Nate Solder, T, Colorado

The futures of Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins, and Matt Light are up in the air. Even if they do return, it would not be wise to not groom eventual replacements, akin to how the linebacker corps was depleted when Teddy Bruschi, Junior Seau and Willie McGinnest left.

Solder is a mammoth tackle, standing at 6’9” and weighing in at 315 pounds. He is a finalist for the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and many scouts say he could start immediately, which may be a necessity.

Allen Bailey, DE, University of Miami

For the past couple of years, the Pats have had difficulty rushing the passer. He would be a nice big end in the 3-4 defense that is powerful enough to create pressure.

The 6’4”, 288-pound end has increased his tackle totals each year and has sacked the quarterback seven times in each of the past two seasons.

Gabe Carimi, T, Wisconsin

Carimi, the Outland Trophy winner, is another lineman with plenty of size. The tackle is 6’7” and weighs 327 pounds.

The Badgers had one of the best running games in the nation; they are the only team to have three players rush for 800-plus yards. Part of that success is thanks to the strong offensive line, which Carimi is the anchor of. The team has allowed only 11 sacks to starting QB Scott Tolzien as well.

Carimi is extremely durable, starting every game this season.

Jeremy Beal, DE/OLB, Oklahoma

Beal led the Big 12 in tackles for losses and was second in sacks. He was named the 2010 Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.

He’s good decent speed, but he really just knows how to get to the quarterback. He started every game as a sophomore in 2008 and registered 11 sacks last season.

He hustles all over the field and creates some turnovers. When he can’t get to the quarterback he has good awareness and quick enough hands to deflect passes.

Stefan Wisniewski, G/C, Penn State

Wisniewski’s flexibility on the line could come in handy for the Patriots.
Scouts say he doesn’t have great size or upside, but that he does have good technique, a strong work ethic, and has a high football IQ.

He is quick and has quick hands. His father and uncle played in the NFL.

Many say he would be a good fit for the Patriots at the position because of his intelligence and awareness and ability to compete against top competition.

Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple

He is a huge end, listed as 6’5” and weighing 305 pounds, so he has the ideal size for an end in the 3-4 defense.

He is known for being good at getting through blockers and getting to the quarterback and also takes on double teams well. This season he registered 10 sacks.
Wilkerson played on a team that went undefeated, so he knows what it takes to win which is a valuable intangible.

Some project him to go in the second or third round.

Ben Ijalana, OL, Villanova

Rumor has it that Pats scouts have visited Villanova a few times this season and Ijalana could be the guy they were looking at.

He’s got good size—6’4” and weighs 320 pounds. He is known to have a mean-streak and good footwork.

He also plays both tackle and guard, and does each well.

Clint Boling, OL, Georgia

Boling is another lineman that is capable of playing every position on the line except for center. He has good footwork and is strong, but not necessarily quick.

Still, his versatility and awareness are qualities that would fit well with the Pats.

Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon

The brother of Packers sack-sensation Clay Matthews, he is a little under-the-radar. His brother didn’t come into the draft with an extensive amount of hype, but he’s performed.

Matthews has a strong football pedigree and has started the past three seasons. This year he ranks fifth in the entire nation in fumble recoveries.

He’s a smart player who showcases strong leadership and he could develop into an important piece to the Patriots defense in the years to come.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Home Improvement: New England Patriots Offseason Needs

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The New England Patriots are tied for the best record in the NFL right now at 11-2, but there is always room for improvement.

It’s important to let the season play out, but it’s never too early to start planning ahead on what areas of the roster the team could improve in.

With age, depth and potential free agents it would definitely be good for the Pats to beef up their roster.

Here are the areas of biggest need:

Corner Back

Leigh Bodden’s season-ending preseason shoulder injury really exposed the lack of depth at the position. They have a number of young inexperienced guys that they liked, but that need to go through trial by fire rather than take time to develop.

They have grown a little and some guys like Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington have done some solid work. However, they have gone through considerable growing pains and coverage has been spotty.

Again they have gotten a little better as the season has gone on, and they have done enough lately, but it could certainly help to bring in a solid veteran to add depth. The return of Leigh Bodden should help with that.


Patrick Chung has really stepped up this year and played well. He’s been a nice surprise. Brandon Meriweather has been up and down though this season, not even a starter the first couple weeks of the year.

The team will have three safeties enter free agency this offseason: Josh Barret, Jarrad Page and Brandon McGowan.

Adding someone not only to give depth in the position, but who could also be an improvement over the current starters, most likely Meriweather.

Offensive line depth

The Patriots let their defensive unit, specifically their linebackers, get old without developing young talent underneath them. So when guys like Junior Seau and Teddy Bruschi retired the unit was left depleted.

The Patriots can’t let that happen to their offensive line, especially with the impending free agencies of Logan Mankins and Matt Light.

Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connelly have filled in nicely when Light and Mankins have missed games so it’s a good start. But it would help to add guys behind Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal. Kaczur will be thirty next season and was on the PUP list for most of this season. Neal will be 35-years-old next season and in the last year of a two-year deal he signed this offseason.

It’s time to start grooming the next generation that will protect Tom Brady.

Running back depth

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have been extremely underrated this season. No one expected much from them this season—Woodhead wasn’t even on the opening day roster—but they have been extremely productive. They have complemented each other well and their skills have really balanced out the offense.

The situation is that BGE, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor will all be free agents at the end of the season. BGE has earned not only an extension, but a shot at competing for the starting job, but does the front office believe he’s the long-term answer? Especially if other teams are willing to pay him for his services?

Faulk and Taylor have battled injuries this year and are nearing, if not at, the end of their careers.

It’s hard to believe that all of them will return, so depth will be an issue. And the team could look to go in a different direction with their starting running back, regardless if they bring back BGE or not.

Defensive line

The pass rush has been average, but needs to be more potent. You get what you expect from Vince Wilfork, but that’s about it. Again, injuries have hurt this unit as Ty Warren was placed on the IR and Myron Pryor has missed the previous five games with a back injury.

Ron Brace, Mike Wright and Brandon Deaderick—not the most famous or impactful of players, but certainly play a part in the depth of the team—have all missed games this season.

Gerard Warren will be a free agent at the end of the year, but the team may be looking to replace him anyway.

Improvements in this unit, specifically a good rusher off the edge, would be welcome.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week 15 NFL Picks

If there was any reason why an 18-game schedule should be opposed by the NFL owners it’s the health of their players, especially the quarterbacks. Potentially 12 teams could be starting a player at quarterback who was one of the backups when the season began. Nineteen teams in total have used more than one quarterback this season.
Some of the changes have to deal with inadequacy, but still it has been a revolving door at the position this year, more so than in any year in recent memory. Now Week 15, some of those changes come at the most crucial times in playoff races.

Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers and Kansas City without Matt Cassel are two real possibilities this week, and it’s hard to imagine their backups picking up the slack.

Here are the Week 15 picks, home team listed in all caps, the predicted winner listed first.

SAN DIEGO over San Francisco (Picked on Twitter on Thursday)

Cleveland over CINCINNATI

DALLAS over Washington

Houston over TENNESSEE

INDIANAPOLIS over Jacksonville

ST. LOUIS over Kansas City

MIAMI over Buffalo

TAMPA BAY over Detroit

Arizona over CAROLINA

New Orleans over BALTIMORE

Philadelphia over NEW YORK GIANTS

Atlanta over SEATTLE

New York Jets over PITTSBURGH

OAKLAND over Denver

NEW ENGLAND over Green Bay

Chicago over MINNESOTA

This Week: 1-0

Last Week:11-5

Season: 130-78

Sunday, December 12, 2010

NFL Week 14 picks

Week 14 and it is really December. The weather outside is frightful. The snow is coming and in Minnesota, it collapsed the roof of the Metrodome and forced the Giants and Vikings to play their game Monday Night now, in Detroit.

Does the extra time help Brett Favre continue his consecutive games streak/get healthy enough to be productive?

Will the bad weather help out the rush-first teams, favoring them over the pass-happy ones?

Home team listed in all caps, winning team put first.

Indianapolis over TENNESSEE (picked on Twitter on Thursday)

Cleveland over BUFFALO

Green Bay over DETROIT

PITTSBURGH over Cincinnati

WASHINGTON over Tampa Bay

Atlanta over Carolina


SAN FRANCISCO over Seattle

NEW ORLEANS over St. Louis

Miami over NEW YORK JETS

Denver over ARIZONA

SAN DIEGO over Kansas City

CHICAGO over New England

Philadelphia over DALLAS

New York Giants over MINNESOTA

Baltimore over HOUSTON

This Week: 1-0

Last Week: 10-6

Season: 119-73

Friday, December 10, 2010

UEFA Champions League Best XI

AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos

The world, especially the 16 clubs hoping to win the UEFA Champions League, awaits the drawing for the knockout round.

While the suspense will hang for another week, it is a perfect time to take a look at the best players from the group stage.

With the top teams in Europe competing there was a slew of talented players who put together great performances.

What follows is the Best XI.

Manuel Neuer, Schalke 04, GK

The 24-year-old German International has played in all six of Schalke’s games. He’s only surrendered three goals the entire phase and has kept three clean sheets.

Schalke won Group B, and their defense—headed by Neuer—played a huge role in the team’s success.

Things didn’t start off as well as the team would’ve hoped, losing the first game to Lyon 1-0, but Neuer and the rest of the squad bounced back with a 2-0 clean sheet over Benifica in their next game. The Lyon game would be their only loss of the stage.

Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea, D

Group F was tightly contested, but Chelsea rose to the top of the heap by three points.

Ivanovic, a Serbian International, was the only defender that played in all six games of the group stage—and 90 minutes each time out—providing some much needed consistency to the squad.

He got involved in the offense a bit as well, taking seven shots. He had his biggest game in the second match against Spartak Moskva. Ivanovic scored two goals in the 4-1 victory.

Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United, D

Vidic only played in four games for Group C champion Manchester United, but the towering defender makes his presence known each time he is out on the pitch.

When Vidic was on the field, Man U gave up only one goal. The team really needed Vidic’s talent on the backline early on, as the first two games he played in, United won by scores of only 1-0.

One of those games was against runners-up Valencia. The result proved to be vital as Valencia finished only three points behind the Red Devils.

Gareth Bale, Tottenham, D

Group A was won by only one point, but it was Tottenham who came out on top.

It was a good turnaround for the club who needed a playoff with Young Boys to even reach the group stage. Tottenham lost the first leg 3-2, with Bale registering an assist, but then they won the next match 4-0 where Bale dished out three more assists.

He played every game in the group stage, going the full-90 in all but one of them (he came out in the 81st minute of a 3-0 victory over Bremen). He would tally four goals, three of which actually came in a 4-3 loss to runners-up Inter Milan, and two assists.

He was the team’s leading goal scorer.

Xavi, FC Barcelona, M

Another Ballon d’Or finalist, Xavi has become one of the best midfielders and players in the world.

He is the general on the field for Barca. So far in Champions League he has made five appearances and added one assist. However his class, talent and experience help bring the team to a different level.

Darijo Srna, Shakhtar Donestsk, M

Shakhtar Donestsk was a surprise group winner, taking Group H with 15 points, and midfielder Srna was instrumental to that success.

A key player in the midfield he started every game and played every minute. He scored the game winning goal against Partizan in the first match of the stage. He then tallied an assist in each of the last three games, all wins. The first victory in that streak was a 2-1 win over second-place finishers Arsenal.

Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona, M/F

One of the finalists for the Ballon d’Or, Messi led the way for Group D champion Barcelona.

Messi’s brilliant play has been on display, per usual. He’s played in all six games, is second in the Champions League in goals scored (6) and added an assist.
He was the only Barca player to score against Kobenhavn, in a 2-0 victory and a 1-1 tie.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid, M/F

Real Madrid won group G, finishing undefeated, scoring the most points and having the highest goals differential.

Ronaldo led the way playing in all six games, scoring four goals and adding two assists. The team was dominating in all phases of the game, and this creative midfielder was at the forefront of that pressure.

He led the group stage in shots taken and he really pressed the issue. One of the best players in the game, Ronaldo has been exemplified Madrid’s dominance.

Mario Gomez, Bayern Munich, F

Bayern won Group E and were third in Champions League group stage in goals scored.
Gomez was one of only five players for the team to play in all six games, but he gave no reason to be taken off the pitch.

Gomez scored six goals, tied for second most in the entire tournament. He also added an assist.

He scored a hat trick in the fourth game, a 4-0 win over CFR Cluj.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, AC Milan, F

Milan just squeaked out of the group phase, but they made it. Ibrahimovic was, and has been, Milan’s best player.

Only three players played all six games and Ibrahimovic was one of them. In six games he led the team with four goals scored. The team had a total of only seven, so he provided more than half of their offensive productivity.

Samuel Eto’o, Inter Milan, F

The runners up of Group A had the fantasy stud of the group stage of the tournament.
Eto’o led all players in goals scored, netting seven. He added three assists and was a workhorse, playing every minute of every game.

He had his best game in a 4-0 win over Werder Bremen, scoring a hat trick on three shots, and adding an assist.

Top 10 Small Players in NFL History

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Great literary mind Mark Twain once said, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of fight in the dog.”

The NFL may be full of larger than life players, but there is certainly room for the little guys, and these players certainly play by that motto.

Little engine that could Danny Woodhead has helped energize the New England Patriots running attack. He is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and the Pats are tied for the league’s best record at 10-2.

Woodhead has been impressive, but he’s only the newest in a long line of players that have proved great things can come in small packages.

Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mentions include Joe Morris (RB), Maurice Jones-Drew (RB) Danny Woodhead (RB/WR), Darren Sproles (RB), Ray Rice (RB), Zach Thomas (LB) Warrick Dunn (RB) and Wes Welker (WR).

Bob Sanders, S

Even though he is only 5’8”, Sanders is known as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the NFL, earning nicknames like “The Hitman” and “The Eraser.”

He has had injury issues throughout his seven-year career, but he is a two-time Pro-Bowler, and a two-time All-Pro. He was named 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was the anchor of the defense that turned itself around and guided the Colts to their victory in Super Bowl XLI.

Steve Smith, WR

He’s only 5’9” but over his 10-year career, Smith has been one of the most productive wide receivers in the league as well as one of the fastest.

Smith’s biggest season came in 2005. A year removed from a broken leg, he returned and won the “Triple Crown” of receiving, leading the NFL in 1,563 yards receiving, 103 receptions and 12 touchdowns. He also won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith is a four-time Pro-Bowler and a three-time All-Pro selection.

Thurman Thomas (RB)

A Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2007, Thomas has a number of accolades to carry on his 5’10” frame.

He was a five-time Pro-Bowler, a three-time All-Pro selection, an NFL MVP in 1991 and was part of the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Team.

He spent 12 seasons with the Buffalo Bills (he ended his career with one season in Miami) and is the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons. An all-purpose back, Thomas finished with 12,074 yards rushing and 65 touchdowns and 4,458 yards receiving and 23 touchdown receptions.

Eddie LeBaron, QB

This 5’7” quarterback was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1950 and debuted two years later. He would be the team’s starting quarterback through 1959, when after the season he was picked by the Dallas Cowboys in an expansion draft. In Dallas, he started for two more seasons before becoming the backup to the recently deceased Don Meredith.

LeBaron was known to have a quick release and to scramble. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and is in the Washington Redskins Ring of Fame.

In the two-year gap from the time LeBaron was drafted and he made his debut, he served with the United States Marine Corps in the Korean Conflict. He was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and earned the nickname “Little General.”

Marshall Faulk, RB

The 5’10” former Indianapolis Colt and St. Louis Ram was the definition of an all-purpose player. He is the only player in NFL history to have both 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 yards receiving. He is the only player to have both 70 rushing touchdowns and 30 receiving touchdowns. He also holds the record for most two-point conversions (7).

In his 12 NFL seasons, he made the Pro Bowl seven times, was a First-team All-Pro three times, and NFL MVP in 2000, and won a Super Bowl.

The Rams retired his jersey in 2007 and this year he is eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Doug Flutie, QB

Nicknamed “The Wee One” growing up, Flutie, 5’10”, overcome the stereotype of tall quarterbacks to have a good career in football. He’s more famous for his time in college at Boston College and in the CFL, but he did have success in the NFL as well.

In 12 seasons in the league--his most successful stint being with the Buffalo Bills from 1998-2000-- he threw for 12,715 yards and 86 touchdowns.

In 19998, Flutie became the Bills’ starting quarterback five games into the season. He threw for 2,711 yards and had 20 touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl that season and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year, following an eight-season hiatus in Canada.

In 2005 with the Chargers he became the oldest player to score a touchdown (42 years and 71 days). Then in a game with the New England Patriots in 2006 Flutie attempted and made a drop kick for an extra point. It was the first time it was attempted in a regular-season NFL game since 1941 and Flutie was named Special Teams Player of the Week.

Darrell Green, CB

Nicknamed the “itty-bitty guy” and the “Ageless Wonder”, the 5’9” Green spent 20 seasons with the Washington Redskins, tying the record for most seasons spent with one NFL team.

Green amassed 1,159 tackles and 54 interceptions throughout his career. He holds the record for most seasons with at least one interception, picking off a pass in every season except his final one.

He’s a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, a four-time All-Pro, a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team and won the Super Bowl twice.

He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2008.

Barry Sanders, RB

Standing at 5’8”, Sanders is regarded as one of the best running backs in the history of football. The three-time NFL rushing leader is third all-time in career rushing yards. In 1997 he was named co-MVP along with Brett Favre.

He abruptly retired from football following the 1998 season, but he walked away from the game healthy and in 2004 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of only two players (Gale Sayers) to be inducted while still in his 30’s.

Emmitt Smith, RB

Coming out of high school, many thought that at 5’9” Smith was too small and too slow to make an impact on a higher level. He only went on to gain the most rushing yards in the history of the NFL.

His 18,355 yards rushing rank him first all-time, as do his 164 career rushing touchdowns. He’s been to the Pro Bowl eight times, been selected to the All-Pro first team four times, been a Super Bowl champion three times, he’s won a league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP, was named to the 1990s All-Decade team, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year.

He’s also one of only two non-kickers (Jerry Rice) to score more than 1000 points in his career.

Walter Payton, RB

Before Emmitt broke his records, there was the 5’10” “Sweetness”.

A Chicago Bear-lifer, Payton ran for career totals of 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns. He was incredibly durable, missing only one game his entire 13-year career. He was the 1977 NFL MVP, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, and a first-team All-Pro six times. He also was part of a Super Bowl championship team.

Even though he wasn’t the biggest back, Payton played by the motto “never die easy.” He wouldn’t intentionally run out of bounds; instead he would extend the play and deliver some type of blow to the would-be tackler.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jayson Werth Isn't the First OF the Philadelphia Phillies Have Had to Replace

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Jayson Werth became a fan favorite in his four seasons with the Phillies, be it because of his great production on the field, his blue-collar attitude and hard work, or his beard.

Werth his 95 home runs, batted in 300 runs, and stole 60 bases. He was the power right-handed bat that balanced a lefty-dominated middle of the lineup. He also was very good defensively, both with his fielding and his arm.

He was very productive for the Phillies. So productive, in fact, he became too pricey to keep.

A free agent, Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals, numbers the Phillies were in no way going to compete with.

While the fan base is disappointed they won't be keeping their bearded right-fielder, they must remember that the team has lost fan-favorite outfielders before, replaced them without missing a step, and watched the decline of the by-gone outfielder's career.

It all started in 2006, when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu to the Yankees. Abreu was the Phillies star player, hitting as many as 31 home runs in a season and batting as high as .335. In seven full seasons with the Phillies, Abreu hit .300 or better in six of them.

In the four seasons after the trade, he hasn't hit over .300 and has averaged 17.8 home runs a season.

Not terrible numbers, but the Phillies did a good job of replacing him with Shane Victorino.

In the four seasons Victorino has been a full-time starter, the Phillies have made the playoffs each year. He's won three Gold Glove awards, and has been selected to one All-Star game. He's got tremendous speed on the basepaths and in the outfield, and he provides a ton of energy.

Aaron Rowand was the team's center-fielder in 2006 and 2007 and he cemented himself in Phillies' lore by running into a fence to make a catch against the Mets. He suffered a broken nose, but he made the catch, saved at least one run, and the Phillies went on to win the game 2-0.

His contract year of 2007, he finished career highs in home runs (27) and RBI (89). He signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the San Francisco Giants that offseason.

Rowand has not hit more than 15 home runs, batted in more than 70 runs, or hit higher than .271. In August of this previous season, he became a platoon player.

While he has fallen off the radar in San Francisco, the Phillies moved Victorino to center field and put Werth in right field.

And then there is Pat Burrell. Even though his last three seasons in Philly he couldn't hit higher than .258, he still had a lot of pop in his bat, hitting 29, 30, and 33 home runs. After finally winning a World Series after nine seasons with the franchise that drafted him first overall, he was not brought back and he moved on to Tampa Bay.

Burrell continues to struggle with his average, finishing 2009 with a .221 average and 2010 (with both Tampa and San Francisco) with a .252 average, and he also doesn't have the power numbers he used to put up, hitting 14 and 20 home runs with only 64 RBI both seasons.

The Phillies replaced Burrell with Raul Ibanez, who in his first season in Philadelphia hit 34 home runs, 93 RBI, and had a .272 batting average, along with being named to his first All-Star game. His home run total dramatically dropped last season to only 16, but he still drove in 83 runs and hit .275.

Maybe the change in ballpark goes into these players’ numbers dropping once they leave Philly, but none of those players were more popular on a national scene then when they were a Phillie. And when they left, their replacement rose to stardom.

So with Werth gone, who will take his place?

It could very well be an in-house candidate—most likely Ben Francsico, who came over from Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade, or farmhand Domonic Brown.

Francisco has been a solid contributor off the bench for Philadelphia, and he could, like Werth, get even better if he became an everyday player. Brown was named Major League Baseball's top prospect by Baseball America in 2010, and like Werth, is considered a five-tool player.

So while it may be disappointing to see Werth leave, the fans should trust that the organization will properly fill his spot in the lineup.

Jets vs. Patriots: 5 Reasons the Winner Will Go To Super Bowl XLV

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Monday Night Football between the archrival Patriots and Jets, both with the best record in the AFC has the feel of a championship game.

In many ways it is. A victory in this game would put the winner in pole position for the AFC East division title. It would also do the same for the team’s standing as the best team in the AFC.

And with the stakes extremely high, and some of the fiercest competition on the field, this game could go a long way, both logistically and mentally, to the victor reaching the Super Bowl.

The two best teams in the conference will duel it out, mano a mano, to see who has all the advantages.

Home Field Advantage

Both these teams have shown—this season, last season and in the recent past—that they can win anywhere. However, home field advantage would be big.

The Patriots finished last season undefeated at home (although it didn’t help them in the playoffs), and are 5-0 this season. The Jets aren’t perfect—their only two losses this season came at home—but they still have a winning record at home at 4-2, including a Week 2 win against the Patriots.

Also, the playoffs will be played in the winter, and in New York and New England that means adverse conditions. The only potential playoff team that is used to that type of weather would be Pittsburgh, and so far this season the Patriots have already beaten them, so it’s possible.


The number one seed in the playoffs, and the home field advantage that comes with it, was awarded to the team with the best record. The winner of the game Monday night will own the best record in the AFC. It may not end that, way, but they’re in good position to do so.

In the AFC, 18 of the 35 top seeds have reached the Super Bowl, and in the NFC 21 of them did that. It may not seem like an impressive number, but it is more than half. And that is one seed against the field. Break it down individually by seed number and the No. 1’s have the advantage.

Bye Weeks

With a win and having the best record, the winner will be one step closer to getting a first round bye. Every team would relish an extra week, but these two teams would absolutely make the most of it. Not only would they get an extra week to regroup and rest their weary bodies, but do you want to give Rex Ryan an extra week to rally the troops?

Do you want to give Bill Belichick an extra week to prepare and game plan?

The Patriots are 10-1 in the regular season after a bye under Belichick.

Battle Tested

The playoffs are when the best teams go up against each other. If a team isn’t at the top of its game or isn’t used to playing in the pressure-filled environment, then they usually wilt and their playoff trip is short.

This game pits two of the best teams duking it out against each other, for the second time this season. They are already playing the best competition and they know what it takes to win. They’ve played the two best teams already, and the Pats have also beaten the Ravens and Steelers. The Jets learned from their loss against the Ravens, and will look to establish dominance over the Steelers in two more weeks.

This game is nationally televised in primetime. The media markets are huge. The competition is fierce.

This is playoff football, and whoever wins will be better prepared for everything the postseason will have to offer.


A win for the Pats would be their fourth in a row, and it would be the Jets sixth in a row. Both teams have gutted out victories this season, even when they didn’t have their best stuff.

The Jets survived overtime scares from Detroit and Cleveland, then came from behind in the final seconds to beat the Texans.

The Jets are finding ways to win, no matter the cost.

People have doubted the Patriots all season, and this isn’t the most talented Patriots team they’ve had, especially when they traded away Randy Moss. A win against the Jets would mean that they would have beaten the three teams with the best records in the AFC.

It’s cliché, but if you can go into the playoffs playing your best football, you’re in good shape. The winner here would have the psychological advantage over teams, fully believing that they can and will beat anyone.

Jets vs. Patriots: You Look Familiar

AP Photo/Winslow Townson

Players and coaches in the AFC East are notorious for rotating amongst teams in the division. Especially prevalent is subjects switching sides in the heated rivalry between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.

In 1997, after the Jets were a league-worst 1-15, they were able to bring over Bill Parcells from the Patriots (not after sending them third and fourth round draft picks in 1997, a second in 1998, and a first in 1999).

Parcells switched benches and brought a number of coaching staff and players with him. One year later, the New York team signed running back Curtis Martin away from New England. Martin went on to be selected to three Pro Bowls and win one rushing title.

Now in 2010, the two teams meet on Monday Night Football, in a dead heat atop the division at 9-2. The winner of the game could go a long way to winning the division and possibly earning home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

So let’s take a look at those involved in the matchup that have been on both sides of the battle.

Matt Cavanaugh, Quarterbacks coach, Jets

Cavanaugh spent the first five of his 14 NFL seasons with the Patriots. He played in 52 games, but not as a starter until his third season with the team (1980). He had a 54 percent completion percentage, 3018 yards passing, 19 passing touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and three rushing touchdowns.

In 2009, Rex Ryan brought Cavanaugh in from the University of Pittsburgh as his quarterbacks coach.

Shawn Crable, LB, Jets

Crable was another 2008 third round pick by the Patriots. He was placed on injured reserve in 2008 and 2009. At the beginning of this season he was signed to the practice squad, then promoted to the 53-man roster September 25. He played in six games, made four tackles and half a sack, and was released November 16.

Three days later he was signed to the Jets practice squad.

Kevin O’Connell, QB, Jets

The Patriots selected O’Connell in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the highest they took a quarterback since Drew Bledsoe in the first round of 1993.
He played in two games, completed four of six passes for 23 yards, and was waived the following offseason.

He was picked up by the Detroit Lions on September 1, but was traded five days later to the Jets for a seventh round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

When the Jets played the Patriots on September 20, O’Connell was named a team captain. Although he didn’t play, it was said he provided inside information to the Jets on how the Patriots pick up opposing blitzes.

With a new two-year contract, O’Connell is currently on injured reserve after surgery on a torn labrum in his throwing arm.

Damien Woody, OL, Jets

Woody was a Pats first-round pick in 1999. He started in 76 games for the Patriots and was a member of the 2001 and 2003 Super Bowl champion teams, although he didn’t play in the 2003 Super Bowl because of a knee injury. He was also a Pro-Bowler in 2002.

He left the following offseason, signing a free agent deal with the Detroit Lions, started every game in 2004 and 2005, then missed most of 2006 while on injured reserve.

Woody signed a five-year contract with the Jets in 2008 and has started every single game for the Jets since (43 regular season games).

Corwin Brown, Defensive Backs coach, Patriots

Originally drafted by the Patriots as a player in 1993, he played with the Patriots through 1996. In 1997 he followed Bill Parcells from the Pats to the Jets, where in two seasons he recorded 29 tackles and one interception.

Brown began a coaching career in 2001, when he joined Virginia as a special teams coach. In 2004 he joined the Jets as a defensive backs coach for three seasons. After three more years at Notre Dame, Brown came back to where his professional career began, joining the Patriots staff as a defensive backs coach for Bill Belichick, who also coached him during his time with the Patriots and Jets.

Pepper Johnson, Defensive Line coach, Patriots

Famous as a player for his time with the New York Giants, with whom he began his career, Johnson—a Parcells and Belichick guy—rejoined the two with the other New York team, the Jets, for the final two seasons of his playing career.

He played 24 games as a Jet, registering 68 tackles, one sack and one interception.
In 2000, Johnson joined the Patriots coaching staff as an assistant linebackers coach. He’s moved up from there to inside linebackers coach to his current position of defensive line coach. Over the offseason, he was a possible candidate to become the new defensive coordinator before Belichick assumed the responsibilities.

Danny Woodhead, RB, Patriots

Woodhead was signed by the Jets in 2008 as an undrafted rookie out of NCAA Division II Chadron State College, and spent the season on injured reserve.

In 2009 he was put on the practice squad, shifted to wide receiver, and was promoted to the active roster. He played in ten games, carrying the ball 15 times for 64 yards and catching eight passes for 87 yards.

On the Jets installment of Hard Knocks, Woodhead endeared himself to many as the typical underdog story because of his size (only 5’7”) and the fact that he did not play at a Division I school. However, he was cut by the team.

Then, one day before the Pats-Jets matchup in Week 2, New England signed Woodhead to the roster. He was inactive for that game, but with the Pats lack of depth at running back with the injury of Kevin Faulk, Woodhead started in Week 3 and has been a great producer for the Pats.

He has 64 carries for 344 yards and three touchdowns, and 24 receptions for 230 yards and two more touchdowns. New England signed him to a two-year contract extension.

Bill Belichick, Head Coach, Patriots

Starting his coaching career with the New York Giants, Belichick became a Bill Parcells guy when he was named the team’s defensive coordinator in 1985, where they won two Super Bowls. Belichick was Browns head coach for five years before rejoining Parcells with the Patriots in 1996. One season later he left the Pats to move to the Jets with Parcells. He was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator from 1997 to 1999. Parcells stepped down as head coach and the Jets tabbed Belichick as his predecessor. He was to be introduced to the media, but instead, he resigned from the position that day.

He accepted an offer from the Patriots to be their head coach. The Jets demanded compensation, so the Pats gave them a first-round draft pick. Since then, Belichick has guided the Pats to three Super Bowl wins, four AFC championships, and an undefeated regular season in 2007.

He has a record of 121-50 in the regular season with the Pats, and 14-4 in the playoffs.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brandi Chastain Interview

AP Photo/Mark J. Terril

Earlier this week I had the great opportunity to interview Brandi Chastain for Bleacher Report. Check out what she had to say about the state of women's soccer and who the most exciting players to watch are.

Video from YouTube.

NFL Week 13 Picks: Division Rivals Collide To Settle The Top of The Standings

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It’s December and teams are in the final stretch, fighting for the playoffs.

Week 13 brings a number of games with huge playoff implications. A big Sunday afternoon game will be Atlanta against Tampa Bay. Atlanta beat Green Bay last week and sits atop the division standings, but the Buccaneers at home and only two games back, look to prove to the nation that they are a legitimate contender and look to close the gap between them and the playoffs.

The biggest matchups lay in the AFC, however, as four teams tied for division leads collide. On Sunday Night Football, the Steelers square off against the Ravens, and on Monday Night Football the Jets face-off against the Patriots.

The Ravens and Jets won the first match-up, but can they complete the season sweep?

At stake is only control of the division and possibly home-field advantage in the playoffs.

They are sure to be memorable games.

Who do you think will win?

Houston (5-6) at Philadelphia (7-4)

On Twitter, I picked Philadelphia to win.

Washington (5-6) at New York Giants (7-4)

The Giants have four straight wins against the Redskins, which is as good a place to start here as any.

The Giants have been hit hard with injuries in the receiving corps and the offensive line, but they still were able to go for 226 yards passing last week, and they have not allowed a sack in the past four games.

Washington’s defense is not nearly strong enough to affect the Giants, and neither is their offense.

New York wins.

Denver (3-8) at Kansas City (7-4)

Sure, the Chiefs got beat up by the Broncos three weeks ago, but they are also unbeaten at home this year. The Broncos couldn’t build any momentum off that game, but the Chiefs have rebounded nicely.

And has anyone in football been hotter than Dwayne Bowe? He has three consecutive games of 100-plus yards and multiple touchdowns and has seven straight games with a score, giving him 14 for the year.

The Chiefs will learn from their mistakes the first-time around, and the running game will be a much bigger impact against the Broncos 30th ranked rushing defense.

Kansas City wins.

Jacksonville (6-5) at Tennessee (5-6)

The Titans spanked Jacksonville when they met in Week 6, but they've only one game since them.

The Jaguars lost last week, but there are some things that are just hinting towards Jacksonville being stronger.

Chris Johnson had his worst game of his career last week, with only five yards on seven carries. It’s tough to imagine him not bouncing back, but Maurice Jones-Drew has four straight games of 100-plus yards rushing.

The QB situation in Jacksonville is also more stable, whereas the Titans went with rookie Rusty Smith last week but may put in a recovering Kerry Collins against the Jaguars.

Jacksonville wins.

San Francisco (4-7) at Green Bay (7-4)

The Packers had an uncharacteristically bad game when it came to penalties last week, and that hurt them on the road against a very good Falcons team.

The 49'ers will be without Frank Gore, and although Brian Westbrook got loose for 136 yards, the Green Bay rush defense, as well as the pass defense, is much better than the cakewalk Cardinal defense San Francisco dealt with last week.

Expect the Packers to rebound.

Green Bay wins.

Cleveland (4-7) at Miami (6-5)

Maybe Carolina wasn’t good enough to capitalize on Jake Delhomme’s two interceptions last year, but Miami’s fourth-ranked pass defense should help do the job. The Dolphins also have a run defense ranked in the top half of the league, so while they may not completely stop Peyton Hillis but could contain him.

Chad Henne had a solid game returning as the starting quarterback, with two touchdowns and over 300 yards passing. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown also got going last week. They looked more dangerous as a tandem than they had all season.
Cleveland has been tough, but their defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in stopping both the pass and the rush.

Miami wins.

Buffalo (2-9) at Minnesota (4-7)

The Bills are playing tight every game, they just can’t finish. The Vikings won last weekend, they’re first with Leslie Frazier at the helm.

The problem is there have been a number of times this season where they thought they turned it around, only to get blasted the following week.

They’ve been so up and down this season, which seems appropriate because that tends to be the way Brett Favre plays often; it’s tough to say they have it figured out.
The Bills may not win, but they’re fighters and are always in it. They’ve surprised many this season, now they just need to finish. Steve Johnson, despite his drops last week, has forged a good bond with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the two—along with Fred Jackson—have been dangerous.

Buffalo wins.

Chicago (8-3) at Detroit (2-9)

The Lions will be without both Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill at quarterback this weekend. That means Drew Stanton, who's played in a total of nine games in three years, will start against a Bears defense that has given up the second fewest passing touchdowns.

With such a big win over the Eagles last weekend, it's tough to imagine a struggling Lions team without its top two QBs will beat them.

Chicago wins.

New Orleans (8-3) at Cincinnati (2-9)

Eight losses in a row have the Bengals in terrible shape. Last week against the Jets they were dominated, even in the passing yards category, the one “strength” they’ve had all season.

The Saints defense ranks third in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and, as we all know, Drew Brees can really toss around the football.

Plus, Reggie Bush made his way back last week and is shaking the rust off.

New Orleans wins.

Oakland (5-6) at San Diego (6-5)

Both team have had their difficulties this season, but they’re both still in the race for the AFC West championship. The only problem is that San Diego is streaking, winners of four straight including last week’s beat-down over Peyton Manning and the Colts, while Oakland is tanking, losing two straight by huge margins.

San Diego has hit their stride, just like they do every year around this time. Oakland might have hit their peak this season already, only getting worse from here on out.

San Diego wins.

Carolina (1-10) at Seattle (5-6)

Carolina couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s three turnovers, including Jake Delhomme’s two interceptions.

Seattle isn’t the strongest team out there, but Carolina can’t really do much to hurt them. While Matt Hasselbeck isn’t lighting it up, he is enjoying his best overall season since 2007 (it helps that he’s relatively healthy).

The Seahawks can do just enough to win this game, especially with their great home crowd behind them.

Seattle wins.

Atlanta (9-2) at Tampa Bay (7-4)

The last time these two teams played Atlanta won 27-21, but they had control for most of it. The score is also a little deceiving in part to a Tampa Bay kickoff return for a touchdown with 30 seconds left.

Atlanta was in control thanks to two things they’ve done all season that have made them one of the top teams in the conference: turnovers and running the ball. The Falcons are tied for the second best give away-take away differential (+11) and in the last matchup they turned the ball over zero times compared to Tampa Bay’s two turnovers.

They also are eighth in rushing yards per game, and in that matchup the Falcons gained 130 yards on the ground compared to the Buccaneers 96 yards.

Tampa Bay still ranks in the bottom portion of the league in rushing yards allowed per game, so it should be another big day for Michael Turner.

Atlanta wins.

St. Louis (5-6) at Arizona (3-8)

At home on Monday Night Football, the Cardinals were a complete no-show, losing 27-6. St. Louis almost blew their 20-point second half lead, but they had enough grit to hold on for the victory.

Sam Bradford had a brilliant game last week and he should be able to have at least a good game against a porous Cardinal secondary. The Cardinals also don’t stop the run very well, so Steven Jackson should have a good game too.

Arizona just doesn’t pose much of a threat.

St. Louis wins.

Dallas (3-8) at Indianapolis (6-5)

Two losses in a row must be tearing Peyton Manning apart right now. The Colts do two things well though: throw the ball and defend the pass. Dallas’ only strength is the passing game, so if the Colts can neutralize that than they stand a good choice.
Dallas will also be without Marion Barber, hurting the depth in their already bad rushing game.

Dallas had a spark of life when Jason Garrett took over, but when they came up against a good Saints team, at home, they fell. Same should happen this week on the road.

Indianapolis wins.

Pittsburgh (8-3) at Baltimore (8-3)

The biggest news is Ben Roethlisberger spraining his root foot. He’s been in a boot all week. He had limited practice time Friday and reports say he was playing with a noticeable limp. He’s always been a gutsy QB, and he will start, but how effective will he be?

The Ravens defense is known for being fast and tough, and they can get to the quarterback. The unit is ranked eight against the pass and also 11th against the run—Pittsburgh’s strength.

On the other hand, Joe Flacco has been hot, and that really balances out the offense and the team as a whole. He’s got six straight weeks with multiple touchdown passes, and in that span he has 13 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Also, only once did he have a completion percentage lower than 64 percent.

At home, the Ravens look like the stronger team at this point in the season.

Baltimore wins.

New York Jets (9-2) at New England (9-2)

The Jets won the last time these two teams met, and even though the game is in New England this year the Jets are a team that matches up extremely well against the Pats.

When these two teams played in Week 2 the Jets rebounded from an awful opening game to control the Patriots pretty handily. They had fewer penalty yards, they rushed for 82 more yards, they won the time of possession battle and they dominated the turnover battle.

The Patriots are ranked 32nd in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and Mark Sanchez tore apart the Patriots secondary last time, throwing for 220 yards, completing 70 percent of his passes, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 124.3. The Pats couldn’t stop him.

The Jets also have a number of receiving threats: Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller, and Santonio Holmes—who missed the first game because of a suspension. The Patriots secondary depth is limited and they may not have enough to cover all weapons at all times.

And one of the biggest ways to keep Tom Brady from hurting you is to keep him off the field as much as possible. Bruising running backs Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson should pound the ball up the middle relatively well and control the clock.

New York wins.

Last Week: 10-6

Season: 109-67

Thursday, November 25, 2010

NFL Week 12 Picks: Why is Arizona playing San Francsico on Monday Night Football?

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

I understand Thanksgiving means three games are off the slate to choose from, but how did the NFL fans get stuck with San Francisco-Arizona as the Monday Night game?

Hopefully the holiday and some really good games Sunday—Green Bay-Atlanta and Baltimore-Tampa Bay to name a couple—make up for it. And who knows, two teams like the Cardinals and 49’ers square off and create an entertaining game like the Bills and Bengals had last week.

Who do you think will win this week?

New England (8-2) at Detroit (2-8)

The Patriots pass rush and secondary have been put under scrutiny all season. They forced Peyton Manning into three interceptions, though.

Their running game also powered away for 168 yards on 34 carries (4.9 yards per carry).

The Lions rush defense is slightly better than the Colts, but the Patriots are playing too well. A lot of people are calling this a trap game for New England but the Pats, save for the Cleveland game, have been steadily growing all season long.

New England wins.

New Orleans (7-3) at Dallas (3-7)

Dallas has won two straight since Jason Garrett took over, but New Orleans is hotter. Since losing to Arizona in Week 5, the Saints have won four of their last five games (three straight), all by convincing double-digit margins.

The Cowboys rank fifth in the league in passing yards per game and Jon Kitna has been surprising the past couple weeks.

Still, not only can the Saints throw the ball (third in the NFL), but they also rank second in passing yards allowed per game.

New Orleans wins.

Cincinnati (2-8) at New York Jets (8-2)

The Jets won both the Week 17 and Wild Card playoff match-up between these two teams last year. The writing may have been on the wall as the Bengals stumble terribly through this season.

The Jets have been winning close game after close game and they are gaining a lot of confidence. The Bengals, well, confidence isn’t something paramount in that locker room.

New York wins.

Green Bay (7-3) at Atlanta (8-2)

Two teams that commit very few penalties and have the best turnover differentials in the NFC. Should be a tight matchup. Green Bay’s passing offense has the edge over Atlanta’s pass defense, but the Falcons rushing attack has the edge over the Packers rush defense.

The Falcons, however, are undefeated at home. Michael Turner could have another good day and wear out the Packers defense.

Atlanta wins.

Pittsburgh (7-3) at Buffalo (2-8)

The Bills give up the most rushing yards per game, while the Steelers have the 11th most rushing yards per game, and Rashard Mendenhall is in the top 10 in the NFL in total rushing yards.

Pittsburgh wins.

Carolina (1-9) at Cleveland (3-7)

The Panthers have lost their last four games by an average of 20 points. However, they catch a break against Cleveland who will lose Colt McCoy as he recovers from an ankle injury.

Jake Delhomme is the starter and he hasn’t played since Week 5. He’s played in two games this season, throwing four interceptions compared to one touchdown, a 55 percent completion percentage, and a miserable 48.2 quarterback rating.

It’s enough for the Panthers to eke out a victory.

Carolina wins.

Jacksonville (6-4) at New York Giants (6-4)

Two consecutive double-digit losses and things are only getting worse for the Giants.

Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith have both been ruled out for the game, leaving Eli Manning with even fewer weapons at his disposal.

Manning is second in the NFL in interceptions, and we’ve seen what he does when he tries to win the game himself.

Jacksonville wins.

Minnesota (3-7) at Washington (5-5)

The Vikings are hoping to capture some of the magic the Cowboys got when they fired Wade Philips by finally firing Brad Childress. This matchup certainly helps them.

Santana Moss had a big game for the ‘Skins last week, but he’s questionable this week.

Meanwhile, Washington allows 131 rushing yards per game while Minnesota averages a top ten 118.5 rushing yards per game. Adrian Peterson is second in the NFL in rushing yards.

Sure, Chris Johnson rushed for 130 yards last week and Washington still won, but Tennessee was down to their third quarterback. Brett Favre and/or Tavaris Jackson are both better options.

The Redskins are also only 2-3 at home.

Minnesota wins.

Tennessee (5-5) at Houston (4-6)

The Titans have lost three straight, their starting quarterback landed on IR and is feuding with the coach (and is unwelcome at team facilities), Randy Moss has one catch in two games with the team, they’re starting rookie Rusty Smith at QB, and their offensive coordinator left the staff to seek treatment for cancer.

Enough problems?

Houston wins.

Kansas City (6-4) at Seattle (5-5)

The Chiefs are 2-0 against the NFC West so far this season. They are also passing the ball much better as of late, to complement their top ranked rushing game. Matt Cassel has thrown for six touchdowns and zero interceptions over the past two games and Dwayne Bowe has caught a touchdown in six consecutive games. He also has two straight games with 100-plus yards receiving and two touchdowns.

That doesn’t mean they’re strong enough to abandon the run, but they’re looking more like a complete team.

Kansas City wins.

Miami (5-5) at Oakland (5-5)

Miami had tons of injury issues last week and now Karlos Dansby and Brandon Marshall are questionable. They keep losing pieces and don’t have a strong enough team to plug guys in. They didn’t move the ball at all against the Bears, inexplicably abandoning the run.

Oakland wins.

St. Louis (4-6) at Denver (3-7)

The Rams just don’t have the weaponry to compete in high scoring games. Their wide receiver unit is pretty depleted.

Denver has been one of the best passing teams all season, although while it hasn’t resulted in many victories. If they can get out to a fast start like they did against the Chiefs, and force the Rams to pass instead of hand of to Steven Jackson, they may be able to pull this one out.

Denver wins.

Philadelphia (7-3) at Chicago (7-3)

The Bears defense has been strong this season, particularly against the run, but Michael Vick brings a special offense to Chicago.

The Eagles play some very good defense too, though. They lost CB Ellis Hobbs for the year, but this is a complete team, and a very exciting one at that.

Philadelphia is also 4-1 on the road.

Philadelphia wins.

Tampa Bay (7-3) at Baltimore (7-3)

The Ravens haven’t lost at home this season, and there’s no reason that should end this weekend.

Tampa’s biggest weakness is their rush defense, so Ray Rice and Baltimore’s 13th ranked rush offense should put up some big numbers and really set up the passing game well.

Baltimore wins.

San Diego (5-5) at Indianapolis (6-4)

San Diego is hot, but they are 2-4 against teams above .500 and 1-4 on the road.

It’s also tough to bet against Peyton Manning after last week’s disappointing game. You can bet he’s been reviewing the tape, thinking about what happened, and how he can rebound this weekend.

Indianapolis wins.

San Francisco (3-7) at Arizona (3-7)

San Francisco is not better than many teams, but the Cardinals are one.

Last week against the Chiefs, even when offensively their guys put up good numbers, they still lost by 18 points.

Frank Gore had an awful showing last week against a porous Tamp Bay defense. But he can rebound from it, and he gets another favorable match-up against the Cardinals. And the 49’ers defense has been solid this season, so they should be able to weather anything Arizona throws against them.

San Francisco wins.

Last Week: 12-4

Season: 99-61

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010 MLS Expansion Draft: One Player Each Team Will Definitely Lose

AP Photo/TOny Gutierrez

Now that the 2010 season is over, two new teams—the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps—have officially joined MLS. And they’ll get to build their teams through the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft on Wednesday.

The list of unprotected players has been released and there is a lot of talent on this list. Designated Players Juan Pablo Angel and Geovanni are on it, as is former MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Those players are making max money however, and expansion teams usually lean towards cheaper and much younger options.

With two teams picking players this year, some MLS clubs may lose two players. But here is a list of one player from each team most likely to get selected.

Chivas USA: Giancarlo Maldonado

The players left unprotected by Chivas are all a bit of a mystery. A lot of them just haven’t had much time in the league. But Maldonado is intriguing. He’s Venezuela’s all-time leading goal scorer (20 in 53 appearances). Sure it’s not the most prestigious country, but he’s also played for some good clubs teams and scored for them as well.

He started his career off at River Plate, and spent a lot of time with Atlante (Mexico) while also going on loan with Xerez in Spain. At Atlante he scored 32 goals in 77 league appearances.

He’s got a lot of soccer experience and is still only 28-years-old.

Chicago Fire: John Thorrington

Thorrington would be a good veteran presence, necessary for any team starting from scratch in order to build chemistry. He’d also be invaluable to help guide the younger players—which there probably will be many—on how to be a professional and to learn the ropes of MLS.

Thorrington is also a versatile player, able to slide into any position in the midfield.

Colorado Rapids: Wells Thompson

Thompson has been a solid contributor for some successful teams. As a rookie in 2007, he started and played every postseason game with the New England Revolution, a team that went to the MLS Cup. He also just recently won the MLS Cup with the Rapids.
He knows what it takes to win, and that is an invaluable intangible to bring to a team, especially a new one.

Columbus Crew: Eric Brunner

He’s a tall (6’4”), relatively young (24) center back with good promise in the league. In 2009 he started 23 games for the Columbus Crew, who were a strong defensive minded team. And against Colorado in the second-leg of the first round playoff matchup he played all 120 minutes of the game.

He also earned the league minimum $40,000 base salary, so he is a cheaper option.
Young players with lots of potential and small salaries are gold mines in the expansion draft.

FC Dallas: Dax McCarty

McCarty is a serious talent in the midfield.

In the league since 2006 and made 93 regular season appearances (71 starts). He also started all four playoff games this season.

He was a star at the youth international level, and is in the current Senior team player pool. And he’s still only 23-years-old.

He’s been in the dog-house with FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman, so a change of scenery will only help him and the further development of his game.

He has a reasonable price-tag and is a tremendous talent. If he does not get selected it would be a huge surprise and a big mistake.

D.C. United: Adam Cristman

Injury issues have clouded his productivity, but he can make contributions to his club. He scored twice in 17 games, including one game-winner, and had an assist. Both were good enough to be fifth on the team leader board. Makes you wonder what he could’ve produced if completely healthy.

His base salary is the league minimum, so he could be worth a flier.

Houston Dynamo: Pat Onstad

A Vancouver native, he talks fondly of his home and many believe that the Whitecaps will bring him on. And even at 42, the oldest active player in MLS, he can still play. He’s the league’s all-time leader in goals against average (1.05) and if he does indeed go to Vancouver, he would not only fill one of the mandatory Canadian-player slots, he would team up with already signed defender Jay DeMerit for a strong and experienced center of the defense.

Sporting Kansas City: Josh Wolff

Experienced and talented goal scorers are hard to come by, but Wolff has been a great player in MLS. He has scored 71 career league goals.

He was a member of the U.S. 2002 World Cup squad that had that magical run to the quarterfinals, and assisted on a goal.

He is a fantastic locker room guy as well, and his soccer resume may be too good to pass up.

LA Galaxy: Mike Magee

Magee is a nice piece for any team to add. He can play either forward or midfield and he’s scored some big goals for his teams, including the only Galaxy goal in the 2009 MLS Cup.

He has a good work ethic and he can be counted on to give a great effort, no matter the amount of playing time he’s receiving.

His base salary is less than six-figures and he’s only 26-years-old. He’s been a substitute, but can be a solid starter. He’s a hole-filler on the roster. Just a solid contributor.

New England Revolution: Cory Gibbs

It’s slim picking from the New England roster, but Gibbs could be a valuable asset to either team.

He started and played 25 games for the Revs this past season and has loads of soccer experience. He has spent some time with the U.S. National team and has experience not only in MLS, but Europe as well, most notably Feyenoord in the Netherlands.

It seems like he’s healthy and productive, so he’d be a nice piece on any backline.

New York Red Bulls: Conor Chinn

The rookie showed a lot of poise up front for the Red Bulls. In the preseason he was the second leading scorer, behind only regular season team leader Juan Pablo Angel. In four appearances in the U.S. Open Cup he scored three goals. He also scored in a mid-season friendly against Italian powerhouse Juventus.

It was a little bit surprising that Chinn didn’t get more opportunities with the first team, but he’s young and has had strong showings. He could develop into a very nice goal-scoring threat and is certainly a building block one of these new teams should include.

Philadelphia Union: Shea Salinas

Of the past three expansion drafts, Salinas has been selected twice (San Jose and Philadelphia). He’s only 24, can play either midfield or defense, and earns the league minimum salary.

His constant movement in the league isn’t because he’s invaluable. On the contrary, his age, versatility, talent, and contract situation all make him attractive to teams starting from scratch. With two teams selecting players, one team most likely will snag him.

Real Salt Lake: Collen Warner

He didn’t get much game-time for Real Salt Lake, but none of their young guys did. At 22-years-old he is a good prospect, believed to be a box-to-box midfielder.

He’s got a lot of talent, and could be especially appealing to the Timbers, as he played his college ball at the University of Portland.

San Jose Earthquakes: Arturo Alvarez

Playing in the MLS since 2003, Alvarez has tons of professional experience and is still only 25-years-old.

He can be a bit of a hot-head at times, but he’s still got a lot of talent. He’s able to play anywhere in the midfield as well as up-top. He is a good box-to-box midfielder and has yet to hit the prime of his career. He’s already a talented player, and is getting regular playing time with the El Salvador National Team, but he is also still progressing as a player.

He is certainly capable of leading a midfield.

Seattle Sounders FC: Sanna Nyassi

Nyassi is young (21-years-old) and extremely fast. He was a valuable super-sub for the Sounders, playing in 24 games, and his two goals in the U.S. Open Cup final won Seattle the trophy.

His speed can cause a lot of damage on the wing, and he’s still young and developing. Again, his 2010 base salary was the league minimum, so all things considered he will definitely be picked up by one of the two teams.

Toronto FC: Fuad Ibrahim

He’s only 19, but he’s been in the league for four years already. He hasn’t played in many games, but he’s acclimated into the league. At 16 he was the second-youngest player to ever be selected in the MLS Superdraft, going in the second round. He’s graduating from the Generation Adidas program, which may be why he was left unprotected, but he’s a promising striker.

Ibrahim is a member of this year’s U.S. U-20 World Cup team, adding to his resume. Last year Philadelphia put together a fairly young team to develop, and Ibrahim would fit that mold should either expansion club follow that model.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jimmie Johnson Displays Winning Characteristics in Fifth Sprint Cup Title

AP Photo/Terry Rena

Jimmie Johnson won his fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Not only is it a milestone victory, but everyone can take something away from what Johnson did in order to keep the streak alive.

Johnson came into the final race in second place. He was pushed by Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick and his streak coming to an end was certainly a possibility.

Instead of panicking though, instead of worrying about the streak and winning, Johnson did something more athletes need to do: he let go. Johnson realized he was in a situation where all he could do was go out, have fun, and perform to his absolute best.

Worse-case scenario, Johnson didn’t overcome the point difference and the streak ended. Best-case scenario he had an amazing race and won another championship. What did he have to lose?

Granted, had he been in front he would have thought a lot about protecting his lead. But he wasn’t. Instead he was in a unique situation—and he recognized it—that the pressure was on someone else. So he could take chances, and make aggressive mistakes.

Johnson was not conservative and racing not to lose, he played to win, giving meaning to former NFL coach Herm Edwards’ 2002 post-game rant.

With jobs and so much money on the line, sometimes it’s easy for a coach or a player to take the safe route, to play to conventional wisdom. However true champions do whatever it takes to win and that includes thinking outside the box and going hard no matter what.

Johnson and his team showed many great qualities throughout this Cup title run. They took on challenges (Hamlin and Harvick, a change in pit crew), rather than backing down from them, and they rose to the occasion. They were resilient, not letting a points deficit deter them from achieving their goal.

All athletes of all genders and levels of competition should emulate those characteristics Johnson showed. Mistakes are going to happen, so better off to make the mistake being aggressive, trying to do something positive.

These characteristics may not guarantee wins and trophies, but wouldn’t you rather go down swinging? Playing this way ensures that you put together an effort you can be proud of and not second-guess whether you gave it everything you had, and maybe, just maybe, it will result in something truly memorable.

MLS Cup 2010: Five Things We Learned From Sunday's Title Tilt

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

The 2010 version of the MLS Cup may not have been glamorous, but it was certainly thrilling to the end. The Colorado Rapids came from behind to beat FC Dallas in overtime 2-1, and Rapids forward Conor Casey was named the game’s MVP.

Don Garber spoke during halftime and MLS fans learned some things that the league will change next year (number of playoff teams) and will think about changing in the future (going with the official FIFA calendar). It was intriguing and will certainly be hot topics for debate.

That being said, there were also some things done on the field that are worth talking about. Here are five things we learned from the MLS Cup.

Rapids-Real Salt Lake rivalry

Don Garber and Major League soccer have been pushing rivalries. There is the Chivas USA-Galaxy “classico” in Los Angeles. In 2011 Portland and Vancouver will join Seattle to form a heated Pacific Northwest rivalry. And Garber really wants a second team in New York to battle the Red Bulls.

But what really creates a new rivalry? Winning. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics aren’t local rivals, but they have the greatest rivalry—possibly the only one—in the NBA because year in and year out these two teams fought each other to win the championship.

The Rocky Mountain Cup, played between the Colorado Rapids and Salt Lake City, should intensify this upcoming season as the match-up now features the previous two MLS Cup champions.

RSL proved 2009’s championship wasn’t a fluke, finishing with the second most points in MLS. Colorado, who came into the playoffs as the seventh seed, will be aiming to do the same thing in 2011.

David Ferreira earned his MVP

Ferreira certainly had a phenomenal season. He had eight goals and 13 assists (second most in MLS) and played and started all 30 games of the season. He certainly played a huge role in FC Dallas’ success.

However with Chris Wondolowski’s league-leading 18 goals and 9 game-winning goals, along with San Jose’s surprising appearance in the playoffs, many thought the MVP award would go to him.

Ferreira won the award, and although he didn’t have to prove he was a worthy candidate, his showing on the league’s biggest stage, in prime time, certainly opened a few eyes. His goal was a great run and finish, a good display of the talent he has shown FC Dallas fans all season.

Defense wins championships

FC Dallas went from non-playoff team to MLS Cup finalist thanks to a huge turnaround in the play of their defense. And in the championship game, due to some unfortunate circumstances, they once again saw the flip-side of the coin, how bad breaks on defense can ruin the season.

Heath Pearce, a huge signing for the team at the end of last season, was one of the key contributors to the defensive turnaround, yet he was unable to play due to injury. His replacement, Jackson Goncalves, then was injured.

And of course, there was the game-winning goal that was ruled an own-goal, knocked into the net unluckily by George John.

Missing a key starter on defense, having his replacement get hurt and take away a substitution from the team, and an unlucky bounce off another defender, proved disastrous for Dallas.

On the other hand, Colorado saved their victory by great defensive efforts. Matt Pickens had been under the radar coming into the game due to Kevin Hartman’s stellar play, but the Colorado keeper had been solid all year, and his diving save and Drew Moor’s clearance off the line in the overtime period saved the game from going into a shootout and preserved the win.

Designated Players don’t guarantee championships

Maybe this isn’t something newly learned, and we knew it would be prior to the game, but it was reaffirmed that high-priced Designated Players don’t guarantee championship victories.

The rule, which allows a team to sign up to three players for more than the maximum contract the salary cap restrictions allow, was put in place in 2007. In MLS Cups since then, only two teams with at least one DP appeared in the final, and none have won it.

David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Thierry Henry are all great players. However, with the way the league rewards parity—for better or worse—strong supporting casts are also needed.

Conor Casey is tough

The goals scored—one by Casey—and the game itself wasn’t pretty. But Colorado was the tougher, grittier team and they were victorious. And it’s tough to say that anyone plays with the qualities more so than MLS Cup MVP Conor Casey.

Casey doesn’t score the prettiest goals ever, but he gets the job done. In 87 league games with the Rapids, he has scored 42 times, almost a goal every other game.

Casey is strong and tough and does a good job of getting his head on the ball. He showed great awareness on his game-tying goal, sticking with the play, finding the loose ball, and knocking it into the net.

All of his success is tribute to his workman-like and professional attitude he brings to the pitch, and he and the Rapids proved to be very deserving champions.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Conor Casey and Heath Pearce: Snubbed U.S. Internationals Lead Clubs to MLS Cup

The 2010 World Cup in Africa was where every professional soccer player wanted to be this summer. Colorado Rapids’ forward Conor Casey and FC Dallas’ defender Heath Pearce had both featured prominently for the United States National Team during the four-year cycle, but both were left off the squad.

Pearce was one of the final seven players cut from the squad, while Casey didn’t even make the final 30.

Both players took the news hard, but they worked even harder to propel their club teams to new heights. Now, four months after the tournament ended and the Americans were ousted in the Round of 16, Casey and Pearce have led their teams to the MLS Cup.

“It was tough when it all went down at the beginning of the season and it took me a while to get back to pace,” Casey recently told the media.

Pearce was not only disappointed in getting cut, but he had an issue with the way he was cut, saying in an interview with The Dallas Morning News in late-June, “… To have your hand shook and be told, at 2 o'clock in the morning, ‘We know you've been working hard, but we're releasing you,’ isn’t the easiest way to understand and embrace why you’re not going to the World Cup,.”

Both were snubbed from the team, but they let their play in MLS do the talking as to why they were deserving of spots on the roster.

Following the World Cup preliminary roster announcement, Casey has scored 10 goals in 20 games, finishing sixth in MLS with 13 goals for the season. He also added six assists.

Pearce helped transform the FC Dallas defense. In 2009 the team allowed a league-worst 47 goals, but in 2010 they surrendered only 28. Not only was Pearce an important piece to the defense, but he also finished second on the team with six assists, showcasing his abilities to defend and also get forward into the attack.

Their production exemplifies their talent, resiliency, and professionalism. It would have been easy for each to hang his head, but they took getting overlooked in stride and gave their clubs the best they had to offer.

No player from the U.S. team that plays in MLS, including defender Jonathan Bornstein and forwards Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley—Pearce and Casey’s direct competition—is playing in Sunday’s championship game.

It may not be the World Cup, but these two players can be proud of their contributions to their teams in guiding them to the MLS Cup final.

Photo Credits.
Conor Casey: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Heath Pearce: AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

MLS Cup: What a Difference a Defense Makes for FC Dallas

AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

Last year, FC Dallas scored the most goals in Major League Soccer (50), yet they also gave up the most goals in the league (47). All that offensive firepower couldn’t save them as they finished a point shy of the playoffs.

The team realized its awful weakness, and credit to them, they addressed the problem.

In 2010, Dallas gave up 28 goals. Only two teams (Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake, fittingly the two teams that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference standings). What a difference having a defense has on a team, as Dallas shutout the offensively-potent Galaxy en route to reaching the MLS Cup.

The pieces to fixing the defense were actually put in place last season. All four players that regularly started on the backline were actually acquired last season. So what was so different in 2010?

Well, for starters, they all were actually available for the full season.

Left-fullback Jair Benitez wasn’t signed until July 22 and made his debut July 24. He played and started in 13 games the rest of the season. Center-back Ugo Ihemelu was traded for on August 31 and made his debut September 5.

The biggest acquisition was U.S. International Heath Pearce, who the team brought in on September 11. Pearce is known not only for his defensive abilities, but also because he does a very good job of pushing up in the attack and serving a good cross (he was second on the team in assists in 2010 with six).

Filling out the backline is center-back George John, a rookie in 2009. He stands tall at 6’3”, but missed a handful of games last season because of a hamstring injury.

With those players coming on at the end of the season, the team won five of its last seven games and only allowed nine goals, including earning two clean sheets.

This year, John was healthy and Benitez, Ihemelu, and Pearce were around for the entirety of the season. And while Pearce was disappointed to not be selected to the U.S. team for the World Cup, it meant he spent more time with Dallas.

Pearce and Benitez each played in 28 games, tied for third-most on the team, and John played in 25 games.

Contributions from rookie defender/midfielder Zach Loyd and defensive midfielder and captain Daniel Hernandez also bolstered the unit.

The final piece to the puzzle was bringing in Kevin Hartman, one of the best goalkeepers in the league’s history. The record-holder for most career saves, most career victories, and most career shutouts was not brought back by the Kansas City Wizards for 2010, and Dallas salivated at the chance to bring him in.

All Hartman did was lead the league in goals against average (0.62) and save percentage (.0789 %). He also only lost one game the entire season while in net, finishing with a record of 10-1-8.

It all added up to FC Dallas going from the worst defensive unit and missing out on the playoffs to one of the best defensive teams and a league finalist for the MLS Cup.

There is a reason why the cliché is, “Defense wins championships.” Count FC Dallas as a believer of that reasoning.