Friday, October 29, 2010

Patriots Pass Rush Key Against Vikings

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

In the New England Patriots’ Week 8 showdown against the Minnesota Vikings, all eyes will be on Randy Moss, who makes his return to Gillette Stadium after being traded in Week 5.

Will he want to make his old team regret not giving him a contract extension and trading him? Will he outperform his replacement, Deion Branch? How will the young secondary, which has struggled this season, cover him?

While the Patriots will have to focus on their defense this week, specifically their pass defense, the man they will be most focused on is quarterback Brett Favre.

Yes, Favre has been in a boot all week and everyone has questioned whether he will play. Do you really buy it though? Favre loves the attention, loves having people talking about him and what he’s going to do, so he stirs up the controversy.

Much like his “retirement”, don’t believe Favre won’t be on the field until the whistle has blown and he isn’t in uniform. There is a reason he has a 291 consecutive games played streak (315 including playoffs).

Bill Belichick said the team would plan for Favre playing.

However, while the talk of him playing or not is questionable, what isn’t up for debate is that Favre is severely banged up.

Shoulder, elbow, and ankle injuries have plagued Favre this year. He is also 41-years-old. His body is suffering from the wear-and-tear of the league and he isn’t as mobile as he used to be.

What the Patriots need to do is pour on the pass rush. They need to let him know they will be coming after him, they need to hit him and make him uncomfortable, and they need to force him to throw those awful interceptions that he was called out for by head coach Brad Childress.

The Pats rank 30th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, giving up an average of 282 yards. Part of that is because of a young and inexperienced secondary. But part of the blame also goes to the pass rush.

New England is in the bottom half of the league in sacks, tied for 19th overall with 12. Defensive lineman Mike Wright leads the team with a disappointing three sacks. Thirty-five different players have more sacks than New England’s top guy.

The Vikings are in the middle of the pack in the NFL, allowing 14 sacks. Even worse, however, is that they are tied for fourth in the league with 10 interceptions.

The Patriots really need to have a strong pass rush in this game. Not only would it continue to have a negative effect on Favre’s play, it will also make life easier on the secondary, which will have its hands full with Moss, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe.

If the Pats can beat up Favre and force him into mistakes, it will be a long day for Minnesota.

If not, then Moss may have the field day he’s been hoping for.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NFL Week 8 Picks: New Orleans Rises To Occasion, Takes Down Pittsburgh

AP Photo/Matt York

Week 8 sees a plethora of storylines that should make for an interesting Halloween weekend.

The Broncos and 49ers will play in the annual London game. Randy Moss returns to New England. Will Brett Favre continue his consecutive games played streak? Will the Colts avenge their opening week loss to the Texans? Will Buffalo, the only team without a win, finally get their first?

The Sunday night game is very entertaining, with the Steelers going to New Orleans to face the Saints. The Saints seem down right now, but can they show they still have some magic against a team many are dubbing one of the best in the league?

Who do you think will win?

Miami (3-3) at Cincinnati (2-4)

Although the Dolphins are 0-3 at home, they are away this weekend and they are 3-0 on the road.

The Bengals have the sixth best passing attack in the league but it hasn’t helped them at all as they’ve lost three in a row. As well as they’ve done throwing the ball it hasn’t mattered, because they have gotten away from good defense and rushing the ball.

The Bengals rank 19th in the league in rushing yards per game with 100.2 yards. The Dolphins aren’t much better at 16th with 107.0 yards per game.

However, Miami’s run defense is strong, just outside the top 10 allowing only 100.8 yards per game. Meanwhile Cincinnati allows 118 yards per game on the ground. Their passing defense isn’t anything to be proud of either.

Miami wins.

Jacksonville (3-4) at Dallas (1-5)

Another loss for the Cowboys, where for most of the game they were beaten soundly. They were beat in passing yards, rushing yards, time of possession and time of possession.

Their biggest strength has been their passing game, but now Tony Romo is out with a broken clavicle. Kitna has not played a single down since2008, when he was placed on injured reserve in Week 5.

Furthering the Cowboys problems is their lack of a rushing game (30th in the NFL) and trouble stopping it (21st). Rushing the ball is the one thing the Jaguars do well, with Maurice Jones-Drew heading an attack that averages 127.7 yards per game on the ground.

Jacksonville wins.

Washington (4-3) at Detroit (1-5)

The Redskins have won three of their four previous games and have while it hasn’t been pretty, they find ways to get it done.

DeAngelo Hall had a huge game against the Bears with four interceptions and the quarterback position in Detroit isn’t very stable right now.

Matthew Stafford, although currently listed as questionable, is expected to start. Still, he hasn’t played since the first game and it’s hard to imagine how sharp he can be.

Washington wins.

Buffalo (0-6) at Kansas City (4-2)

The Chiefs are 3-0 at home and the crowd loves it.

The Chiefs have the best rushing attack in the league and Dwayne Bowe has come on in the last two weeks, catching nine passes for 189 and a surprising four touchdowns.

Buffalo put a good effort up against the Ravens last week but not only are they on the road, they have the worst rush defense in the league.

Kansas City wins.

Carolina (1-5) at St. Louis (3-4)

Carolina finally got their first win last week, albeit not in very convincing manner.
Matt Moore had an impressive 308 yards passing, but the Panthers had three turnovers and only 76 yards rushing.

The Rams have played well on defense, especially at home, and while Sam Bradford hasn’t always been at his best, Steven Jackson is top five in the league in rushing yards.

The problem becomes Sam Bradford’s receiving options with Mark Clayton’s injury. The Rams aren’t going to win this one by throwing the ball though; stopping the pass has been the one thing Carolina has done right this year.

St. Louis wins.

Green Bay (4-3) at New York Jets (5-1)

Aaron Rodgers finally beat Brett Favre. Still, it was too close for comfort, especially against an extremely banged up quarterback and dysfunctional team.

The Jets have a better defense than the Vikings D the Pack played last week. The secondary, although not playing up to its potential, has big play possibility and they will get to the quarterback better than Minnesota did.

The Jets also have the second best rushing game in the league. Also with two games and now the bye week under his belt, Santonio Holmes is better integrated into the offense, making the passing game more potent.

New York wins.

Denver (2-5) at San Francisco (1-6)

This is what we’re offering London to help sell our product?

Denver was just embarrassing last week. 59 points allowed against the Raiders? 24-0 at the end of the first quarter?

This no rush offense is not cutting it at all. It’s like they are wasting Kyle Orton’s best season.

San Francisco is no prize pig, but a quarterback change is intriguing. Alex Smith is out with a shoulder injury, so former Ohio State Heisman winner Troy Smith will take the helm. He’s only thrown 89 passes in the first three years of his career—with no stats this year—but he’s athletic and was obviously a very good quarterback in college.

Neither team looks good, but Smith starting is intriguing to say the least. It isn’t like he won’t have weapons at his disposal. And Denver’s pass rush isn’t what it was last year with Elvis Dumerville hurt.

San Francisco wins.

Tennessee (5-2) at San Diego (2-5)

The Chargers have great passing numbers, and have been playing good defense, but the losses keep piling up, as do the turnovers.

With all the players missing, with all the mistakes, they are still in every game. The biggest margin of defeat has been seven points.

Vince Young returned to Titans practice this week, which is encouraging, and Kenny Britt had a huge weekend against the Eagles, but throughout the season the Titans have one of the worst passing games offenses in the NFL. So they rely on Chris Johnson, however the Chargers have a top 5 rush defense.

San Diego has too much talent and is playing too well on defense to continue their three-game losing streak.

San Diego wins.

Tampa Bay (4-2) at Arizona (3-3)

The Cardinals have been a merry-go-round of quarterbacks. Kurt Warner retires, Matt Leinart is released, Derek Anderson is benched and Max Hall gets a concussion. Hall seems to be good to go but you have to wonder if it matters.

The saddest part about all of this is watching Larry Fitzgerald go to waste.
Tampa Bay’s rushing defense is very poor, but Arizona isn’t doing much of anything on offense.

Tampa Bay wins.

Minnesota (2-4) at New England (5-1)

Randy Moss returns to New England and he’ll be up to play.

But New England has been unbeatable at home. And while their rushing game and pass defense have struggled, Minnesota’s problems lay outside statistics, other than turnovers of course.

Favre has three more interceptions than touchdowns and has been sacked 14 times. He’s been bothered by countless injuries and has been wearing a boot all week.
New England will prepare for Favre to start, and it’s hard to imagine that he won’t.

The Vikings are a team that is out of sync, coaches aren’t on the same page as players, quarterbacks not on the same page as receivers.

Meanwhile, the Pats haven’t been pretty, but they have been clicking the past few weeks and they believe that they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

New England wins.

Seattle (4-2) at Oakland (3-4)

The Seahawks have been great at home; not so much on the road.

This should be an interesting matchup with the Seahawks’ second ranked run defense and the Raiders’ fifth ranked rush offense.

Both teams are inconsistent and it’s still difficult to understand how good (or bad) both of these teams are.

Coming off a huge blowout victory against a division foe, backed by home fans, the Raiders have the upper hand.

Oakland wins.

Pittsburgh (5-1) at New Orleans (4-3)

Pittsburgh is being called one of, if not the best team in the league. New Orleans is struggling incredibly. It looks like a sure thing for Pittsburgh, but this could be a trap game—if playing the defending champions is a trap.

New Orleans is fifth in the league in passing offense, while the Steelers are actually 24th in the league in pass defense. The Steelers have a stingy rush defense and it will be difficult to get a poor running game going, but the Saints could get surprise production from Chris Ivory.

Pittsburgh, even with Ben Roethlisberger, was bailed out last week by a difficult fumble call in Miami. In an NFL season as unpredictable as this, when it looks like one team definitely has the upper-hand, they are outperformed.

The Saints will need a big game from Drew Brees, unlike his four interceptions last week, but he has come up big for them before.

And the Saints are 1-0 in prime time games this season.

New Orleans wins.

Houston (4-2) at Indianapolis (4-2)

Houston got Indy the opening week, but it’ll be different this time around.
The Colts still don’t defend the run very well and Arian Foster has kept up productive outings. However, Houston is bad against the pass and Peyton Manning has been on fire this year. Dallas Clark is out, but Manning always seems to find new targets (Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie came out of the woodwork).

The Texans pass offense is ranked 11th in the NFL but it’s pretty one-dimensional, looking only to Andre Johnson, and Schaub hasn’t been the most consistent quarterback this year.

Indy remembers the opening week loss and at home you know they will be ready for the Texans this time.

Indianapolis wins.

Bye week: Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Baltimore

Last Week: 8-6

Season: 59-45

Saturday, October 23, 2010

NFL Week 7 Picks: Dallas Cowboys Overcome Stupidity, Beat New York Giants

AP Photo/Nick Wass

Helmet-to-helmet hits have been the talk of the NFL this week. Both offense and defense feel the league is being too harsh. We’ll have to see how it plays out this weekend, but defenders are still likely to attempt to bring the pain and challenge the NFL.

For the matchups on the field the primetime matchups should be very interesting. Both feature struggling NFC teams squaring up against their oldest division rivals.

On Sunday, Brett Favre and the Vikings return to Lambeau Field to face a hurting Green Bay Packers team. In the Monday nighter, the penalty-happy Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants.

Both teams have great opportunities to pull even closer in the division races, but can they overcome themselves in order to do it?

Who do you think will win?

Cincinnati (2-3) at Atlanta (4-2)

The Falcons got thrashed last week by the Eagles. The defense let Kevin Kolb go downfield and hit DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin for long gains, especially when Dunta Robinson left the game.

Robinson is expected to miss again and the Falcons D gives up nearly 240 passing yards per game. The Bengals may be struggling lately but with a week off and the seventh-best passing game in the NFL they should have a strong game plan.

Terrell Owens is tenth in the league in receiving yards, and Chad Ochocinco has decent numbers as well. Expect Carson Palmer to really air it out in this one.

Cincinnati wins.

Washington (3-3) at Chicago (4-2)

Statistically, the Redskins aren’t a very impressive team, but for the most part they’re right there in every game.

At the same time, Chicago is falling back to the pack. The Bears have allowed teams to get to their quarterback pretty frequently lately and now Roberto Garza is listed as doubtful. They go up against a Washington defense that does a decent job at rushing the passer, ranking 11th in the league with 13 sacks.

Donovan McNabb is sixth in the league in passing yards, while the Bears rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards allowed per game.

Washington wins.

St. Louis (3-3) at Tampa Bay (3-2)

Steven Jackson is the key in this game.

Both teams feature young quarterbacks without reliable playmakers on the outside, but the Rams clearly have the edge on the ground.

Buccaneers running back Cadillac Williams has sputtered this season, putting together only 190 yards on 76 carries, while the defense has allowed 157 yards rushing per game, second-worst in the league.

Jackson has piled up 507 yards on 127 carries and has two straight 100-yard games.

St. Louis wins.

San Francisco (1-5) at Carolina (0-5)

The Niners finally got on the board last week, while Carolina, off their bye, is still looking for win number one.

Carolina has been very bad, but San Francisco is an inconsistent team. And the geography of the situation does not bode well for them.

The Niners, a West-coast team, will travel to the East-coast to play a 1 p.m. Eastern-time game. Historically, that is a devastating combination. This is a team that is not good enough to overcome that. They are not in sync calling plays, their offense is up-and-down, and now their internal clocks will be off.

Like always for Carolina, they will need to run the ball. Let DeAngelo Williams win the game for you.

Carolina wins.

Buffalo (0-5) at Baltimore (4-2)

The Bills have horrible timing. After blowing a big game against the Patriots last week the Ravens will be looking for vengeance (especially Terrell Suggs, who was fired up and exchanged a lot of words with Tom Brady). They return home this week and get Ed Reed back on the field.

Baltimore wins.

Philadelphia (4-2) at Tennessee (4-2)

Two teams with top weapons wounded: The Eagles will be without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and the Titans could be without quarterback Vince Young.

The speedy Jackson will be missed, as he scored two touchdowns before he was knocked out of the game last week, but Jeremy Maclin did step up in his absence. The second-year pro caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

What was surprising about last week was that the usually cautious Kevin Kolb was playing confident and throwing the ball downfield, utilizing Jackson and Maclin when he usually just dumps it to LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek.

Titans running back Chris Johnson could have another big day against a Philly defense that is 22nd in the league in rushing yards per game allowed. Still, if Young can’t go, Collins isn’t nearly as effective and the Eagles would be able to key on Johnson and contain him.

Philadelphia wins.

Jacksonville (3-3) at Kansas City (3-2)

The Chiefs has had a rough go of it since the bye, losing two games on the road. They will be very happy to come home to their supportive fans.

Not only do they have home-field advantage, but the Jaguars are likely to start Todd Bouman at quarterback, his first start in nearly five years.

The Chiefs rank first in rushing yards per game, while the Jaguars defense is 20th in the NFL in opponents rushing yards per game.

Kansas City wins.

Pittsburgh (4-1) at Miami (3-2)

The Steelers pass defense isn’t too strong, allowing 233 yards a game. The Dolphins will target Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess frequently with both playing well as of late. Still, the Dolphins average just about that 233, so the Steelers could bend but not break.

And while Chad Henne is getting to throw more, his decision-making has been lacking, resulting in turnovers and stalled drives.

The Steelers are glad to have Ben Roethlisberger back but they will still go with their bread-and-butter of grinding the game out with Rashard Mendenhall and the ninth ranked rushing offense in the league.

The Dolphins run the ball well also, but they could struggle against the Steelers top-ranked rush-defense.

Pittsburgh wins.

Cleveland (1-5) at New Orleans (4-2)

Colt McCoy wasn’t terrible in his first game, but the Browns lost again and they’ll get no sympathy this week from Drew Brees and the Saints.

New Orleans exploded for 31 points last week, led by Brees’ three touchdowns and 109.2 passer rating.

Their usual listless running game was propelled by Chris Ivory, who had 158 yards on 15 carries. He may not match last week’s production, but the Browns D does give up 120.2 rushing yards per game.

New Orleans wins.

Arizona (3-2) at Seattle (3-2)

It may not be the most respectable division, but first place is still on the line here.

Arizona won the week before the bye, and put up three defensive touchdowns (one interception return and two fumble returns). It’s impressive, but it’s hard to imagine that a team can win week in and week out like that, with so very few weapons on offense.

New starting quarterback Max Hall threw two interceptions, and playing in Seattle won’t be easy.

It may be only two games, but Seattle is 2-0 in front of the loud home crowd.

The Seahawks running game is ranked 30th in the NFL with 85.8 yards per game, but newly acquired Marshawn Lynch helped fuel Seattle’s ground game against Chicago. They grinded out 111 yards on 31 carries for two touchdowns and helped win the time of possession battle by about nine minutes in the three-point victory.

Seattle wins.

New England (4-1) at San Diego (2-4)

New England hasn’t played well on the road lately, but they did have a 41-14 win over the Dolphins in their last road outing. They also weren’t perfect last week, but the defense didn’t yield too much and came up with some big stops, and the offense played well spreading the ball around.

New (old) acquisition Deion Branch played especially well, catching nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. It looked like he and Tom Brady still have a very good chemistry.

Sand Diego is the top passing team in the league, but they will be without Malcolm Floyd, and Antonio Gates is questionable. Their losses have all been within a touchdown (plus a two-point conversion in the Raiders game), but the Patriots are the best team they’ve played to date.

If they can’t make the most of their softer schedule, then it’s hard to believe they’ll do well against a Pats team that is clicking.

New England wins.

Oakland (2-4) at Denver (2-4)

Denver has the worst running game in the league, but their passing game has made up for it, at least in terms of offensive production.

Kyle Orton is in the top 10 in quarterback passer rating and second in passing yards, behind only Peyton Manning. Brandon Lloyd leads the NFL in receiving yards.

The Raiders’ defense is not as stingy as the Jets to keep the Broncos from an all-out aerial attack, and they look to be set to use their third quarterback of the season as Kyle Boller could start in place of the injured Bruce Gradkowski and Jason Campbell.

Chemistry and talent could be an issue that would cause Oakland trouble in keeping pace.

Denver wins.

Minnesota (2-3) at Green Bay (3-3)

The Packers have lost two consecutive overtime games which has to be extremely disappointing. They have suffered a number of injuries and just don’t look as strong.

A big plus is that Clay Matthews is likely to go in the game, and he has been tremendous in rushing the passer. He leads the league in sacks and if he can get to Brett Favre, who’s had elbow and ankle issues within the year, it could be a long day for the Vikings quarterback.

Minnesota lucked out last week with the Cowboys continually beating themselves, but Favre, for the first time this season, did not throw an interception.

However the emotion of the game and Clay Matthews could get to him and keep Minnesota wondering what has happened this year.

Green Bay wins.

New York Giants (4-2) at Dallas (1-4)

The Cowboys continue to shoot themselves in the foot with stupid dead-ball penalties and turnovers. Statistically they are very good; they just continually find ways to lose games.

The Giants have been impressive lately, but the Cowboys are desperate and will throw the kitchen sink at Eli Manning and force him to make mistakes, which is a very likely possibility.

At home, in primetime, against a long-time rival the Cowboys will be playing, essentially, for their season here. It’s tough to go with a team that beats themselves over and over again, but this is just the set-up for a breakthrough.

Dallas wins.

Bye week: Detroit, Indianapolis, New York Jets, Houston

Last week: 9-5

Season: 51-39

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Helmet-to-Helmet Hits Are Devastating for Everyone Involved

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

After this weekend’s NFL games and a slew of hard hits, the NFL and the media is ablaze.

Thanks to Brandon Meriweather, Dunta Robinson and James Harrison the NFL is changing their policy again. Effective starting this week, offenders of “devastating hits” and “head shots” will be suspended.

Many people have thrown their opinion into the ring, and it seemed liked everyone working at ESPN was brought on television today to talk about it. Many were upset. Matt Millen went on to say, “It’s the game. It’s the way the game is played.”

I’m sorry Mr. Millen, but the way Brandon Meriweather played and how Eric Smith played in 2008 is not how football is meant to be played.

Football is a violent sport, and I love hard hits as much as anyone. And some of the montages of hits ESPN showed on air today, especially during their “Outside the Lines” episode today, were perfectly legal. Just hard-knocks football.

But there were definitely hits that were uncalled for.

The helmet should not be used as a weapon. The head is not a battering ram. To see someone launch himself into an opponent like a torpedo, going head first, is unacceptable, not to mention fundamentally wrong.

When taught to hit, the technique is to lead with your shoulder into the chest and sternum of the players—around the numbers—and drive your body through him.

These are very big athletes playing at very high speeds. When a helmet is launched to another helmet, the head takes a tremendous amount of force and trauma, hence why we see concussions.

What people aren’t talking about is how leading with the helmet is not only dangerous for the offensive player taking the hit, but also for the tackler performing the hit.

A very sad story happened in college football this weekend. Rutgers defensive player Eric LeGrand went in to make a tackle on a kick returner and after putting the hit on him, he lay on the ground motionless from the neck down. He was taken to the hospital and has suffered a spinal cord injury, currently paralyzed below the neck.

When watching the play, it is clear, and extremely unfortunate, that LeGrand lead with his head and he took the full brunt of the hit.

Fundamentals are, or should be, taught not only for the most efficient play on the field, but to keep the players safe as possible, something extremely important in a violent sport where unfortunate things do happen occasionally.

Helmets are a good thing; I’m not saying the NFL should go back to the leather helmets from the olden days. That being said, it is a double-edge sword because there is the idea that you’re head is completely protected and it can be used in such a manner.

The devastating hits portion of the rule is ambiguous and taking things a little too far. But when a play like Meriweather’s leaping head-butt to Todd Heap happens that certainly is an issue and should be punished.

That isn’t how football is played, never was and never will be. Something needed to be done to eliminate these egregious helmet-to-helmet hits.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Yes, the most die-hard of New England Patriots fans have put their entire trust in Bill Belichick over the years and do not question him.

But they aren’t in the majority.

Last year the Pats got beat down in the first round of the NFL Playoffs by the Baltimore Ravens, leaving many to comment that the dynasty was dead. Many opined that Belichick was a control freak when he took over the defensive coordinator position, along with the offensive coordinator position rather than hiring people to fill those spots. And all hell broke loose when Randy Moss, arguably a future Hall-of-Famer, was traded away for the bargain-price of a third round draft pick.

Belichick must be laughing right now.

Avenge the playoff loss as best as they possibly could? Check.

Win without Randy Moss? Check.

Win using his preferred style of offense, spreading the ball around? Check.

New England’s 23-20 win over Baltimore has some people trumpeting the Patriots as one of the top teams in the NFL.

Deion Branch, the man the Pats traded for after dumping Moss—which seems to constitute a shift back in time in both offensive philosophy and personnel—caught a game-high nine passes for a team-high 98 yards and a touchdown.

He and Tom Brady seemed to have lost no chemistry regardless of the four-year layover. He made Patriot fans, for the moment, forget about Moss. And he earned a postgame hug from Belichick.

For the rest of the offense, three players caught five or more passes, and four had 50-plus yards receiving. They also had two players rush the ball at least 10 times.

The defense, criticized for being young, inexperienced and far from polished, bent but did not break. The Patriots beat the Ravens in yards gained. The Ravens running game was kept to less than 99 total yards, mostly thanks to the 10-plus tackles from Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung.

The Patriots executed well on offense against one of the premier defenses in the NFL, and the defense kept a Ravens offense with eight former Pro-Bowlers at bay.

Bill Belichick was vindicated Sunday afternoon.

The on-going soap opera will now be whether he really is the best coach in the league or whether this will make him so full of himself that he thinks he can do anything and continue to walk the fine line between genius and crazy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NFL Week 6 Picks: Titans Beat Jaguars in AFC South Monday Night Matchup

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Parity is paramount in the NFL 2010 season. It’s Week 6 and no team is undefeated. A team vying for the division championship traded its top wide receiver and still intends to contend. Every team in the AFC South is tied for first with a record of 3-2.

Anything can happen, and that allows both the disappointing Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys, both with only one win and facing each other this week, are still holding out hope for the playoffs.

Things in the AFC South will be interesting this week as the Jaguars and Titans square off in a big divisional Monday Night matchup. Top running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson will provide the excitement. With such a tight race, every division win is important to separate yourselves in the standings.

Who do you think will win?

Seattle (2-2) at Chicago (4-1)

Seattle has struggled mightily on the road this year. In two road games they've lost by 17 points each time, and are coming off a three-point performance at St. Louis two weeks ago.

Somehow Chicago won last week. Todd Collins, playing in place of the injured Jay Cutler, threw four picks, yet they still won by 17 points.

Matt Forte was the difference maker on the ground with 166 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns.

With Jay Cutler returning under center this week at Soldier Field, they should be able to handle Seattle.

Chicago wins.

Miami (2-2) at Green Bay (3-2)

Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion last week, but is probable to go. Still, the Packers are severely banged up. Already without Ryan Grant for the season, tight end Jermichael Finley will be out for a significant amount of time due to a hamstring injury, and linebacker Clay Matthews is doubtful.

Wide receiver Donald Driver also found himself on the injury report.

Miami was embarrassed at home two weeks ago, enough to fire their Special Teams coordinator. The bye week could come in handy against the Packers though.

While the Dolphins had a week of rest, the Packers, as mentioned, are really banged up. Miami had extra time to prepare for this one, and even though he is projected to start right now, it's tough to tell how effective Rodgers will be.

The pass rush will be key for Miami, headed by the athletic Cameron Wake coming in off the edge.

Miami wins.

San Diego (2-3) at St. Louis (2-3)

Turnovers, namely fumbles, cost the Chargers the game last week. They put the ball on the ground three times; the last ended a potential game-winning drive and was returned for a touchdown.

Still, the firepower on both offense and defense that San Diego has should dominate St. Louis.

Malcolm Floyd had a phenomenal game last week, catching eight touchdowns for 213 yards and a touchdown. And tight end Antonio Gates leads all receivers with seven touchdowns.

Rookie running back Ryan Matthews is also working his way back to health.
Defensively they rank third in passing yards allowed per game and seventh in rushing yards per game.

It’ll all be too much for the Rams.

San Diego wins.

Baltimore (4-1) at New England (3-1)

It’s the first game in the post-Randy Moss era for the Patriots and it will be interesting to see how the offense reacts.

They’ll go back to a spread the ball, dink-and-dunk type offense. But will they gel quickly enough against a tough Ravens defense, one that ranks second against the pass and 10th against the rush?

How productive will Brandon Tate be as a receiver?

And will the Patriots defense, struggling but had a good showing two weeks ago against the Dolphins, be able to contain the multitude of weapons the Ravens have on offense, like Ray Rice—who tore the Patriots apart in their playoff matchup last year—Anquan Boldin, and Todd Heap?

Since throwing four interceptions in a Week 2 game, Joe Flacco has thrown only one in his next three guys.

Baltimore is the only team to beat the Patriots at home since 2008 and they have all the tools to do it again.

Baltimore wins.

New Orleans (3-2) at Tampa Bay (3-1)

The Buccaneers have been a pleasant surprise this season, sitting only half a game behind Atlanta in the NFC South standings.

The competition has been a little down, but that isn't Tampa's fault and they've taken advantage of it. They may also be catching the Saints, losers of two in a row and not enjoying a productive season, at the right time as well.

Playing against a team with an undrafted free agent quarterbacking them in his NFL debut, the Saints had more penalties for more yardage, had a lower red zone success rate, and had more turnovers, including Drew Brees throwing three interceptions.

The Bucs were able to win be having a better third down completion percentage, winning the turnover battle (although they will need to have fewer fumbles this week), winning the penalty battle-- they were penalized only three times-- and they had clutch end-of-the-game kicking, something the Saints have been missing out on.

Tampa's biggest weakness is their run defense, but the Saints don't have even an average rushing game so it shouldn't matter.

Tampa Bay wins.

Detroit (1-4) at New York Giants (3-2)

At first, Detroit's ability to make their opposition turn the ball over combined with Eli Manning effortlessly making the silliest of mistakes makes the Lions a tantalizing pick.

But the Giants defense has been too good to let the Lions beat them.

Detroit quarterback Shaun Hill has thrown only one less interception than Manning, and the running game isn't nearly as good.

The Giants defense has done an incredible job lately of getting to the quarterback, and on offense Hakeem Nicks has been phenomenal this season. He's ninth in the league in receiving yards with 209 and second in touchdowns (6) behind only Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.

New York wins.

Atlanta (4-1) at Philadelphia (3-2)

These are two teams that are doing extremely well in the turnover game, both sitting atop the NFC with a plus-seven turnover differential.

However, Atlanta is more disciplined, committing 14 less penalties for 90 less yards. They have the second best rushing attack in the league and Philadelphia's rush defense is ranked 24th in the league.

If Michael turner can grind out the clock and Atlanta can force a turnover (third in the league in take-aways) they should be able to come out with a victory.

Atlanta wins.

Cleveland (1-4) at Pittsburgh (3-1)

Colt McCoy will make his NFL debut Sunday and he couldn't have a tougher task ahead of him.

The Steelers have one of the best defenses in the league, including the top ranked defense against the run. That means it'll be a tough day for McCoy to rely on Peyton Hillis.

The Steelers also have one of the best running games in the league, spearheaded by Rashard Mendenhall. And they finally get Ben Roethlisberger back at quarterback.

His four-game suspension is up and he is licking his chops to face the Browns.
The Steelers are home, only adding to the difficulties facing the Browns.

Pittsburgh wins.

Kansas City (3-1) at Houston (3-2)

Both teams here have rushing offenses ranked in the top five in the league, and run stopping defenses ranked in the top six. So the battle will go to the air, where Houston has a clear edge.

Matt Cassel has been far from productive this season. Even in their 31-10 romping of San Francisco, where Cassel had an impressive three touchdowns, he couldn’t complete 60 percent of his passes.

He wasn’t the reason Kansas City lost last week, but in a tight rushing matchup he won’t be able to win them the game either.

Matt Schaub hasn’t been as good in years passed, and has struggled the past couple weeks, but the potential for huge plays is always there. And his best target, Andre Johnson, seems to be fine after his ankle injury.

Big play potential in a balanced offense should push Houston over the edge here.

Houston wins.

Oakland (2-3) at San Francisco (0-5)

Jason Campbell was very mistake-prone early in the season. Now starting for the first time since Week 2, he could press a bit to try and play his way back to being the starter.

The Niners need to capitalize on those mistakes and they really need to let Frank Gore loose.

Oakland allows just less than 150 yards rushing a game. Gore has only rushed for over 100 yards once this season but if San Francisco is going to win they need to ride this work horse, taking the ball out of Alex Smith's hands.

The home fans will be rowdy in the Bay Area rivalry.

San Francisco wins.

New York Jets (4-1) at Denver (2-3)

Kyle Orton and the Denver passing game has been phenomenal this season, yet with no rushing game and a defense that continually allows over 20 points a game (the only exception being the 31-14 win over the Seahawks) the Broncos sit at a sub-par 2-3.

The Jets, on the other hand, have averaged 31.5 points per game since their opening week loss to the Ravens, while the defense has been stellar all season, allowing only 16.2 points per game.

They are more balanced on offense than Denver is. LaDanian Tomlinson is proving to all the doubters that he still has a lot of football left in him, and Mark Sanchez still has not thrown an interception.

If the Jets can continue to work Santonio Holmes back into the offense smoothly, their well-balanced attack should trump the one-trick pony Broncos.

New York wins.

Dallas (1-3) at Minnesota (1-3)

A matchup of two very desperate teams. Expectations for both were high coming into the season yet failure has run rampant.

Dallas continues to find ways to lose at the end of games. Their passing game has been strong, and the defense has more than held up, but penalties have been absolutely brutal for the Cowboys.

Also, their running game has been pretty invisible.

Minnesota hasn’t been able to synch up in the passing game and Favre has been battered, bruised, and frazzled.

The addition of Randy Moss, however, and one more week to work together should help. Favre is known for chucking it, and Moss is known for going up and getting it. Sidney Rice in the slot is should make him more effective as well.

Most importantly, Adrian Peterson is still one of the best runners in the league. His ability to break free and control the clock better than Dallas will be pivotal.

Minnesota wins.

Indianapolis (3-2) at Washington (3-2)

Washington allows just fewer than 300 passing yards a game on defense, third worst in the NFL.

Peyton Manning, enjoying one of his finest seasons, should be able to find whatever receiver he wants—Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark—with ease.

The Colts are struggling mightily against the run, but the Redskins haven’t really generated much success on the run.

Indianapolis wins.

Tennessee (3-2) at Jacksonville (3-2)

Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew are both dynamic runners and the spotlight will be shining on them in this game. Which means Vince Young will be the difference maker.

He hasn’t hit 200 yards passing yet but other than the two interception game in the loss against the Steelers, Young hasn’t been making mistakes. The Jaguars defense has been very forgiving, both in the passing and running game.

Meanwhile, David Garrard has thrown six interceptions this season, four of which were in Week 2 against the Chargers. He followed that up with a game where he couldn’t hit anybody.

His other games have been very good and productive, but his mistakes have been bigger and more evident because of the defensive deficiencies of the Jaguars.

Tennessee wins.

Bye week: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona, Carolina

Last week: 4-10

Season: 42-34

Friday, October 15, 2010

Who's Next?

One of the more positive things that Bob Bradley did in his first four years as manager of the U.S. National Team was to expand the player pool.

He brought in an abundance of players to friendlies and competition matches, and a relatively large number of players earned their first caps under him.

Now in his next World Cup cycle, you can expect more of the same from Bradley. Since the World Cup, Omar Gonzalez, Brek Shea, Eric Lichaj and Jermaine Jones have earned their first appearances for the Stars and Stripes.

Bringing in new players does two things. For one, you give plenty of players the honor of representing their country and in doing so you can unearth some real talent that can develop and help in some big competitions.

Also, even if they don’t project to be World Cup-roster players, in smaller tournaments and friendlies they can give guys like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey rest without jeopardizing a win, or at least a positive result.

The following is a list of ten players that could soon be making their first appearance for the National Team.

David Yelldell

With Marcus Hahnehmann contemplating international retirement, it would be time to really test the depth of the goalkeeper pool.

Yeldell has been the first choice keeper for MSV Duisburg in the German 2.Bundesliga. He has two shutouts on the season and another in the first round game of the DFB Pokal match.

The team is 5-2 on the season and Yeldell has a 0.86 goals against average.
He is 29-years-old and doesn’t project to be a player for the long-term, but he has showed good form and could come in handy getting spot starts, providing relief to the top two of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan.

Yelldell has duel eligibility with Germany, so while it is unsure whether he will accept an invitation to play with the United States, it could be good to get him cap-tied.

Sean Johnson

Johnson is a long-term project. A Generation Adidas player for the Chicago Fire, he has impressed early on in MLS.

Projected in the beginning of the season as a reserve, he has assumed the number one goalkeeper role in Chicago. He has started 12 games and has three shutouts. While, to the surprise of some, the Fire has struggled, and it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Johnson himself, he has showed tremendous athleticism, making some impressive saves.

He stole the show in the five DP matchup with the New York Red Bulls, keeping Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and the rest of the Red Bulls from scoring. He was rewarded with the first of his back-to-back MLS Save of the Week awards.

Johnson is far from an established product, but he does figure to be a part of the youth team that will look to qualify for the 2012 Olympic team and he could quickly make his way to getting some senior team action.

Michael Stephens

The rookie midfielder from UCLA has been a good find for former U.S. National Team head coach Bruce Arena and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

While Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, and David Beckham get the majority of the attention for that team, Stephens has quietly put together a solid rookie campaign.
A playmaker in the midfielder he is second on the team, behind only Donovan, in assists with eight.

Stephens’ productivity has slowed down a little as the season wears on, but he still provides quality on the wing.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s learning from one of the best players in the nation’s history in Donovan.

Jeff Larentowicz

While central midfield is a position of gluttony for the United States, Larentowicz has earned his chance to put on a USA jersey.

He is a durable, hard-working player who improves every season. He is ninth in the New England Revolution record books in games started (103) and minutes played (9,305).

He is another player that had a chance when he was called-up to last year’s winter camp, but a knee injury forced him to be unable to complete camp.

This year with the Colorado Rapids he is tied for first in games played (28), second in minutes and even as a defensive-midfielder he is third in goals.

Sean Franklin

Another Galaxy player to get thrown into the Senior National Team mix, Franklin has been called up twice but has yet to appear in a game, the when he withdrew from camp because of an injury.

The former MLS Rookie of the Year has six assists this year. He is overshadowed on defense by Omar Gonzalez, but he has helped rejuvenate a once extremely poor Galaxy defense.

He’s another outside fullback that can push into the attack, and if he can stay healthy he should finally get his first cap sometime relatively soon.

Mikkel Diskerud

The 20-year-old Norwegian-American midfielder has played well this season for Stabek IF. He has contributed early, doling out two assists one week, following that up by scoring a game-winning goal the next. In 47 league-appearances since 2008, he has scored seven goals.

At 18, he played in a UEFA Champions League match. He worked his way from the bench to the starting lineup.

Marcus Tracy

The 2008 Hermann Trophy winner for being the nation’s most outstanding college player, and 2007 College Cup winner, should play himself into some call-ups for the National Team this World Cup cycle.

The striker currently is recovering from a calf injury, and in 15 league appearances for Aalborg has only scored twice, but he is still developing. He has showed promising signs though.

In his first game in the Danish Superliga he scored the game-winning goal.

Last winter he earned a call-up to the National Team’s training camp, but withdrew before the team’s friendly against Honduras because of an injury.

He is certainly talented and there is no reason to believe he won’t get more looks in the near future.

Tim Ream

A lot of folks were surprised when the New York Red Bulls drafted this Saint Louis University center back in the second-round of the MLS Draft. But head coach Hans Backe said that he felt Ream could eventually be a national team player.

He’s not only made Hans Backe look like a genius, but Bob Bradley has spoken very highly of the rookie recently.

Ream has started and played every single minute for a Red Bulls squad that has given up only 27 goals in 28 games, fourth best in the league.

He has good poise and the ball and is known for his strong passing game out of the backfield.

Many in the soccer community see Ream as a strong National Team candidate for the 2014 World Cup and he will be making his debut sooner rather than later.

Chris Wondolowski

Edson Buddle got on the World Cup roster thanks to his blistering hot start to the MLS season. He’s still the league leader in goals but Wondolowski, another striker, has been even more impressive.

Wondolowski, a two-time MLS Player of the Week, sits in second place in goals scored with 14 but it isn’t just how many he’s scored, it’s when he scores them. He leads the league in game-winning goals with eight.

His San Jose Earthquakes surprisingly clinched a playoff spot, which has made Wondolowski mentioned as a possible MVP candidate.

With a thin striker pool, Wondolowski has certainly done enough to earn a look.

Hunter Freeman

His club teammate, Clarence Goodson, at I.K. Start in Norway has played some brilliant soccer lately and continues to be further involved with the U.S. National Team. However Hunter, the other American defender for Start has also been an anchor on the backline.

He has played in 24 of the team’s 26 matches and routinely goes the entire 90 minutes. And while he may not be the goal scoring threat Goodson has proved to be, Freeman is comfortable pushing forward and getting involved in the attack and can play some midfield as well.

He’s in form and he also has gotten time with some of the youth national teams, notably with the U-23 team that qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

He has played well alongside Goodson, and it is time to finally give Freeman a go with the senior side to see what he can do.

Photo Credits.
Wondolowski: AP Photo/Stew Milne
Larentowicz: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Ream: AP Photo/Rich Schultz

Saturday, October 9, 2010

NFL Week 5 Picks: Kansas City Chiefs Will Remain Unbeaten

AP Photo/Ed Zurga

One unbeaten left. And boy do they have a challenge waiting for them.

In order to avoid a blemish in their record, the Kansas City Chiefs will have to go to Indianapolis and beat the Colts, usually the epitome of success in the league.

The parity-strong (or stricken depending on your preference) league also has only four winless teams left, all in action looking for that first win.

League officials must also be salivating at the super-star laden, storyline-rich Monday matchup between the New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings.

Who do you think will win the big matchup? Will the Chiefs continue their winning ways? Will any of the winless teams finally get in the win column?

Jacksonville (2-2) at Buffalo (0-4)

The Bills got beat down once again last week and then traded running back Marshawn Lynch.

They rank last in the league in rushing yards per game allowed and will have to try and contain Maurice Jones-Drew.

Try being the operative word.

Jones-Drew is eight in the league in rushing yards and had his best game this season last week against the Colts, going for 105, his only rushing touchdown of the season, and added a receiving touchdown as well.

Jacksonville wins.

Tampa Bay (2-1) at Cincinnati (2-2)

Turnovers and Peyton Hillis burned the Bengals last week.

The Buccaneers don’t have the offensive weapons, mainly at running back where Cadillac Williams and his measly 2.5 yards per carry will now share the ball with Kareem Huggins and LaGarrette Blount.

The Bengals are sixth in the league in passing yards per game and Terrell Owens is fifth in the league in receiving yards thanks to his 10 catches for 222 yards last week.

Cincinnati wins.

Atlanta (3-1) at Cleveland (1-3)

Atlanta ranks in the top ten in both rushing and passing yards per game. They also have the best turnover ratio in the NFC, third-best in all of the NFL.

Not to take away from a great game by Browns running back Peyton Hillis last week, the biggest difference-makers in the victory over the Bengals were the Bengals turning the ball over more and being penalized for more yards. The Browns were severely manhandled by the Bengals passing game, which had been lackluster until this game.

In addition to their turnover differential, the Falcons are one of the top ten fewest penalized teams in the league. They should protect the ball well enough to control the game.

Atlanta wins.

St. Louis (2-2) at Detroit (0-4)

Last year this proved to, surprisingly, be an exciting game as the Rams got their only victory of the season.

Other than being at home, Detroit doesn't have much going for them. Matthew Stafford is still out. Jahvid Best is questionable. They lead the league in penalties. Their turnover differential is worse than St. Louis'.

They played Green Bay tight, but the Packers committed four turnovers, which allowed Detroit to keep it close.

The Rams are on a small winning streak (any winning streak for them is good). Their point differential is improving every game, and Sam Bradford is getting more comfortable. His accuracy could be better, but he's throwing for more yards each game and he is limiting his interceptions after a three-pick Week 1.

Rams win.

Kansas City (3-0) at Indianapolis (2-2)

The Colts' biggest weakness, their run defense, has been greatly exposed this season. They rank 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game. They have been outrushed in three of their four games this season, including against the Denver Broncos lowly ground game (ranked last in the league), and in their two losses they have been outrushed 431 to 102.

The Chiefs on the other hand have one of the best ground games in the league. Both Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles have over 200 yards rushing.

The problem for Kansas City is getting the ball in the end zone. They rank in the bottom ten in the league in points scored (to be fair they did have their bye week last week, so they have a game in hand against most teams).

To win they will need to capitalize on their chances. In the past Thomas Jones has been a great goal-line back, so expect him to get a lot of touches.

Matt Cassel has been less-than-average throwing the ball this season, but the Colts lost last week against the struggling David Gerrard, even though Peyton Manning had a better game. It isn't out of the question for the running game to take over.

Red zone scoring and no turnovers will be key if the Chiefs want to stay unbeaten in this big test.

Kansas City wins.

Green Bay (3-1) at Washington (2-2)

Green Bay came away from last week’s game with the Lions victorious, but just barely. Turnovers are killing the Packers, even in victories.

The Redskins won as well, but they too were not very convincing. They were beat in first downs, total yards and time of possession. They were helped by Michael Vick’s injury, more turnovers, more penalties and a good running game.

So who wins?

Both teams are without their starting running backs, but Green Bay has more weapons on both offense and defense. Plus Donovan McNabb won’t have the extra juice this week like he did against the Eagles.

Green Bay wins.

Chicago (3-1) at Carolina (0-4)

Jay Cutler was battered around by the Giants defense last week and has since been ruled out for the game against the Panthers.

Last week’s game was absolutely awful; no quarterback protection and no ability to hold onto the football.

Carolina held the Saints in check last week, and Jimmy Clausen had a productive day, which can go a long way in helping the Panthers get their first victory.

As said what seems every week in this blog, Carolina needs to establish the rush with BOTH DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. It will not be an easy task with a strong Chicago run defense in front of them, but the Bears are very vulnerable right now.

Carolina wins.

Denver (2-2) at Baltimore (3-1)

In a very surprising turn of events, we have the top ranked passing offense against the top ranked passing defense.

Kyle Orton is enjoying a great season thus far, but with such a bad rushing game with starter Knowshon Moreno out another week, the lack of balance against a strong defense will severely hurt the Broncos here.

The Ravens offense is still putting it all together, and Ray Rice seems to be much healthier than last week. T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin appear to be coming together with Joe Flacco in recent weeks, and Todd Heap is doing a better job this season catching the ball.

Baltimore wins.

New York Giants (2-2) at Houston (3-1)

Arian Foster is leading the NFL in rushing yards.

The only stat that Foster hasn’t bested from last year’s rookie season is games played (6). He’s come out of nowhere, but he has had some explosive games on the ground. Yup, it’s one of those seasons in the league.

The Texans will need him with Andre Johnson questionable because of a knee injury.

Houston also will get Brian Cushing back from suspension. Last year’s defensive player of the year will have fresh legs and be more than ready to get after the quarterback. The Texans will hope his energy and excitement to getting on the field will be honed in a positive manner, namely getting after Eli Manning.

Pressured, Manning makes a lot of mistakes, either interception or fumble, and giving the Texans potent offense more chances is a bad thing.

Houston wins.

New Orleans (3-1) at Arizona (2-2)

The Saints have struggled early this season, but have somehow managed to squeak out three wins, including a come-from-behind victory against the winless Panthers last week.

The running game was improved, eclipsing the 100 yard-mark (121 total yards on the ground) for the first time this season. That group should get an additional boost against the Cardinals defense, ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed per game. They also have given up 40-plus points twice.

Arizona has also made another change at quarterback, going with rookie Max Hall. He will have his business cut out for him with wide receiver Steve Breaston ruled out for the game.

New Orleans could use a convincing win, and this game is set up just for that.

Saints win.

San Diego (2-2) at Oakland (1-3)

San Diego’s record isn’t what they’d like, but statistically they are clicking, so they should be able to turn things around.
They are third in passing yards per game, tenth in rushing yards per game, fourth in passing yards allowed per game and seventh in rushing yards allowed per game.

Philip Rivers is fifth in quarterback rating, third in yards, and second in touchdowns. Tight end Antonio Gates is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards and the only tight end in the top ten. He also leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns, with six.

Oakland has been relatively quiet on offense and will be without Darren McFadden, one of two bright spots in the offense (tight end Zach Miller the other).

San Diego wins.

Tennessee (2-2) at Dallas (1-2)

The Cowboys are coming off their bye week in good spirits thanks to the win over the Texans in Week 3. They lowered the number of yards they were penalized for (although there is still room for improvement) and they didn't turn the ball over for the first time this year.

They have a strong passing game (fourth in the NFL in yards per game) and they face a vulnerable Titans pass defense that was just lit up by Kyle Orton last week.

Tennessee has one of the worst passing games in the league and will have difficulty keeping pace. The rushing game, headed by Chris Johnson, is good but the Cowboys have a strong rush defense.

With the Cowboys having home-field advantage and an extra week to prepare, it could be a long day for the Titans.

Dallas wins.

Philadelphia (2-2) at San Francisco (0-4)

Michael Vick and Asante Samuel have been ruled out for the Eagles. So two big injuries right there.

Kevin Kolb will be the quarterback and he was supposed to be the long-term guy in Philly. There were lofty expectations for him coming into the season. However, there are two potential issues at hand here.

What will Kolb’s confidence level be? The only reason he is the starter right now is because of Vick’s injury. They kept him on the bench because they have a weak offensive line and feared for his safety coming off a concussion.

Also, with Kolb in at quarterback, the Eagles don’t best utilize the true weapons. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are exciting receivers who play fast and were getting a lot of love from Vick. Kolb looks to tight end Brent Celek and running back LeSean McCoy more (by the way, both Celek and McCoy are banged up and on the injury report. They should play, but they aren’t at their best).

Why not take advantage of the weapons you have?

San Francisco has been truly disappointing. However, Frank Gore has enjoyed a strong year despite the offense’s issues and the Eagles have the 27th ranked defense in rushing yards allowed per game.

The 49ers need to rely on him this week. Give him the ball, let him pound the Eagles front-line, eat up clock and punch the ball into the end zone.

San Francisco wins.

Minnesota (1-2) at New York Jets (3-1)

The two teams that get the biggest headlines in the media go at it. There is no shortage of storylines here.

Brett Favre returns to the Meadowlands, where he participated in a pretty uneventful season with the Jets.

Randy Moss, in his first game as a Viking (well the second time at least) faces off against Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie once again, both of whom shut him down when Moss was with the Patriots.

Santonio Holmes returns from a four-game suspension to play in his first real game for the Jets.

And then there’s Adrian Peterson, Mark Sanchez, LaDanian Tomlinson, Jared Allen and Braylon Edwards.

A cast of characters and a host of subplots showcased in primetime.

The Jets have the upper hand here. They are home and you can expect the fans to give Favre and Moss an earful. Moss and Favre will need time to get to know each other, and playing together on the fly will be difficult with Moss being covered by Revis.

And did you know Mark Sanchez hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season? It’s hard to imagine that he’ll go into a swoon in this game as the Vikings are in the bottom seven in the league in interceptions with two.

New York wins.

Bye week: Miami, New England, Pittsburgh, Seattle

Last week: 9-5

Season: 38-24

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Halladays

In the eyes of the Philadelphia Phillies, as good as Cliff Lee is, Roy Halladay would always trump him. On the first day of the 2010 MLB playoffs, “Doc” did that.

At last season’s trade deadline the Phillies strongly pursued Halladay. The asking price was too high so they “settled” on Lee.

Lee was dominant for Philadelphia. He helped get them to the postseason, won his first ever playoff start and was the winning pitcher in the only two games Philly won in the World Series. He finished the 2009 playoffs with a spotless 4-0 record.

However the team did not repeat as champions so the love affair with Halladay continued.

They finally landed their man in December, and fans salivated at a rotation featuring the one-two punch of Halladay and Lee. The Phillies’ front office didn’t have the same plans, though, and looking to restock their farm system, shipped Lee off to Seattle.

The media and fans continuously asked why the two couldn’t coexist for one miraculous season, but were forced to wonder what if.

Looking for more help at this year’s trade deadline, the Phillies went out and traded for Roy Oswalt. The cries for Lee came back strong. “I told you so,” was a popular sentiment. Other phrases uttered included, “If they kept Lee they wouldn’t have needed to trade for Oswalt,” and, “The trade for Oswalt was the team admitting they made a mistake trading Lee away.”

Could Philly fans really be that upset though, as Halladay finished the season with 21 wins, a perfect game, a probable Cy Young award, and another division championship?

Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers, who also made the playoffs. Both teams were scheduled to play on the first day of the playoffs, and fittingly, Lee and Texas would come before Halladay and the Phillies.

Lee delivered a gem. He went seven innings, allowed only one run, and in a masterful display of control struck out 10 opponents while walking none. The Rangers won the game and Lee proved, once again, how dominating he can be.

Fittingly, Halladay did him one better, hurling a complete-game no-hitter, only the second in the history of the playoffs.

While nothing will matter to the Phillies if they don’t win the World Series, tonight proved the Phillies off-season theory.

Lee is incredible, Halladay is unhittable.

Photo Credits.
Roy Halladay: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Cliff Lee: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

The "System" Won't Be Able To Replace Randy Moss

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

In-season trades involving high-profile players are pretty typical. Contending teams pick up big-time talent from teams with no shot in exchange for draft picks and/or prospects.

Have you ever seen a team tied for first in the division get rid of one of its top players? Only to get a mid-round draft pick in return?

The New England Patriots did just that when they traded star wide receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings for a third-round draft pick in 2011.

No, the Patriots aren’t giving up on the season, at least not literally. Instead it is one of the most arrogant moves ever made.

With this move, Bill Belichick is emphasizing his famous philosophy that they can plug anyone into their system and succeed.

Many people may be able to point out examples that they trust in Belichick, but the evidence is strongly misleading.

People will look to the 2008 season when Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter of the first game, thrusting Matt Cassel into the spotlight.

Cassel lead the team to an 11-5 record, was franchised after the season, traded to the Kansas City Chiefs and signed a six-year deal worth $62.7 million and was not even remotely close to matching his success.

Cassel was a product of the Patriots system, yes. He had a good year. But he did not get the Patriots into the playoffs. This was a team one year removed from an undefeated regular season and Super Bowl loss. The system did not save them then.

Some people have pointed out that when the Patriots dynasty was at its highest peak, they won championships without true No. 1 wide receivers.

While Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and David Patten were not star receivers, they had plenty of experience under their belts, specifically Patten and Brown, and had developed a good working relationship with Tom Brady.

Other than Wes Welker, the guys expected to fill in for Moss are Brandon Tate (six career games 11 career receptions), Julian Edelman (14 games, 41 receptions, and most of his damage came in three big games), rookie Taylor Price (no stats) and rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Moss was Brady’s favorite target. He loved throwing downfield to the tall and speedy receiver, sometimes to a fault. Brady is also without his favorite target out of the backfield, the injured Kevin Faulk, and now has Welker as his only safety blanket, the only guy he really has any working relationship with. Everyone else is unknown to him.

Can Brady work these brand-spanking new guys not only into the system, but into the NFL, fast enough?

Also, those championship teams were dependent on and anchored by strong defenses. The Patriots defense now is also young, inexperienced, poor at rushing the passer and poor in coverage.

Teddy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel aren’t coming through that door anytime soon.

But what about Monday night’s bashing of the Dolphins, when Moss didn’t have a single catch?

The offense played well, but the Patriots had a kickoff returned for a touchdown, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and a blocked punt. Chad Henne also threw three interceptions, one of which was a pick-six. Special teams won that game.

It’s no secret what Moss did on the field.

He stretched the field and created space, space for Welker to run his slant routes and, although the Pats didn’t use it too much, space for running lanes. He forced teams to double team him, and even then he would pull off amazing leaping catches and one-handed grabs.

Without him, there is no more double coverage on the field, which means more attention on everyone else. The safety doesn’t have to worry about playing deep, because there is no downfield threat, so he can sit in the box and clog the running lanes, making life difficult for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.

That third-rounder New England got won’t help them this year. It may not even help them next year.

Randy Moss would’ve helped them this year, regardless of whether the team was going to bring him back next season. He would’ve helped a lot.

This is not a case of addition by subtraction.

The Patriots, as currently constructed—not past versions of the team, not thinking ahead of any moves to be made—are worse off without Randy Moss.

The system will not be able to replace the thing Moss did on the field and the wins he helped provide.

Eric Hinske: Baseball's Lucky Charm

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Atlanta Braves outfielder Eric Hinske is a career .254 hitter who never batted .280, never slugged 25 home runs, never scored 100 runs and never drove in 85 runs.

Making matters worse, all of his career highs in those categories came in his rookie season, possibly showing he peaked too early.

Stats aside, he couldn’t be more valuable to teams hoping to contend.

After spending the first five and a half seasons of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, the nine-year veteran is making his fourth consecutive playoff appearance for a fourth different team.

Hisnke won the World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, lost in the World Series in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays, won a second World Series with the New York Yankees last year, and will participate in this year’s tournament as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

He doesn’t just sit the bench and go along for the ride either; the man makes some clutch plays. On September 29, Baseball Tonight host Steve Berthiaume tweeted, “Hinske could be headed to 4th straight post-season with 4th different team. He's type of player you win with and need to win.”

With the Red Sox, Hinske ended the 2006 season with a 10-game hitting streak. He contributed in 2007, most notably in a May 17 game against the Detroit Tigers where he made a diving catch in the field and followed it up with a home run later in the game.

In Tampa, Hinske was a World Series roster injury replacement and took advantage of his chance to play on the big stage again, hitting a home run in Game 4 of the World Series.

In Atlanta he has hit several home runs to win games for the Braves. On July 6 against the Philadelphia Phillies he hit a two run homer in the 11th inning to put the Braves up—for good—6-3. August 5 Hinske hit a home run in the sixth inning off Tim Lincecum, who he will face in Game 1 of the NLDS, to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

And the latest one. September 28. Hinske pinch-hit for reliever Craig Kimbrel and crushed a two-run shot over the right-center field fence for his 11th of the season, his third pinch-hit home run of the season, and a 3-1 lead that would hold to keep the Braves three games up in the Wild Card race, a race where every game proved pivotal.

The 2002 American League Rookie of the Year, Hinske has developed into the epitome of a role player. He understands his job and doesn’t complain about it. When he is called, he delivers. Hinske has scored a run each postseason he’s played in.

He adds power off the bench and is a threat late in games. He can play both corners of both the outfield and the infield. He has experience playing at the highest level and knows what it takes to be not only a winner, but a champion.

Hinske is being called a lucky charm. It seems like he has the Midas Touch, but his attitude in the locker room and his performance on the field are a big reason for his teams’ success.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's Bouna Time...Or Is It?

AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

The name on the back of the New York Red Bulls’ starting goalkeeper’s jersey reads “Coundoul”, but it may as well be Jekyll or Hyde.

Bouna Coundoul is a player with multiple playing personas, and you never really know which side of him will show up.

Known for his catchphrase, “It’s Bouna time,” Coundoul was named MLS Player of the Week for Week 27 for his heroic efforts in a 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Wizards.

The Wizards were desperate for points in their pursuit of the playoffs and they attacked with large numbers. Coundoul kept them at bay though, making a career-high 12 saves. The shutout was his tenth of the season, a new franchise record.

His performance was so impressive that it prompted head coach Hans Backe to start his post-game press conference with the statement, “Bouna Coundoul saved us.”


The win clinched a playoff berth and moved the Red Bulls into first place in the Eastern Conference. He’s also put together a strong season. In addition to his shutouts—which he ranks fourth in the league in—he posts a record of 13-7-5, a 1.04 goals against average, and 100 saves, good for second in the league.

He has also earned several call-ups to the Senegalese National Team.

He’s extremely athletic and can leap out to snag shots that look impossible to stop. He has a penchant for the heroic making flashy saves at big moments of the game.

On the flipside, however, he makes more egregious errors in net than English National Team goalie Robert Green.

Coundoul seems to either get lost or have his head in the clouds during games. He can find himself too far out of position or misjudge a ball in the air. And he too can knock the ball into his own net (see video at 2:13).

He’s perplexing to watch. Soccer columnist Ives Galarcep stated, “When he’s on he can be as good as anyone in the league. He can still have his hiccups. He can have his brain cramps where he makes plays that can give a coach or a fan a heart attack.”

Those plays can come even when he is on. In the game against Kansas City, minutes before halftime, Coundoul came off his line, in a seemingly random fashion, and was almost beat. Galarcep commented, “Coundoul has one of his trademark brain cramps, comes out for no real reason and almost gets caught outside the area. Somewhere, Erik Soler [New York’s General Manager] is writing down, ‘Still need a new goalkeeper in 2011.’”

Thus is the riddle that is Coundoul.

Do you go with him, knowing that he can make unbelievable saves but also unbelievable gaffes?

Or do you bring in a more consistent presence in the back who may not make the incredible stops like Coundoul?

Will 2011 see a new man in between the posts for the Red Bulls, or will there be more Bouna Time?

For better or worse, the Red Bulls will be looking to win the 2010 MLS Cup with Coundoul manning the net.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Prime Time for Rookie Tight End Aaron Hernandez

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It’s no secret that New England Patriots quarterback loves throwing to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. This season, however, Brady has found a new toy in rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots do spread the ball on offense and a lot of guys get their share of touches, but Hernandez is not only gaining more targets per game (two in Week 1, six in Week 2, and seven in Week 3), he is also encroaching on the balls that Moss and Welker are getting their ways. Last week the former Florida Gator even led the team in targets.

Hernandez is earning Brady’s trust. He has led the team in receptions the previous two games (six) and yards (101 against the New York Jets and 65 against the Buffalo Bills). Even though he only had one grab in the opening weekend, he made it count for 45 yards.

He hasn’t caught a touchdown pass yet and isn’t a prime look on goal-line situations, where fellow rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski gets the nod, as will running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Hernandez also isn’t expected to do much blocking, but he does create a lot of matchup problems.

He’s a tad undersized but extremely athletic. He has good speed and can make big plays in the open field. He has good hands and can get to some awkwardly thrown balls. He also has a good vertical leap. And when he gets the ball he does a good job of evading defenders and getting yards after the catch.

He even got into the running game against Buffalo with one carry for 13 yards.

With Moss and Welker demanding a lot of attention, rightfully so, Hernandez can take quite a bit of pressure of them and really open up the field.

Hernandez has been exciting to watch and his growing chemistry with Brady couldn’t come at a better time as the Pats head to Miami to take on the Dolphins.

The Dolphins rank ninth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. However, they have been weak guarding tight ends.

In Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, VIsanthe Shiancoe had a game-high of six catches for 83 yards. In last week’s loss to the Jets, Dustin Keller found all the seams in the Miami defense, leading the Jets with six catches for 98 yards and adding a game-high two touchdowns.

With the Dolphins inability to contain the tight end and Hernandez’s big play ability—akin to Keller—Brady should look his way quite often in the Monday Night divisional showdown.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

NFL Week 4 Picks: Donovan McNabb Will Be Triumphant in Return to Philadelphia

AP Photo/Rob Carr

Only three unbeatens remain: Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City. If you predicted that, raise your hand. You deserve a pat on the back. No one expected that from any of these teams. But as the cliché goes, that is why they play the game.

Which of these teams will be able to continue their success? Who is a real contender?

We know that Kansas City will stay undefeated for another week, as they are one of four teams that has the first bye week in the NFL.

The biggest storyline in Week 4 though will be Donovan McNabb’s return to Philadelphia. After 11 seasons with the Eagles, McNabb will enter Lincoln Financial Field, but this time as a Washington Redskin.

There have been a lot of discussions on TV about how McNabb will and should be greeted by the fans. He is on a rival team, so when the whistle blows, anything that he has done will be forgotten, but McNabb never demanded a trade. He was forced out.

He has done so much for the Eagles, if he is booed by the majority during introductions then Philadelphia fans should be ashamed of themselves for not appreciating everything he has done.

Give him a warm welcome, and then try to rattle him when he’s attempting to throw touchdown passes against your team.

Who do you think will win?

San Francisco (0-3) at Atlanta (2-1)

The Falcons played well last week, beating the defending champions. This season Atlanta is second in the league in rushing yards, have turned the ball over three times, and have a plus-four turnover differential, good enough for a tie for third best in the entire league, first in the NFC.

San Francisco fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, thanks to scoring the second fewest points in the league (38).

They seem out of whack, and while a weak division could keep them in contention, it’s difficult to imagine that they beat a well put together team like the Falcons right now.

Atlanta wins.

Cincinnati (2-1) at Cleveland (0-3)

With Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham at his disposal, Carson Palmer is catching some flack for an underachieving offense in Cincinnati.

He’s only completed 56.6 percent of his passes this season—a career low—5.8 yards per pass, second lowest in his career, a 71.3 passer rating, also the second lowest of his career, and has just as many interceptions as touchdowns.

There’s hope against the Browns defense however.

Cleveland was torched by Joe Flacco last weekend, when he went 22-31 for 262 yards and three touchdowns.

If the Bengals can get Cedric Benson and the running game going against a team that ranks 21st in rushing yards allowed per game, things can open up for Palmer and the passing game.

Cincinnati wins.

New York Jets (2-1) at Buffalo (0-3)

The Jets will be going for three straight divisional wins, and while Buffalo put forth a nice effort against the Patriots last week, it won’t be enough.

Mark Sanchez, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller, and LaDanian Tomlinson were all in top form last weekend against the Dolphins.

The Jets defense is stingier than the Patriots defense Buffalo was able to put 30 points up against last weekend, and they added former Pro Bowler Trevor Pryce.

The real question here is while the Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins will all compete for the division crown, will the Bills win any game within the division?

New York Jets win.

Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2)

Seattle need to kickoffs returned for touchdowns by Leon Washington to win last week. They won’t be able to rely on that every week.

The running game specifically needs to step up, managing only 68 yards last week against San Diego.

While the Rams had a big home victory last weekend, Steve Jackson is now questionable and the outlook on him participating in the game does not look good.

Without Jackson, the Rams offense, still trying to find its way, may not have the spark to get going.

Seattle wins.

Denver (1-2) at Tennessee (2-1)

Both teams strengths on offense (Tennessee’s rushing game, and Denver’s passing game) will be somewhat neutralized here by the other team’s strengths on defense.

The problem is Denver cannot run the ball at all. Tennessee’s passing game is not sharp in any way, but it doesn’t need to be with Chris Johnson—fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, tied for first in rushing touchdowns—running around and controlling the clock.

Denver will be without Knowshon Moreno once again, and Tennessee should be able to just sit back on the pass, making it harder for Kyle Orton to do any real damage.

Tennessee is also fourth in the league in sacks, so it could be a long day for Orton.

Tennessee wins.

Detroit (0-3) at Green Bay (2-1)

The Packers had an astonishing 18 penalties last week for 152 yards. They also had two turnovers. They only lost by three points. They beat themselves.

It was an ugly performance, but it should only be a bump in the road for the Packers. A matchup with the winless Lions should be the proper cure.

Detroit can’t run the ball efficiently and they can’t stop the run or pass. They have some talented players, but they are going through a lot of growing pains, literally. Rookie running back Jahvid Best is questionable with a toe injury, and second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford is still out with a shoulder injury.

Green Bay wins.

Baltimore (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0)

The Steelers are (sort of) surprisingly undefeated right now. No one thought they would be this good without Ben Roethlisberger, but they are playing good defense and are strong running the ball.

Where they are weak is the passing game. Now down to Charlie Batch, who until last week hadn’t started a game since 2006, they are last in the league in passing yards per game. And surprisingly, the Ravens are best in passing yards allowed per game.

The Ravens’ defense was embarrassed last week giving up 173 rushing yards to Cleveland, but that isn’t the norm, although Rashard Mendenhall will make things difficult.

Baltimore needs to win the turnover battle. That won’t be easy since the Steelers have the best turnover difference while the Ravens have the worst. Still, it can be done, and Baltimore will rely on Ray Rice in order to cut down on their turnovers.

Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin had a huge day last week, and if that is any sign of the “improved” offense finally clicking, they could be turning the corner.

Baltimore wins.

Carolina (0-3) at New Orleans (2-1)

Drew Brees threw two interceptions last week and Garret Heartley missed another field goal—in overtime. The running game isn’t helping, ranking last in the league in yards per game. Yet the Saints still lost by only a field goal.

It was not a pretty game. None of them have been thus far for New Orleans. Things will need to be improved for the Carolina game, but they should be ok.

The Saints are known for a high-powered offense, led by Brees, that can strike at any time from any spot on the field.

Carolina and rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who had an awful 53.6 passer rating in his first career start, will not be able to match the Saints score for score, as they rank last in the league in total points.

New Orleans wins.

Indianapolis (2-1) at Jacksonville (1-2)

Peyton Manning looks fantastic so far. He has 1013 passing yards, a 69 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns, and zero interceptions to go along with a league-leading 116.9 passer rating.

David Garrard’s first game was promising, but he owns a 59.5 completion percentage, 448 yards, five interceptions compared to four touchdowns, and has been sacked 10 times, third most in the NFL.

No reason to think Peyton’s roll will be ending, or even temporarily stopped, in this game.

Indianapolis wins.

Houston (2-1) at Oakland (1-2)

Houston’s offense put up good numbers in last week’s loss to Dallas, they just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone, going 1-3 in the red zone on the day. Add three turnovers—two picks and one fumble—and they were doomed to blemish their unbeaten record.

Oakland has a good pass defense, which could make things difficult for the Texans passing-heavy offense. However, their run defense is pretty weak while Houston’s run offense is pretty good.

And while the Texans have a league-worst pass defense, the Raiders passing game isn’t nearly dangerous enough to make a difference.

The Texans will get back on track against the Raiders.

Houston wins.

Washington (1-2) at Philadelphia (2-1)

Donovan McNabb, the Eagles’ all-time leader in games for a quarterback, yards, passing touchdowns, and playoffs starts, returns to Philadelphia after the team traded him this offseason. He isn’t remembered for throwing four touchdowns on a broken ankle in the 2002 playoffs, but for throwing up in the 2004 Super Bowl.

He was criticized by Rush Limbaugh, Eagles’ fans, and the Philadelphia press. Yet he still was the Eagles’ greatest quarterback of all-time and he did it all with a smile on his face.

Washington hasn’t gotten off to the best start, but McNabb is in the top ten in passing yards (833), ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and the guy that has taken over his position in Philly, Mike Vick.

Vick’s resurgence to the top of the league has been possibly the biggest story of the season thus far, with a feel-good-ring to it. McNabb has praised him, and said nothing much about returning to Philly, but after 11 seasons there has to be a sense of urgency, a want to prove that he is the top guy.

His team has said they want to play their best game for him.

McNabb will be inspired and he will lead his team to victory.

Washington wins.

Arizona (2-1) at San Diego (1-2)

San Diego has the second most passing yards per game, and are sixth and ninth best in the league in passing yards allowed per game and rushing yards allowed per game respectively.

Their one win has come at home and their latest loss was due in part to terrible special teams coverage allowing two kickoff returns for touchdowns (and losing by seven points despite Philip Rivers’ 455 passing yards).

Arizona squeaked by last week when the Raiders missed a field goal with time expiring.

The Chargers are a pass-first team, but if they could expose a rather weak run defense, then they could be in business.

San Diego wins.

Chicago (3-0) at New York Giants (1-2)

Both quarterbacks are in the top ten in passing yards. However the Bears pass defense is not playing nearly as well as the Giants. Maybe that’s because they’ve played Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo, but the Giants still had to matchup with Peyton Manning.

The Bears run defense is tough, but they can’t run the ball either.

The key for the Giants will be for Eli Manning to cut back on his turnovers (he leads the league with six interceptions) and make Jay Cutler turn into the turnover machine that people expect him to be.

At home and becoming a very undervalued team, the Giants can pull off an upset in this game.

New York Giants win.

New England (2-1) at Miami (2-1)

Last year the Patriots were miserable on the road, and they did nothing against the New York Jets in Week 2 to prove those days are behind them. They also, historically, play poorly in Miami.

Last week against the Jets, Chad Henne threw for 363 yards, 166 of which were to Brandon Marshall. The two’s connection has really developed early in the season, and there is no reason to believe that the Patriots porous secondary that allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to complete 71 percent of his passes for 247 yards last week will stop them.

Miami wins.

Bye week: Dallas, Kansas City, Minnesota, Tampa Bay

Last Week: 9-7

Season: 29-19