Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The Law Firm" at Work

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

New England Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is known as “The Law Firm” because of his multi-part name. Could he also adopt the identity of “The Answer” for the Patriots running-game woes?

Currently, the Patriots rank tenth in the league in rushing yards per game at 123.3 yards. The majority of that is thanks to Green-Ellis’ 16 carries for 98 yards against Buffalo. Prior to the game the Pats were only averaging 85 yards per game.

As commonly noted, running back has not been a stable position for the Patriots due to retirement, injuries, and inconsistent play. Since 2006, the Patriots have seen three different players lead the team in rushing yards for the season.

The Patriots have 370 yards rushing in the first three games. The top-two rushers in the NFL, Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson, have more yards than that by themselves.

As long as Tom Brady is the quarterback, the Patriots will always be a pass-first team. However, New England has had well documented problems closing and finishing out games in the past two seasons. Part of the reason could be due to the lack of balance on offense.

Green-Ellis could provide the perfect punch.

He is a very physical player, a downfield-style runner that likes to go through people rather than around them. He is also very efficient on his carries, averaging four yards a carry over his short career.

He also has six touchdowns in the 24 games he’s played, including a stretch in his rookie season where he scored in four straight games, and five out of six, when he was the team’s starting running back.

Since Laurence Maroney was traded away, Kevin Faulk was lost for the season due to injury, and Fred Taylor—always an injury risk—banged up his toe, there are a lot of positives to make Green-Ellis the permanent starter.

As stated earlier, he is a productive player when given the ball.

With the team struggling to close out games, Green-Ellis provides a solution. Instead of forcing passes, Brady could just hand off to Green-Ellis and let him pound the football up the middle of the field and kill the clock, giving the opponent less time to even attempt a comeback.

The more Green-Ellis can pound the ball for positive yards, the more attention he’ll garner from the defense, and the easier the passing game will be.

He was an undrafted free agent who climbed the depth chart, so you know he is willing to work and make the most of his opportunities.

And since the Patriots are a passing team, they won’t be going out and spending big bucks on a top-notch running back. Green-Ellis provides a cheap alternative.

He will face another test in Week 4 against a Miami Dolphins’ defense stronger than the one the Bills trotted out, but do the Patriots have any better options?

It may be time to let “The Law Firm” go to work permanently.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

NFL Week 3 Picks: San Francisco 49ers Finally Get in Win Column

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

If a team goes 0-2 to start the season they have dug quite a hole for themselves. However, it is still a young season and there is time to recover. In 2006 the Giants started off 2-0 and looked miserable to start the season, but the recouped, made a run, and wound up in the Super Bowl where they upset the then-undefeated New England Patriots.

However, history says is if you start 0-3 there is no coming back. The last time a team started the season 0-3 but still made the playoffs was the Buffalo Bills in 1998 (interesting enough Wade Phillips, now the head coach of the 0-2 Dallas Cowboys, was the coach of that team).

So this weekend is big for Dallas, the Minnesota Vikings, and San Francisco 49ers, teams that not only had playoff aspirations, but Super Bowl hopes as well.

Team character will be tested. Can these teams pull it together?

Tennessee (1-1) at New York Giants (1-1)

Eli Manning has become a turnover machine. He threw three picks against Carolina and against the Colts he lost two fumbles and threw another interception.

The Titans knew a little something about turnovers themselves, as they gave the ball away seven times against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The two teams both won in Week 1 and suffered a setback in Week 2, but while Jeff Fischer has backed Vince Young as the starting quarterback, Brandon Jacobs threw a helmet into the stands he was so frustrated. He will be a concern for the Giants.

The Giants are susceptible against the run, and Chris Johnson will be looking to get back on pace to his goal of 2,500 yards after a rough week against a good Steelers defense.

Tennessee wins.

Pittsburgh (2-0) at Tampa Bay (2-0)

Without their starting quarterback, the Steelers have gone back to the ways of Steelers teams from the past, playing smash mouth football. They run the ball well (249 yards in the first two games) and have played stellar defense, allowing only 20 points and 104 yards rushing (including holding Chris Johnson to only 34 yards last week). They also forced seven turnovers against the Titans.

The Steelers lost Dennis Dixon though and will now have to move on to Charlie Batch. The focus of the team will remain with its strengths of defense and running the ball.

The Buccaneers are surprisingly 2-0, but they have not been challenged yet by a team like the Steelers.

Pittsburgh wins.

Cincinnati (1-1) at Carolina (0-2)

Jimmy Clausen will get his first start with the Panthers, but he'll have his hands full with the Bengals defense.

Against the Ravens and their new receiving threats of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh the Bengals forced four interceptions. They'll look to really get after Clausen.

The Panthers gave up 20 points to the young Buccaneers offense. An experienced Bengals team should be able to pick them apart with its slew of weapons.

Cincinnati wins.

Cleveland (0-2) at Baltimore (1-1)

The Ravens have struggled mightily on offense in their first two games, but their defense has been very good. While it would be a good game for the Ravens offense to right the ship, this matchup will most be about the defense getting after Seneca Wallace.

Cleveland hasn't scored more than two touchdowns in either game and they also haven't played a defense of the Ravens' caliber.

Baltimore wins.

Dallas (0-2) at Houston (2-0)

The Cowboys are 0-2 and desperate for a win.

The Texans have a glaring hole in their pass coverage, allowing over 400 yards per game in the air. Passing is the Cowboys' strength as they've gained 687 yards in two games by passing the ball, and receiver Miles Austin has caught 10 passes in both games for over 140 yards.

What is key here is the running game.

Thanks in large part to Arian Foster's eye opening Week 1 game, the Texans rank first in rushing in the NFL. The Cowboys defense against the run has been good, but the Texans also boast the second-best run defense in the league, while Dallas cannot get its run game going, averaging a shade under 70 rushing yards a game, good (or bad) enough for 28th in the league.

Houston wins.

San Francisco (0-2) at Kansas City (2-0)

The 49ers showed improvement last week against the Saints. They still made some mistakes with their play calling and turning the ball over, but they were not laughable like in the season opener.

The passing game will determine how this matchup goes, and the 49ers have the edge on both sides of the ball here.

The Niners, and surprisingly Alex Smith, are tenth in the league in passing yards per game, while the Chiefs are toward the bottom of the barrel at 25th in passing yards allowed per game.

On the other end Matt Cassel has been dreadful thus far, and Kansas City ranks 30th in yards thrown per game.

San Francisco is in the top half of the league against the pass, weathering the storm against Drew Brees last week.

If the rush defense can contain Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, then the passing game should be able to beat Kansas City.

San Francisco wins.

Detroit (0-2) at Minnesota (0-2)

The Vikings have been out of sorts, but this is the game where we see what they’re made of. In Week 1, it was difficult to go to New Orleans and play after the championship banner had been raised. That’s a lot of emotion.

Then they faced a Miami team with a strong defense that made more big plays.

But now, they get a redo at home against not only another 0-2 team, but a team that has been the doormat for the entire division for a number of seasons now.

The Lions cannot stop anybody on defense. They are 30th in opponents passing yards per game, and 27th in opponents rushing yards per game.

Adrian Peterson will break lose this game. The Vikings just need to keep composure in the red zone so they can punch it in for six points more often.

Now is the time.

Minnesota wins.

Buffalo (0-2) at New England (1-1)

New England was pretty much embarrassed on the road last week. They usually come back with a vengeance the following week, looking to make up for poor performances. And the winless Bills provide the perfect punching bag.

The Patriots have won their past 10 home games and the Bills offense has sputtered coming out of the gates.

The Patriots running game and secondary need to make major improvements, but they won’t be exposed this weekend. It could get ugly.

New England wins.

Atlanta (1-1) at New Orleans (2-0)

New Orleans is getting the job done, and until they slip up it’s tough to pick against them.

Drew Brees is in the top five in quarterback rating and has truly led this team to victory.

They will need a boost from the running game, the current weak link of the team. Not having Reggie Bush doesn’t help their case. The Falcons defense is weak against the run, so this game would be the time for someone to step up and help Brees out.

New Orleans wins.

Washington (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2)

Washington was an amazing Andre Johnson-touchdown catch away from coming away with a victory, and had a chance to win it in overtime. They threw the ball with ease against the Texans, amassing 403 yards in the air.

Rams rookie Sam Bradford improved last week, but there isn't enough here for them to keep pace, on either side of the ball.

Washington wins.

Philadelphia (1-1) at Jacksonville (1-1)

Jacksonville was taken to town by San Diego last week. They were lit up for 477 yards, 38 points, and four interceptions.

Maurice Jones-Drew was also held to only 31 yards rushing.

The Eagles, however, with Michael Vick rolled on offense. He has a 105.5 quarterback rating, is completing almost 64 percent of his passes, 459 passing yards, three touchdowns, 140 yards rushing, and the most important stat, zero turnovers.

He’s played very well the first two games of the season and he’s getting a lot of help from wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy. Both are looking like Vick in the sense that they are playing fast.

The offensive line may be shaky, but these three are playmakers and are lighting up the field.

Philadelphia wins.

Oakland (1-1) at Arizona (1-1)

Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell lost his job to Bruce Gradkowski. Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson is dangerously close to also being replaced but he has one last shot, and he will make the most of it this weekend.

First, they need to keep Tim Hightower going at a strong rate. The Raiders are 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. He has scored in both games and last week ran for an impressive 115 yards, even with the Cardinals experiencing a beat down.

Hightower running in top gear would keep the defense honest and allow Anderson to target Larry Fitzgerald, who hasn’t really broken out yet, more efficiently.

Arizona wins.

San Diego (1-1) at Seattle (1-1)

Seattle couldn’t handle one AFC West team last week and it’s tough to believe that will change this weekend.

The Seahawks run defense is solid, but the Chargers rely on the passing game anyway, and if Kyle Orton can torch Seattle for 304 yards and zero turnovers, it should be a big day for Philip Rivers.

Top targets Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd should find themselves open a lot and making big plays.

San Diego wins.

Indianapolis (1-1) at Denver (1-1)

Indy's biggest weakness on defense is against the run. The Broncos may have a hard time exposing them though, as an already depleted unit gets further decimated with starter Knowshon Moreno out for the game.

Peyton Manning was on top of his game last week, going 20-26 for 255 yards and three touchdowns.

He should lead the attack once again, but look for big games from Joseph Addai and Donald Brown as the Broncos have been outrushed in both games this season, The Colts will look to exploit the Broncos rushing defense and keep them guessing with Manning.

Indianapolis wins.

New York Jets (1-1) at Miami (2-0)

When hearing that Braylon Edwards was pulled over at 4:47 a.m. and was double over the legal drinking limit, I couldn't help but think to the episode of Hard Knocks when the defense, while warming up for a scrimmage, was devouring bags of hamburgers on the field.

This team thinks way too much of themselves and are not disciplined. They win one game and some guys are out partying until five in the morning? And Edwards doesn't learn from his mistakes, as he was out with Donte Stallworth when Stallworth was driving drunk and killed a person.

The whole situation is pretty disturbing.

The Dolphins defense has allowed only 20 points the first two games and were impressive last week, forcing four turnovers against Brett Favre and company and coming up with key stops, namely the fourth and goal in the fourth quarter, at big moments in the game.

The Chad Henne-Brandon Marshall connection had another week to gel and is also quietly making improvements. It should be a good week for the two as the Jets are without Darrelle Revis.

The Dolphins will look to make a big statement to the AFC East in their home opener.

Miami wins.

Green Bay (2-0) at Chicago (2-0)

No turnovers from Jay Cutler last week? Has offensive coordinator Mike Martz helped him turn the corner?

Expect a setback when he faces the Green Bay Packers defense. Last year they lead the league in interceptions. So far this year, they lead the league in sacks, with Clay Matthews leading the way with six.

Matthews flies around the field and makes his presence known on every play. He gets after the quarterback and will force Cutler to make mistakes. And the Green Bay secondary will be licking their chops.

The Bears rush defense should hold backup Brandon Jackson in place, but they haven’t done nearly as good in the passing game, where Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers excel.

The Packers have enough firepower to make up for any problems the running game should face and they will force Cutler into making costly mistakes, which will make the difference in this one.

Green Bay wins.

Last week: 12-4

Season: 20-12

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good Times No More?

AP Photo/Rich Schultz

New York Red Bull fans have been lucky this season.

The team is finally in a new stadium. The team not only finally signed Thierry Henry—long rumored to be coming—but they also brought in Mexico National Team captain Rafael Marquez. Most importantly, the team has gone from worst team in MLS to a legitimate title contender.

However, in the 15 years of the franchise’s existence good fortunate has not been the norm, which has left the fan base waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It may have finally done so.

Juan Pablo Angel, not only arguably the best player in team history but also the best Designated Player in the league’s history, is apparently unhappy.

The team’s leading scorer, this season and all-time, started last Thursday’s game against the streaking FC Dallas on the bench.

Pressing for goals, points, and momentum, Angel appeared as a substitute and was a key player in the Dallas own goal that would tie the game.

No big deal right?

The team has a playoff spot pretty much wrapped up and Angel has a history of injury issues. So resting him and allowing newcomer Mehdi Ballouchy to get time with the first time was the right move one would think.

But there may be more than meets the eye here.

Angel, usually the consummate professional, has brushed off reporters questioning him about his role on the team. In his last year of his contract, there is no word from Red Bulls ownership of what they intend to do with him. There were rumors that Angel was shopped during the transfer window.

Is he being phased out of the lineup for good?

What happens beyond the season is one thing. Angel is 35-years-old, has had lingering injury issues as said before, and he can be a streaky shooter. The Red Bulls may decide to go in another direction with their third DP slot.

However, Angel is instrumental to the team on the field and their championship aspirations this season.

Angel is a player with a lot of big game experience. He demands a lot of attention on the field from opposing defenses, which opens up a lot of space. He is one of the most talented and clutch players in the league. He also has formed a great partnership and understanding with Henry.

Let’s also not forget that not only is he the team’s all-time leading scorer, but this season he also leads the team with 12 goals. In second place? Benchwarmer Salou Ibrahim and his three goals.

Things still have time to turn around. Going into the matchup with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Henry is inactive because of injury.

So playing on a nationally televised game, looking for credibility, momentum heading into the postseason, and ratings (MLS wants this more so) Angel should be back in the starting lineup. A goal and/or a win and all of this could be forgotten, at least until after the season.

Maybe it really is nothing. Rumors, a rest in the lineup and a bad day could cause a New York media to spiral a bit out of control.

But with everything going so well, New York Red Bull fans can’t help but to look over their shoulders and expect the absolute worst.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Running in Place

AP Photo/Alan Diaz

The weak link gets weaker.

Coming into the season the New England Patriots running backs posed the biggest question on the team, at least for the offense.

A group plagued by injuries, turnovers and inconsistency made the position a revolving door of inadequate performance.

After Week 1, the Patriots finally gave up on Laurence Maroney. The former first-round pick showed flashes of good play, but for the most part he was either putting the ball on the ground or not even making the active roster.

He never ran for 1,000 yards in a season, never played all 16 games, and he fumbled quite a bit in the red zone.

So he was cast off to Denver in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Instead of giving the ownership justification for trading away Maroney, the rest of the group—Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor and BenJarvus Green-Ellis—ran for measly 52 yards on 20 carries. Faulk, was the leading rusher with 22 yards on five carries, yet was put on IR after the game because of a torn ACL.

The Faulk loss will be hard-felt. While the running game has not been a stable form of production for the Pats, Faulk has been a bright spot, if you will.

Faulk ran the ball efficiently. Over his career he has averaged 4.2 yards per carry and in his 12-year career—including the two games this season—he has only rushed for less than 3.5 yards per career for the season twice.

He also was a great receiver out of the backfield, blocked, and returned kicks and punts on occasion. He was a do-it-all back who earned Tom Brady’s trust, especially as a receiver.

He’s been a great teammate in the locker room, and he is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

So how do you replace him? How do you strengthen such a depleted group?

As it does when any team needs players, the rumor mill is circling. Willie Parker and Larry Johnson are available, and Brandon Jacobs has requested a trade away from the New York Giants. All have baggage and productivity concerns, but the Patriots did succeed with the cast-off Corey Dillon at running back.

Available names are nice, but the Patriots are currently focused on the people currently on the roster.

Brady pointed out Sammy Morris as someone who will get the opportunity to step up.

Morris has only seen the field for 16 offensive plays this season, but that could, and very well should, change.

Morris led the team in rushing yards and touchdowns in 2008 and can line-up at running back and fullback.

Why has he fallen so far down the depth chart?

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Because he can never stay healthy. In 2007, after six games in he suffered a chest injury and was placed on IR. In 2008, even though he was the team’s most productive rusher, he didn’t get the role until after Maroney went on the IR, and Morris only played in 13 games. Last season, he injured his knee in Week 6, didn’t return until Week 12, and didn’t start until the final two games of the season.

Another name that is causing a stir is newly signed Danny Woodhead.

Woodhead was signed before the Jets game, possibly as part of a continuing battle between the teams that sees players and coaches going from one team to the other much like Larry Izzo and Bill Parcells.

He is a fan favorite because of his underdog status; he is only 5’9” and played Division II college football. However, what makes him an intriguing replacement for Faulk is his similarity to the injured back.

Woodhead is very quick and has good hands—he actually originally made the Jets roster as a wide receiver. He’s also very tough and knows that he has to work that much harder to keep a job.

Still, the bulk of his play time has been on special teams. It’s not a devalued position, but the Patriots problems are larger than help on special teams.

Can Morris stay healthy?

Will Woodhead get a chance to play more running back and display a skill set similar to Faulk’s?

The Patriots need a more balanced offense. The running game is virtually absent. The Maroney trade and Faulk injury may have finally fully exposed the glaring hole at running back.

Someone needs to step up, but who will it be, if anybody?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Aces Wild

The Philadelphia Phillies have made another late-season surge in order to pass the Atlanta Braves in the National League East standings, stretching their own lead to three games.

The Phillies are preparing for another deep playoff run, but first they need to fend off the Braves for the division crown. It’s a big series as Atlanta comes to Citizens Bank Park for three games, hoping to cut into the lead and in a best case scenario make it all even once more.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has put his best effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Facing the Braves will be Philadelphia’s all-star trio of starting pitchers: Cole Hamels to open the series, Roy Halladay on Tuesday, and Roy Oswalt in the closing game.

If the Phillies can at least win the series, they will pick up an extra game in the standings. A sweep would put the Phillies up by six games with nine remaining.

It’s a tall order in front of the Braves. Not only have they gone on a slide of their own, the Phillies have won seven in a row and 11 of their previous 12. The surprisingly inconsistent offense has finally erupted, scoring 108 runs in 18 games in September.

And at a time when the team has been playing its best baseball, the pitchers taking the mound have been at their absolute best.

Hamels, who hopes to get the Phillies started off on the right foot, has allowed only one run in his previous 31 1/3 innings pitched, and has compiled an ERA of 1.79 in his past 13 starts. This recent stretch has lowered his season ERA to 3.01, just outside the top-10 in the National League.

Halladay, the hurler of a perfect game earlier in the season, has won his past three straight starts. He is the MLB leader in complete games. He owns a 2.49 ERA, his lowest total since 2005 and is good enough for third in the National League. He also has a career high in strikeouts (210), good enough for second in the NL, and has the most wins (19) in the NL and second-most in all of MLB.

Newly acquired Oswalt has been a fantastic pickup for Philadelphia. Since being acquired at the trade deadline, Oswalt has compiled a 7-1 record (the lone loss coming in his first start with the team) and a 1.94 ERA. His ERA over the entirety of the season is 2.90, putting him ninth in the NL.

While getting everyone healthy (starters Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz have all seen stints on the DL) and getting the offense right have been big for the Phillies, the amazing pitching from the top of the rotation has been instrumental in Philadelphia’s latest pennant race.

For the upcoming series, not only does aligning the rotation as it is put the team in the best position possible to win its fourth consecutive division title, but it also is the best possible warm-up for October baseball.

Facing a playoff-caliber team (the Braves are currently the Wild Card leaders) the Phillies will line up their three best pitchers in a playoff atmosphere. The importance of the games is huge and the fans in Philadelphia will be loud and behind their team 100 percent.

The Phillies are once again playing their best baseball heading into the postseason, and their most valuable players over that stretch will look to keep the momentum rolling.

Photo Credits.
Roy Halladay: AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek
Cole Hamels: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

How the Patriots Failed their 10 keys to success

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Prior to the New England Patriots matchup against the New York Jets, I wrote up 10 keys to success for the Patriots.

One thing I overlooked: the Patriots needed to show up for both halves.

The first half ended with New England up 14-10, and although the lead was slight, it was a solid showing. Then the Patriots were a no-show in the second half.

The Jets outscored them 18-0 after the break, scoring a total of 21 unanswered points, and just completely dominated in front of the home fans.

Coming into the game, it was the Jets that people were concerned about coming to play. The Patriots, however, made them look like the Super Bowl contenders the Jets boast to be.

Here is an analysis of how the Patriots did in their 10 keys to success, and obviously it isn’t a pretty picture.

The Patriots Need To Prove They Can Win On The Road

Obviously, they failed here. There is no grey area.

Instead of showing a killer instinct, like during the years of their championship teams and the 16-0 regular season team, they once again were last year’s team, the squad that couldn’t close out the big games.

The Patriots allowed momentum to shift and the home crowd to get back into the game.

It’s going to be a long season for New England if they can’t close out games and they can’t win on the road.

The Running Game Needs To Step Up

Another absolute failure here.

Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 52 total yards rushing. Granted they only received 20 carries amongst the three of them, but that is absolutely horrible production. It isn’t production, actually.

New England’s leading rusher was Kevin Faulk, who amassed 22 yards on five carries.

Randy Moss Needs To Show Up

Randy Moss made a spectacular one-handed grab in front of Darrelle Revis, and ran the ball into the end-zone for a 34-yard score, the 150th touchdown reception of his career.

Revis pulled up lame and left the game with a hamstring injury. All was looking good here.

However, Moss had only one catch the rest of the game, even though he was targeted 10 times.

For the star receiver that is playing for a new contract, that isn’t good at all. Moss showed up for one play. It was certainly a magical play, but he needs to do way
more than that.

Wes Welker Needs To Continue His Incredible Comeback

An interesting note, six seemed to be Welker’s number of the day.

Welker got the Patriots on the board early in the game with a six-yard touchdown reception (for, of course, six points).

He hauled in six catches on the day. However, he averaged only six yards per catch (6.3 to be exact).

As a slot receiver, Welker is known for finding seams and running off big gains.

With Moss wrapped up the Jets could focus more attention on Welker.

The touchdown was nice, and first impression was that it would be another long day for the Jets, but Welker was pretty inactive the rest of the game.

The Secondary Needs To Step Up

Last week, Mark Sanchez completed only 47.6 percent of his passes for only 74 yards, had zero touchdowns, and received a ton of criticism from the media.

Against the Patriots, Sanchez completed 70 percent of his passes for 220 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

Darius Butler had an awful day, not only allowing two touchdowns, but was called for two pass interference calls on the Jets’ final touchdown drive.

It’s night and day really, and the secondary was constantly burned yesterday.

The Pass Rush Needs To Be More Present

The Patriots sacked Sanchez three times, which isn’t bad. But they didn’t pressure Sanchez enough.

The second-year quarterback actually picked up confidence as the game went on. No fumbles, no harried throws, no costly poor decisions.

Like the secondary, it isn’t entirely the pass rush’s fault. The defense as a unit didn’t do enough. They weren’t good enough.

However their offense didn’t pick them up.

What happened to Stephen Gostkowski?

Gostkowski missed another field goal Sunday, from 37 yards out, for his third miss of the season. The most he has missed was six in his rookie season. Now a veteran, Gostkowski is halfway there.

His inaccuracy cannot continue if the Patriots are to be a real contender.

Special Teams Boost

Brandon Tate’s Week 1 performance would have been tough to duplicate. He managed to return five kicks against the Jets for 123 yards, a 24.6 average. His longest was a 31-yard return.

Nothing special, but solid numbers. Tate was far from the problem in this game, but it looks like the team is going to need some big plays from him to energize them this season.

Utilize the Tight Ends

Aaron Hernandez is looking like a real steal.

Drafted in the fourth round, the rookie led the Patriots in receiving with six catches for 101 yards. It was the second consecutive game he had a catch for at least 45 yards.

He has good hands and runs with the ball well. He’s also only 20-years-old, so there is still a lot of room for improvement.

He was the lone bright spot for New England in this game.

Welker and Moss weren’t getting it done today; Brady should’ve played the hot hand more, especially before things got out of hand.

Be Smart

The Patriots were penalized six times for 79 yards, while the Jets were penalized six times for 58 yards. Not a big difference, but Darius Butler, who was getting beat all day, was called for two pass-interference penalties on New York’s final scoring drive.

The Patriots also turned the ball over three times, twice due to interceptions, as opposed to zero turnovers for the Jets.

New England lost its cool. They were winning, but couldn’t close it. They made bad decisions and panicked.

And they lost. It isn’t the end of the world, but it was not a good performance.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

10 Keys For Success For the New England Patriots Against the New York Jets

AP Photo/Stephen Savoia

The New England Patriots came out on fire in their opening week victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Now they have a chance to send a statement to the rest of the AFC East, that statement being that the division runs through them and to be the champions you have to beat the champions.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the New York Jets this offseason, with all their roster additions, their appearance on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” television show, and their bold claims of winning the Super Bowl.

Some anointed them champions, but after their offense’s futile performance in Week 1 against the Ravens, the panic button may have already be hit.

The Patriots need to jump on the Jets while they are down, asserting their dominance. There are some key things that the team needs to do in order to make sure that happens.

The Patriots need to prove they can win on the road

Last year in the regular season the Patriots were unbeatable at home going 8-0, however they were a pathetic 2-6 on the road.

The Jets did a poor job of defending their new turf last weekend, and they have to be up for the Patriot game or else a fan mutiny may take place.

Bottom line for the Patriots though is that they need to win away from home. They don’t have to go undefeated, but they cannot afford to have such an awful road record. They need to take advantage of the Jets uninspiring play as of late and escape with a win.

The running game needs to step up

The running backs, namely Fred Taylor need to prove that the Patriots were justified in trading away former first-round draft pick Laurence Maroney.

He was an inconsistent player, but so were the rest of the guys at that position, mostly because of injury. The Patriots made a statement that they are confident in the guys they do have, and that Maroney was, essentially, a mistake of a pick.

The remaining crew needs to reward that confidence, and they should get a boost from the Jets missing monstrous nose tackle Kris Jenkins.

Randy Moss needs to show up

Last year, Darrelle Revis shutdown Randy Moss. In two games against the Jets, Moss had eight catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. Certainly not numbers up to the star receiver’s standards.

This offseason Revis called Moss out, calling him a “slouch”. Moss took the comments in stride but he has to want to prove the corner wrong.

Revis held out all of training camp, returned just in time for Week 1 but wasn’t in top game-shape, and has been nagged by a hamstring injury this week.

Moss needs to show up and burn Revis, making him look silly for deciding to hold out for more money instead of getting ready to face him.

Wes Welker needs to continue his incredible comeback

Welker’s 64 yards receiving and two touchdowns last week were surprising given that at the end of last year no one thought he would be available to play until, at the earliest, Week 6. His comeback from an ACL tear has been impressive, but he needs to continue to perform at a high level.

With Revis and Moss squaring off, Welker will get a good amount of attention from the rest of the Jets secondary. If he is playing well, he will open up the Jets defense for the rest of the offense.

The secondary needs to step up

The Bengals were down last week and needed to pass. The Patriots knew this, but they still couldn’t stop what was coming.

Carson Palmer threw for 345 yards and touchdowns, and Chad Ochocinco had 159 yards receiving. The Bengals have a large stable of receiving options, and Palmer is more experienced and confident than Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is, but Palmer was gunning the ball at will.

The Patriots secondary needs to improve. New York won’t have Santonio Holmes, but Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller can still be dangerous if the defense lets up.

The pass rush needs to be more present

The Patriots sacked Palmer only once in Week 1. That is not the way they wanted to start the season.

The Patriots need to attack the offensive line, specifically the left guard spot, where Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse have been disastrous.

If they can get past whoever is starting there, collapse the pocket, and make Sanchez run for his life, it will be a very long, difficult, and frustrating day for the Jets.

Gary Guyton had a nice interception and return for a touchdown last week, and more of that can come with constant pressure, forcing Sanchez to make bad plays. And Sanchez will force the ball.

What happened to Stephen Gostowski?

The career 84 percent kicker missed two field goals last week, going 1-3 on the day.

The Jets defense did hold the Ravens offense to only ten points on the day, so it could very well come down to a field goal battle and more Gostowski misses could cost New England precious games in the standings.

Special teams boost

Gostowski had a bad game, but kick returner Brandon Tate more than made up for it. He had four kick returns for 184 yards—an average of 46 yards per return—and a touchdown.

The Patriots wasn’t very solid last year, so Tate’s contributions were huge.

Again, in a game that could be a defensive struggle, field position and special teams touchdowns would have a huge impact.

Utilize the tight ends

Last weekend, the Jets saw a heavy dose of Todd Heap, who caught six balls for 72 yards. His longest catch was for 35 yards, his longest since 2007, and he averaged 12 yards a catch (the last time Heap averaged 12 yards a catch—for the season—was in 2003). He also helped moved the chains, achieving five first downs.

The Jets made Heap look like a viable receiver once again, not something he has done the past few years.

The Patriots targeted rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez twice last week, making one catch for 45 yards. He has good hands and is smooth in the open field, looking more like a wide receiver.

New England has never been afraid to look at all their options on offense, so it might be beneficial to go to Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski more often.

Be smart

The Jets are frustrated. They also have a lot of guys more than willing to run their mouths. With such a big rivalry, the game could get very physical and chippy.

The Jets won’t be disciplined; last week they committed 14 penalties for 125 yards. That’s more yards than the running game or the passing game accumulated.

New England needs to play Patriot football. Don’t let the Jets players, or head coach Rex Ryan, get in their heads. Stay disciplined and don’t get into a battle of words. Let your game and the scoreboard do the talking.

Even then, it may not shut up Bart Scott.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

NFL Week 2 Picks: Minnesota Vikings Continue Losing Ways Against Miami Dolphins

AP Photo/Bill Haber

The tricky part with the opening week of the season is not seeing enough of teams going full throttle to know what to expect. The problem with Week 2 is that, as Bill Simmons put it in his latest column, you don’t want to overreact to what you did see.

No, this isn’t the end for the Indianapolis Colts—not as long as Peyton Manning is back there. It also doesn’t mean the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ready for a playoff run. What happened in Week 1 needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

That being said, the way the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys started their seasons, and went about the preseason, there is cause for concern. Those two teams need to get their stuff together. They need to show it, it can’t be all talk and hype anymore.

And then there is Minnesota. A not so impressive outing in Week 1, plus some more missing pieces in an already makeshift offense and you have a recipe for another loss.

Who do you think will win this week?

Pittsburgh (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0)

Pittsburgh was able to pull out an overtime thriller last week at home thanks to a big weekend from running back Rashard Mendenhall (120 yards rushing, game-winning touchdown).

The task is tougher this weekend going into Tennessee to face the Titans. They had a much easier weekend against Oakland. The competition was easier then Pittsburgh’s, but they did have to get the job done.

Tennessee picked up where they left off last year, and running back Chris Johnson looks motivated for another huge season.

Tennessee wins.

Miami (1-0) at Minnesota (0-1)

Neither team looked that good last week.

Miami’s offense mustered only 13 points (they got two from a safety) against the lowly Buffalo Bills. Their defense on the other hand did look improved, much in part to Karlos Dansby's eight tackles and one sack.

Minnesota had a tough task playing at the Superdome when the Saints raised their Super Bowl banner. They only turned the ball over once and Brett Favre only got sacked once, however the team seemed rather out of sync throughout the night, resulting in only one touchdown.

Sidney Rice is out, and Percy Harvin may not be able to go either. Part of the problem came from Favre coming in late to preseason and not being used to his receivers, and having his top two guys out doesn't help.

I'll take the team that isn't quite there yet but has an improved defense, against a team that isn't on the same page.

Miami wins.

Arizona (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1)

Arizona's win was deceiving last week.

They needed a late fourth quarter touchdown to come from behind and beat the Rams. They also lost four fumbles, an alarmingly high number. Quarterback Derek Anderson didn't throw any interceptions, but he did fumble the ball twice, turning it over once. Starting running back Tim Hightower lost two fumbles, and receiver Max Komar put the ball on the ground three times, one of which was picked up by the Rams' defense.

St. Louis also contained Larry Fitzgerald, who did score a touchdown and was targeted 15 times, but only made three catches for 43 yards.

The Cardinals were aided by the three picks rookie Sam Bradford made in his NFL debut.

The Falcons had a difficult time running the ball last week (25 attempts, 58 yards) and only managed to score three field goals. However they only turned the ball over once.

Atlanta is the more disciplined team and that should service them well in this game.

Atlanta wins.

Baltimore (1-0) at Cincinnati (0-1)

For a team that brought in Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to bolster a receiving corps and offense, 10 points is a pretty poor output. They also were only able to rush for 49 yards. For a team pegged as a strong Super Bowl contender, that's very bad. They also turned the ball over three times.

Still, their defense allowed only nine points and a suspect secondary allowed only 60 passing yards. But was their dominance their own, or thanks to a horrid Jets team? It's probably a combination of the two.

The Bengals fell way behind in their game early and were forced to pass the ball a lot, but they did so efficiently. The Patriots knew they had to pass, but they couldn't stop them. Carson Palmer threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception early, but was accurate from there on out.

He has a slew of receiving options with Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley, and Jermaine Gresham. Ray Lewis can't hit all of them on the same play.

The Ravens' performance was not convincing and the Bengals should be aided by a return home.

Cincinnati wins.

Kansas City (1-0) at Cleveland (0-1)

Kansas City was an exciting team to watch last week. Aided by a refurbished home stadium and extremely loud home crowd, the Chiefs got great production from return men Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster. Running back Jamaal Charles also produced some big plays, putting together 92 yards on 11 rushes and scoring a touchdown.

Matt Cassel desperately needs to improve his 10-22 and 68 yard passing performance, but he didn't throw a single interception and the Chiefs did not turn the ball over at all.

Cleveland will be without Jake Delhomme (which may not be a bad thing actually), but Seneca Wallace has his work cut out for him with a team that could only muster two touchdowns against Tampa Bay.

Kansas City wins.

Chicago (1-0) at Dallas (0-1)

Dallas had a bad preseason and that carried over into Week 1. They were penalized 12 times for 81 yards, more than any individual running back had. The penalty with the biggest impact came when Dallas seemed to tie the game up in the last seconds of the game, but offensive tackle Alex Barron was called for holding.

They were only 1-3 in the red zone, and managed to score only seven points the whole night.

They got a lot of production from receiver Miles Austin (10 receptions, 146 yards, and a touchdown), but it wasn't enough.

On the other hand, Jay Cutler had a very good game, throwing for 372 yards and two touchdowns.

Even bigger was the defense stuffing the Lions running game for only 20 yards.

Chicago needs to improve on their ability to hold onto the ball, losing three fumbles, their penalties (nine penalties for 100 yards), and Cutler needs to cut down on his turnovers (one interception, one fumble lost), but the defense was strong and they were able to move the ball up the field.

It could be an ugly, undisciplined game, but right now Chicago just looks more dangerous than Dallas does.

Chicago wins.

Philadelphia (0-1) at Detroit (0-1)

Both teams are missing their starting quarterbacks, with Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb out with a concussion and Detroit's Matthew Stafford missing the game because of a shoulder injury.

Philadelphia made a bold comeback last week, down 20-3 at one point but finishing the game to lose by only a touchdown. Michael Vick played extremely well, completing 67 percent of his passes, throwing for a touchdown, and rushing for 103 yards.

Detroit rushed for only 20 yards total, was outgained in total yards by 295 yards, and turned the ball over three times. Also, Calvin Johnson dropped what would have been the game changing touchdown.

Jahvid Best's two touchdowns were promising, but there needs to be a lot of improvement all around.

Philadelphia wins.

Buffalo (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0)

Buffalo looked bad last week.

They struggled to get 166 yards of total offense, showing no spark at all, and while losing decided the smart play was to surrender a safety in the name of field position instead of trying to get points on the board. Gutsy, interesting, stupid, unconventional, call it whatever you want but it was unsuccessful.

Green Bay let Philadelphia back into the game last week, but they did finish the job.

This contest is just an old-fashioned mismatch.

Green Bay wins.

Tampa Bay (1-0) at Carolina (0-1)

Panthers quarterback Matt Moore threw three interceptions in the end zone last weekend. That just cannot happen if you expect to win games.

Tampa Bay won, but they weren't that great, turning the ball over twice, being the more penalized team, and lost the yardage battle. They also were only 1-3 in the red zone.

Moore could lose the game for Carolina, but if they could jump out to a quick lead of any margin and aren't forced to throw the ball, DeAngelo Williams should be able to run all over Tampa Bay. They gave up an average of 4.5 yards per rush and a touchdown last week against the Browns.

Williams is a much better runner than anyone on the Cleveland roster, and the Panthers are just more successful the more touches he gets.

Give the ball to DeAngelo.

Carolina wins.

Seattle (1-0) at Denver (0-1)

Seattle came out of nowhere last week to come up with a big victory at home over San Francisco. They allowed only two field goals and a total of 49 rushing yards.

They were outgained in the passing game though, 214-165.

Yes the Seahawks were winning big and didn't need to pass, but they were actually balanced on offense throwing and rushing the ball 23 times each.

If it comes down to an aerial battle, the Seahawks could fall behind. Kyle Orton threw for 295 yards against the Jaguars and he won't make the same costly mistakes that San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith made.

With home field advantage, if the Broncos can get a little more from their running game (25 carries, 89 total yards, and one touchdown) they could prove a much tougher task than the 49ers did.

Denver wins.

St. Louis (0-1) at Oakland (0-1)

Oakland had a difficult time scoring last week, but then again so did St. Louis, each team managing to put only 13 points on the board.

The Raiders' passing game wasn't very strong, totaling only 150 yards, but the running game stepped up going for 136 yards.

The big difference in this game will be the turnover battle. Jason Campbell lost a fumble and threw an interception, not the difference Oakland was hoping for when they acquired him this offseason to replace JaMarcus Russell.

However, Sam Bradford threw three interceptions. The Rams also stayed in the game thanks to Arizona's four fumbles.

If Oakland takes care of the ball, they should be able to put enough points on the board for a victory.

Oakland wins.

Houston (1-0) at Washington (1-0)

Houston picked up a big win last week over division-rival Colts thanks to an impressive 257 yards rushing, 231 of which came from Arian Foster.

Washington picked up a division win, but it wasn't as impressive a showing. They ran for only 89 yards, were outgained in the passing game, and were 0-2 in the red zone. Washington's defense did a good job of bending but not breaking, and scored an opportunistic touchdown when DeAngelo Hall stripped the ball away from Tashard Choice.

Houston pretty much abandoned the passing game last week, but they had their game plan in place and executed. They were sharper than the Cowboys and will be more difficult for the Redskins to handle.

Houston wins.

New England (1-0) at New York Jets (0-1)

For all the talk and bravado, the Jets looked just plain bad on Monday Night Football. They didn’t show any true spark all preseason and couldn’t get out of their own way against the Ravens.

Shonn Green was a fumbling machine, so first order of business for the Jets is to install LaDanian Tomlinson as the starter. He at least has looked like he’s playing with some sense of urgency. The same can’t be said for the rest of the offense.

New England took care of business against the Bengals in Week 1. They threw the ball with efficiency, and their defense, as decimated as it is, wasn’t too bad. Gary Guyton had a big interception returned for a touchdown.

The Jets need to show some sign of life. Until then, you can’t pick them.

New England wins.

Jacksonville (1-0) at San Diego (0-1)

No Marcus McNeil and no Vincent Jackson left the Chargers' usually punchy offense pretty lifeless. They managed only two touchdowns in total, the second coming with just under two and a half minutes remaining.

Tight end Antonio Gates had a strong game (five receptions, 76 yards, and a touchdown), but as a unit they could not get the ball in the red zone (only two attempts from 20-yards out all night, the last one coming at the end of the game and unable to punch the ball in), let alone the end zone.

For Jacksonville, David Garrard had the highest QB rating of his career. He only threw for 170 yards, but he tossed three touchdown passes.

The Jaguars made plays, the Chargers did not. It looks like San Diego is still recouping from the losses and distractions of Jackson and McNeil.

Jacksonville wins.

New York Giants (1-0) at Indianapolis (0-1)

Houston not only took advantage of a slow-starting Colts team, they devised a strong game plan to exploit the Colts' weaknesses in their 34-24 win.

Indianapolis surrendered 257 yards rushing and they constantly pressured Peyton Manning. Even though he was only sacked two times, the pocket was constantly collapsing and they forced Manning to move around, escape the pocket, and hurry his throws.

It seems like a simple formula, but it is easier said than done.

The Giants were able to generate four sacks. However they only managed to rush for 118 yards.

They were lifted by Hakeem Nix's three touchdown receptions, but Eli Manning still threw three turnovers. Eli's three picks were neutralized by the three interceptions Matt Moore threw, but against Indy it won't be the case.

Peyton won't make those mistakes.

Indianapolis wins.

New Orleans (1-0) at San Francisco (0-1)

You don’t want to press the panic button after the first week. What you want to do is just work on fixing the mistakes you made in order to turn things around quickly.

That being said, San Francisco has a lot of mistakes to fix as they were trounced by the Seahawks last week. They were so bad head coach Mike Singletary demanded a team meeting as soon as they got off their flight.

The Saints didn't have their best game, but they still did enough to get the win. They won't have the emotion of their fans and raising the championship banner like last week, but San Francisco has bigger problems.

New Orleans wins.

Last week: 8-8

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Hard Knocks" Hopefuls

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

For the past five Wednesday’s, NFL fans have gotten the chance to get exclusive access to the New York Jets training camp thanks to the HBO show “Hard Knocks”. With the season started though, the television show has wrapped up.

The show has been quite popular over the past few years, as camera crew have gone inside the locker room, on the playing field and in the general manager’s office of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009, and the New York Jets this past offseason.

The show works for a few reasons: the inside access, the drama of personnel moves, and the comedy courtesy of the characters the show develops—after all, it was on “Hard Knocks” that the phrase “child please” reached pop culture status.

So with the latest season come and gone, it is time to take a look at potential replacements for next year’s installment.

Yes, a lot of things could happen from now until next preseason, causing some teams to have more buzz than others, but here is a list of teams that feature compelling storylines and characters, as well as having some success on the field, that would be great features on the show.

And there has to be some reality in it happening. So as much as it would be nice to finally see inside the New England Patriots’ fortress known as Gillette Stadium, Bill Belichick would never in a million years allow that kind of access to his football team. So you won’t see the Pats on this list.

Denver Broncos

In two seasons as head coach, Josh McDaniels has jettisoned his starting quarterback (Jay Cutler) and number one wide receiver (Brandon Marshall). After starting 2009 6-0, Denver finished 8-8. There’s a lot of frustration in the organization and a lot of butting heads.

The NFL sack leader of 2009, Elvis Dumervil, who is out this season due to an injury, will be attempting to make his comeback into the starting lineup.

A big thing for the producers to focus on will be the competition at quarterback. While previous team’s featured had their starting quarterback in-tact Denver will have three guys competing for the spot. There is Kyle Orton, the incumbent starter, Brady Quinn, the former first-rounder the Broncos traded for but who has failed to live up to expectations, and Tim Tebow, arguably the most successful quarterback in the history of college football who the Broncos have big plans for. Who comes out on top? Who will be the number two? Will any of them get moved?

Minnesota Vikings

Will Brett Favre play another season or will he finally, actually retire? If he does leave, will Tavaris Jackson be ready to take over, or does the team once again look elsewhere for a new starting quarterback?

They also have Adrian Peterson, one of the most electric running backs in the NFL but who also has to overcome a fumbling problem.

Jared Allen could also prove to be a big-time character, much like Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens was in their respective seasons. He is routinely featured on ESPN’s lighthearted pieces, and while he still is a character in the locker room, he’s changing his image off the field to a family man, hence the shaving of his mullet.

New Orleans Saints

Depending on how the season plays out, a number of storylines could come out of what the Saints did on the field in 2010. They can be the two-time defending Super Bowl champions, fall just short of winning a second title and be working to get back over the hump, or they could follow the recent trend of Super Bowl participants that don’t even make the playoffs and are extremely humbled.

Whichever way the season goes, there are plenty of characters and rich storylines. There is Drew Brees, the star quarterback who has no fear of being in the spotlight. There is running back Reggie Bush, who has been in the middle of quite a bit of controversy involving his college eligibility and how he tries to resurrect his character. There is also head coach Sean Payton, who is an aggressive play caller in what is a conservative NFL.

There is the background story of the local area still picking itself up from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, as well as how the Saints play an enormous role in the community.

Plus, after the won the Super Bowl everyone in the organization showed that they enjoy the extra attention.

San Francisco 49ers

This is a team full of former first-round draft picks: Alex Smith, David Carr, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr., Vernon Davis, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Nate Clements, and Manny Lawson to name (more than) a few.

They’ve accumulated all this talent, plus Frank Gore who is one of the best running backs in the league, but haven’t made any real strides in the standings. Every year is supposed to be “the year” but they fall short.

What needs to happen for them to finally fully turn the corner?

They have a coach who takes a no-nonsense approach to football, but who also has had his share of comedic press conferences.

And with every loss the team gets more and more disenfranchised with Smith. Will Carr get a second chance at starting in the NFL? Will recently acquired Troy Smith, a former Heisman trophy winner, finally get his first chance to start?

With another draft and offseason it could be a rookie or big offseason pickup, as well.

Washington Redskins

Owner Daniel Snyder has extremely deep pockets. Like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, he is a personality that likes to be seen and talked about. Jones got the Cowboys on Hard Knocks, would Snyder want to follow suit to get more exposure for his team?

After 11 seasons as rival Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback, Donovan McNabb is the new Redskins quarterback. However, he is not the long term answer. Will the Redskins be grooming a young arm behind him?

Albert Haynesworth is a big guy with an even bigger contract. He also is unhappy and unfit, failing a conditioning test multiple times early in the preseason. Still, McNabb says the team can’t win without him. If the Redskins don’t move him by next year’s training camp, this would be a huge storyline to follow.

Also, head coach Mike Shanahan is a high-profile coach with two Super Bowl rings on his hand. He is an old-school style coach who will work to bring this squad of high-priced players together. Certainly an interesting dynamic. How does he work with his players? How does he interact with Snyder?

The bigger question here is would he be willing to be a part of the all-access “Hard Knocks” is all about? It might be a reason for a Shanahan-Snyder argument.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two New York Red Bull Legends Ready to Retire

The New York Red Bulls, now in their 15th year of existence, have been a roller coaster of a franchise. There have been some extreme highs but also some terrible, unthinkable lows. There has been a revolving door of coaches and players, a name change, and a new stadium for the team to call its own.

Two players, more so than any others, have been through almost all of it. And after the 2010 season, they’ll be a part of the club’s history as well.

Forward John Wolyniec has retired effective immediately, and defender Mike Petke will finish out the current season before hanging up his boots.

Both are New York natives, were drafted by the club, and have spent the majority of their careers with the Red Bulls. They also both have two appearances with the U.S. National Team.

Wolyniec spent seven of his 12 MLS seasons, over three separate stints, with the New York club. He is second in franchise history in regular-season games played with 142 appearances and fifth in goals scored in all competitions with 36.

Petke is a 13-year veteran, seven of which (over two stints) have been spent with New York. He is the club’s all-time leader in regular season games played (167), games started (158), and minutes played (14,006). He was most recently voted by the fans as one of the Red Bulls All-Time Best XI. He also recently became only the 12th player in league history to play in 300 MLS games.

These two players endeared themselves to the fans for so many priceless moments on the field.

Wolyniec shined during the 2008 Playoffs. In the second leg of the opening round Wolyniec scored a goal in the team’s 3-0 rout of the Houston Dynamo, and then proceeded to do the Thriller dance. He continued his scoring ways scoring in the Cup final against the Columbus Crew. That strike is the first-ever, and only, goal scored by the Red Bulls in the championship game.

Petke was forever embedded in club lore when in 2000, the then spiky-haired bleached-tips defender stood up for his fallen teammate.

In a game against since-folded franchise Tampa Bay, opposing forward broke the ribs of Metrostars goalkeeper Mike Ammann by kicking him although Ammann had control of the ball. No disciplinary action was taken by the league.

In the team’s next game, Petke scored and lifted his jersey revealing a t-shirt that read “August 16: Crime of the Century” on the front and “Revenge is Coming” on the back. The league fined him, but the fans’ love for him was permanently cemented.

After a strong 2000 campaign, Petke trialed with Bundesliga side Bayern Munich and was offered a contract by FC Kaiserslautern, but elected to stay with the Metrostars, the club he has always called home, no matter who he played with.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images One thing that really has been evident in both of their careers has been leadership and strong work ethics. No matter what the circumstance those two have been true professionals. Even if the season was a lost cause those two continued to work as if every game was the championship.

The fans loved Wolyniec for his ability to come off the bench, no matter how early or late in the game, and change the action. The “Staten Island Ronaldo” could score in a mere few minutes of work, but most importantly, he brought life and energy on the field when the team needed it most.

Petke returned to the Red Bulls for the 2009 season, a disastrous season resulting in a 5-19-6. However there was Petke on the practice field every day pushing himself and his teammates, and calling them out when they weren’t performing up to par.

Rewarding these players is a must. They were both fortunate enough to finally play in Red Bull Arena, a home stadium rumored to be built for what seemed like the entirety of their careers yet finally came to fruition this season. Wolyniec will be honored before the team’s October 2 game against Kansas City.

There is still one thing that the team can do, at least for Petke, and that is to finally win the championship.

It would be the perfect ending for the perfect Red Bull.

Photo Credits.
Mike Petke: AP Photo/Mel Evans
John Wolyniec: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Friday, September 10, 2010

Randy Moss Not a Part of the "Patriot Way"

Two high-profile New England Patriots players are pining for contract extensions. One is going about it the Patriot way, the other, not so much.

Franchise quarterback Tom Brady and prolific wide receiver Randy Moss are both in the last years of their deals. Both have performed extremely well for the Patriots, deserving of new deals. But they are going about it in two completely opposite ways.

Head coach Bill Belichick is infamous for not giving away too much information to the media. He likes to keep all issues in the locker room and keep everyone outside guessing.

Brady, drafted by Belichick, is his top disciple. The quarterback doesn’t give up too much information and is all about the team.

When he was asked about his ongoing contract-extension negotiations Brady responded, “I don't want to get into it. For me, it's the same as it's been. I'm trying to find a way to score some touchdowns against the Bengals. I didn't spend five minutes yesterday thinking about my contract or future.”

He continued to say that even talking about it made him “pretty uncomfortable” because of how Belichick and owner Robert Kraft feel about handling such situations.

Since the turn of the new millennium Brady has been the face of the Patriots franchise, the main part to the Patriot dynasty. He deserves a new contract. However, if he in the slightest way felt disrespected you would never know.

Submit Vote vote to see results The situation won’t distract him. He wouldn’t allow it to affect his play. He certainly won’t tell the media he’s upset.

It’s all business for Brady, and his business is beating the Bengals on the road to attempting to win another Super Bowl.

This is not to say Randy Moss doesn’t want to win the Super Bowl, but he’s also not afraid to voice his opinion.

Moss whined that no new contract proposal made him feel “unwanted”, that the Patriots organization did not respect the hard work Moss has put in and the exceptional numbers he’s put up.

He says he understands the nature of the business, but that comment seems contrary to everything else he has said. If he truly understood how the business worked then he would understand that he has a contract he needs to play out. He would understand that the Patriots had to pay Vince Wilfork over the offseason and also have to pay Tom Brady and Logan Mankins as well.

If he understands it’s business then he wouldn’t feel unwanted; he’d feel like he needed to have another good year to earn a new contract. That’s all.

The pressing nature for a new contract is obvious, as the league’s CBA is set to expire and a labor stoppage is a popular point of discussion. Moss wants to be financially secure and wants a favorable contract before a new CBA changes the values players can reach.

Submit Vote vote to see results The worry becomes what kind of attitude Moss will have heading into the season. While Brady says the right things and the public knows his contract situation won’t get to him, it isn’t so clear for Moss.

NFL fans have seen a moody Moss and it isn’t a pretty picture. He mopes on the sidelines and essentially refuses to play. The more disenfranchised he gets the bigger a distraction he becomes.

To Moss’ credit he has not been a problem at all for the team. It seems as if Belichick and Brady have turned him into a model citizen and they won’t allow him to revert back to the Moss of old. They’ve both praised Moss since his outburst to the media, saying how valuable he is, how important he is, and how they do want him on board.

With the latest news that Brady and the team have agreed to a contract extension, it may also be closer to Moss’ turn. If the team wishes not to actually negotiate during the season they can at least focus on Moss and communicate with him, let him know that he is next in line.

Still, the differences between how Brady handled himself and how Moss handled himself reflect most on their status as a Patriot. Like the topic of how, unlike New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez wasn’t a “true Yankee”, it comes down to winning; Tom Brady has lead the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories. Randy Moss has not won anything.

Therefore, rewarding Tom Brady for his victories is top priority. Ensuring one of his favorite and most dangerous passing targets is around is secondary business.

Business. Nothing personal.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFL Week 1 Picks: Houston Texans To Beat Indianapolis Colts in Upset

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Are you ready for some football?

The NFL is back in action, starting with the New Orleans Saints beginning their title defense against the Minnesota Vikings, the team that they beat in the NFC Championship game (and in case you couldn’t keep track of all his flip-flopping once again, Brett Favre is returning for another season).

The cliché is that the start of a new season is a clean slate for everyone. The parity in the league makes picking winners for Week 1 difficult. There are always surprises in the league, and there is not much to go by when choosing one team over another.

Yes, teams have strengths, weaknesses, home field advantage, and talented players, but to really judge a team accurately you need to see how they play (and the preseason doesn’t help much).

Still for the fans, Week 1 is chock full of great matchups.

Let the games begin.

Minnesota at New Orleans

For the past six seasons, the defending Super Bowl champions have started their seasons off with opening night wins. It is an exciting atmosphere. The team comes back to the field for the first real time since the big win and raises the championship banner in front of the ravenous home fans.

The Vikings, with Brett Favre returning at least one more season and with an axe to grind after losing to the Saints in the NFC Championship game last season, will look to successfully crash the party.

New Orleans will look to keep the momentum rolling. Drew Brees and company are considered strong Super Bowl contenders. Who Dat Nation will be in full force and recent history is also backing the Saints.

New Orleans wins.

Carolina at New York Giants

Generally speaking, two things happened to the Giants last year: injuries and egos.

The Giants started off a dominating 5-0 but finished the season at .500. There are a number of intricate things that went wrong, but overall there were a number of injuries to high profile players and the Giants became a collection of talented individuals rather than a united team.

The Panthers actually came together at the end of the season. With Matt Moore inserted as the starting quarterback the team won its final three games and four of its last five.

Moore might have been productive, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from drafting Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

The Giants say they are committed to returning to the ways of a strong team. The belief is that the group of players wants to prove that themselves as individuals as well as the team as a whole are out to prove that last year was a fluke.

Opening up the New Meadowlands Stadium, they have the chance to prove it firsthand to their home fans.

New York Giants win.

Atlanta at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes was traded in the offseason and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of the season. Those are major roster changes.

Dennis Dixon is a promising prospect who should do considerably well in Roethlisberger’s absence. He still has Hines Ward at receiver and a lot of focus will be paid to running back Rashard Mendenhall.

However, even with Roethlisberger’s suspension Dixon wasn’t the guy the Steelers pegged to replace him until Byron Leftwich went down with an injury. There’s a reason for everything, and the reason here is that Dixon still needs a little seasoning.

Matt Ryan hit a sophomore slump last season, lowering his completion percentage and yards thrown, and had more interceptions and fumbles.

He did however throw more touchdown passes and has another year of experience under his belt—yes, it counts for something.

Winning at Heinz Field is not an easy feat, but right now this Steelers team will have some growing pains.

Atlanta wins.

Cleveland at Tampa Bay

Offensive weapons will be hard to come by in this game.

A lot of people were excited to see Browns rookie running back Montario Hardesty, but he is lost for the season due to injury.

Cadillac Williams appears to, once again, be the Bucs starter at running back but he has strong injury concerns.

Young wide receivers will be the highlight in this match as Browns’ second-year WR Mohamed Massaqui and Tampa rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams are top targets.

The Browns brought in quarterback Jake Delhomme in the offseason. He has struggled mightily the past couple seasons, but he is a veteran leader that has played, and played well, in some big games. It’s highly unlikely that he leads the Browns to the playoffs, but in a matchup against another weak opponent, he may be able to bring them to victory in this game.

Cleveland wins.

Denver at Jacksonville

Josh McDaniels turned his starting quarterback and No. 1 wide receiver against him and both worked their way out of Denver. After starting the season 6-0, they finished the season 2-8—for an overall record of 8-8—and missed the playoffs. Mike Nolan, the man who helped improve a weak defense, was let go. And finally last year’s NFL sack leader Elvis Dumerville is out for the entire season.

There’s also some quarterback controversy brewing. The Broncos traded Cutler for Kyle Orton, who came in and played smart and efficient football. He solidified himself as a good starting NFL quarterback. This offseason, though, the Broncos traded for Brady Quinn and drafted Tim Tebow. Competition is a good thing, but this raises a lot of questions.

How short of a leash does Orton have? Was the trade for Quinn a statement that the Broncos didn’t believe Orton would last as starting quarterback? Was the drafting of Tebow a sign that they felt the Quinn trade was a mistake? Orton is the starter, but who is the No. 2? Will Tebow even play quarterback, or some other position and used as a Wildcat type guy?

Meanwhile in Jacksonville, while the team finished with a losing record, David Gerrard was his reliable self, throwing for only 10 interceptions, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew finished fourth in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns.

Facing a weakened defensive line, expect the Jaguars to rely on a heavy dose of Jones-Drew to wear down the Broncos further.

Jacksonville wins.

Indianapolis at Houston

In the history of the franchise, the Houston Texans are 1-15 against the Indianapolis Colts.

2009 was the team’s first winning season, yet they were swept by the Colts. To truly turn the corner the Texans need to get over the hump and start beating the Colts. That’s not saying if they don’t win this game their season is doomed, but at this point it is as much a mental issue as it is a physical one.

The Colts take some time to find their groove, and this preseason was a rocky one as the issue of how the referees spotted the ball affected the way the Colts ran the no-huddle offense and threw off their rhythm.

The Texans are an athletic, skilled, and explosive team that needs to get up for this game. With a slow starting, out of sync Colts team the Texans need to take advantage of the opportunity and take it to the Colts.

Houston wins.

Miami at Buffalo

While the Jets and Patriots get all the publicity, the Dolphins went about this offseason looking to improve their roster and be able to compete with those two teams for the division crown. They added wide receiver and deep threat Brandon Marshall and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Ronnie Brown is also healthy and will complement Ricky Williams in an already strong running game.

Buffalo lost Terrell Owens and is still extremely unsettled at the quarterback position.

Miami wins.

Detroit at Chicago

The Bears were very active in the beginning of the offseason, spending cash to bring in defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Chester Taylor. Both are nice additions.

The Lions also nabbed a defensive lineman and a running back, but did so through the draft. Jahvid Best is a quick and electrifying back from California and Ndamukong Suh is a monster of a man who knows how to hunt down the quarterback.

While the Lions have not been a good team in recent years, the Bears have had talented teams with high hopes that have underachieved, which is more worrisome than just being a bad team and performing like it.

Jay Cutler was supposed to finally solve the quarterback issue in Chicago, but he threw a league leading 26 interceptions. Confidence was an issue.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was brought in to energize the offense, which could be interesting. However he has a history of not using the tight end effectively. This is a problem because Chicago’s best receiver is tight end Greg Olsen.

Meanwhile, while Matthew Stafford did not have the greatest rookie season, he did show a lot of courage. He started for a team in an obvious rebuilding phase and took control of the offense. In Week 11 against Cleveland, Stafford suffered a bad shoulder injury, but threw for five touchdowns, the last one coming with zero seconds remaining on the clock to help the Lions to a 39-38 come from behind victory.

And while Mark Sanchez gets good reviews because his team went far in the playoffs, he and Stafford had very similar stats. Sanchez’s completion percentage was a couple of tenths higher than Stafford and he threw for a little under 200 yards more, but Stafford had one more touchdown and was sacked two less times. They both had 20 interceptions.

With questions swirling around Cutler and the job security of head coach Lovie Smith, there is a prime opportunity here for a Lions upset.

Detroit wins.

Oakland at Tennessee

When Vince Young entered the Titans starting lineup, he immediately ended the team’s six-game losing streak and went on to win five consecutive games, eight of the final 10, and put the team in playoff contention.

Young needs to prove he can have consecutive successful seasons, but he has talent around him to help. Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, and Justin Gage form a nice receiving corps and of course there is the 2,000-yard sensation Chris Johnson at running back.

Oakland should improve with newly-acquired quarterback Jason Campbell taking over the offense from JaMarcus Russell. Campbell provides a solid, steady, calm leader for a young and inexperienced offense.

Still, the Titans are the more talented team.

Tennessee wins.

Cincinnati at New England

Four iconic wide receivers will be on the field in Massachusetts: Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker. All are talented and three of the four (exclude Welker) have big egos.

With Tom Brady slinging the ball to Moss and Welker, and Palmer throwing to Ochocinco and Owens against a young and inexperienced Patriots’ secondary, expect this game to be a high-scoring aerial battle.

Gillette Stadium was an impenetrable fortress last year for the Patriots, who finished 8-0 at home in the regular season. However they were run over by the Ravens at home in the playoffs, and some believed that the loss marked the end of the Patriots dynasty.

Season-ending injuries to defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden have left already suspect positions in even more disarray.

With no pass rush and poor coverage, Palmer should have plenty of time to find an open player from his strong stable of receivers and tight ends.

Is it time for Boston to panic?

Cincinnati wins.

Arizona at St. Louis

Kurt Warner retires. Anquan Boldin leaves for the Ravens. Karlos Dansby signs, at the time, the largest contract for a linebacker and joins the Miami Dolphins.

This is not the same Arizona team that went to the Super Bowl two years ago, or lost to the Saints in the second round of the playoffs.

And the quarterback that was originally drafted as the future of the franchise, Matt Leinart, was released.

It looks grim for Arizona but new starting quarterback Derek Anderson was a Pro Bowler. And they still have Larry Fitzgerald, who catches anything thrown in his general direction.

They also get a good confidence boost against St. Louis in the opening week.

The Rams are just not a talented team. Their top wide receiver Donnie Avery is injured. They are starting a rookie quarterback who missed all of last season because of a shoulder injury. Steven Jackson is a very talented running back, but how much of the burden can he carry?

Arizona wins.

San Francisco at Seattle

San Francisco has stockpiled young talent all over the field. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, and Anthony Davis—all former first round picks—anchor the offensive line. Michael Crabtree will be ready for the entire season this year, and he will be joined by former first-round pick Ted Ginn, Jr., who while having difficulties catching the ball still has blazing speed. There is also linebacker and defensive leader Patrick Willis, rookie safety Taylor Mays, tight end Vernon Davis, and running back Frank Gore.

The key to San Francisco realizing their potential will be quarterback Alex Smith doing the same. The former first-round pick has yet to live up to expectations but will be given the keys to the offense.

He doesn’t have to win games; that’s what Frank Gore and a tough defense are for. If Smith can muster up some confidence though and show off some of the talent that made him such a No. 1 pick, then the 49ers can make some noise.

It all depends on Smith though.

San Francisco wins.

Green Bay at Philadelphia

Kevin Kolb will begin his attempt to succeed a franchise legend. The Eagles traded Donovan McNabb, who spent the past 11 seasons as Philadelphia’s starter and most accomplished quarterback in franchise history, because they felt Kolb was ready to take on the starting role.

It’s a tall task to take on, something Aaron Rodgers is very familiar with. Rodgers enters his third season starting in place of the “retired” Brett Favre.

Rodgers has done a magnificent job gaining the fans trust. He has lit up the stat sheet and has the media pegging him as an MVP candidate and the Packers a Super Bowl contender.

Kolb is getting quite a bit of praise, but Rodgers has the experience of having such lofty expectations put on him and right now the Packers are a better team.

Green Bay wins.

Dallas at Washington

Neither team has wowed early on in the preseason. Of the two though, Washington looks to be in more trouble.

Donovan McNabb is an upgrade from Jason Campbell, but he is questionable for the opening game. High-priced defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth missed the beginning of camp because he could not pass a conditioning test, and the team has recently been shopping him, yet McNabb says the team can’t win without him.

Dallas may not have put everything together yet, but they have a slew of explosive players on offense that, when a big play is needed, can deliver.

This game may not be pretty, but the Cowboys have the weapons to pull it out.

Dallas wins.

Baltimore at New York Jets

The first Monday Night Football game is a great one. Fresh off their season of “Hard Knocks” Jets head coach Rex Ryan, linebacker Bart Scott, and safety Jim Leonhard face off against their previous team, the team with the famed elite defense, the Baltimore Ravens.

It is also the Jets' first regular season game at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

Both teams brought in some considerable talent this offseason.

The Ravens vastly improved their passing game by bringing in wide receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, and Donte Stallworth (who is out the first eight weeks because of a foot injury).

The Jets added cornerback Antonio Cromartie, linebacker Jason Taylor, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (who will miss the first four weeks of the season due to a suspension).

During the preseason, the Jets could not put all the pieces together. When the starters played well, the backups failed. When the defense played strong, the offense was anemic. When the running game was pounding it out, the passing game was errant.

The expectations are high for the Jets so they need to figure out how to get some continuity in their play.

The Jets offense may be a little shaky, but the Ravens defense, specifically the secondary is significantly weakened. Already a cause for concern, they will also be without safety Ed Reed for the first six weeks thanks to a hip injury.

If the Jets' running game can pound out the football and take advantage of a questionable secondary, then the defense and home field advantage, with the fans amped up because of the team’s expectations and a new stadium, could push them over the top for one night.

New York Jets win.

San Diego at Kansas City

The Chiefs are at the comfy confines of Arrowhead Stadium and the Chargers are without star wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Still, it’s tough to imagine that the Chiefs have made enough improvements to knock off the Chargers, the team that has won the AFC West the past four seasons.

It should be an exciting game however as the Chargers’ Ryan Mathews and Chiefs’ Dexter McCluster make their NFL debuts. Both running backs are expected to ignite their teams’ offenses.

San Diego wins.

Last season (beginning in Week 3): 151-73

Friday, September 3, 2010

Should the New York Red Bulls Loan Teen Prospect Juan Agudelo?

In the New York Red Bulls first game after the summer transfer window closed they play a Real Salt Lake team that was very active in player movement.

The movement featured a lot of players going away from Salt Lake, on loan to be specific. The team has temporarily moved a number of younger players to USSF Division-2 Pro League teams in an effort to get them more playing time.

David Horst (24), Collen Warner (22), Chris Schuler (22), and Alex Nimo (20) all had seen limited MLS regular season action and were loaned out to get more game experience. With no reserve division in place for youngsters to see some action, Real Salt Lake added to their loaned list when they sent highly regarded 16-year-old prospect Luis Gil, who had yet to play in a league game yet has been dubbed a future “number 10” for the United States National Team, to AC St. Louis.

All the activity is a creative solution to the youth development issues that plague the league. The players may not be ready for the demands of MLS, but there is no longer a reserve division in place in order to get players much needed game experience.

Still, Real Salt Lake is the only team in the league to use loans as an option. It’s difficult to figure why other teams have not taken the same route.

With that in mind the question is, should the New York Red Bulls loan out the highly touted Juan Agudelo?

Submit Vote vote to see results The 17-year-old forward is a tantalizing prospect. He represented the United States in the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, scored the equalizing goal against Brazil in the U-20 Copa Chivas tournament, had a strong performance in the Milk Cup where the United States was crowned champions, and was recently named to the U-20 roster for a tournament in Peru.

For New York, he has appeared in three U.S. Open Cup games and also played in exhibition matches. Scheduled so the reserves could get some time, Agudelo scored twice against Army and once more against Rutgers.

While he has shown to be a dangerous player, he has not played a single league game for the Red Bulls. He also does not appear to be remotely close to the field as he is buried on the depth chart behind Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, Macoumba Kandji, Salou Ibrahim, and Connor Chinn.

Currently, it is not a bad thing to be training with the likes of world-class forwards Henry and Angel, watching them, and learning the position and the game from two elite players. However, there is no substitute for experience gained in live games; something Agudelo is getting none of currently.

With so much depth at the forward position, no reserve league, and the future of a promising young player at stake it might be in the best interest of New York to follow Real Salt Lake’s strategy and loan Agudelo next season.

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