Thursday, November 25, 2010

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

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

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

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

Who do you think will win this week?

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

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

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

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

New England wins.

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

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

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

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

New Orleans wins.

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

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

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

New York wins.

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

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

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

Atlanta wins.

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

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

Pittsburgh wins.

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

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

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

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

Carolina wins.

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville wins.

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

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

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

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

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

The Redskins are also only 2-3 at home.

Minnesota wins.

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

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

Enough problems?

Houston wins.

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

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

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

Kansas City wins.

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

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

Oakland wins.

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

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

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

Denver wins.

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

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

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

Philadelphia is also 4-1 on the road.

Philadelphia wins.

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

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

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

Baltimore wins.

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

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

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

Indianapolis wins.

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

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

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

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

San Francisco wins.

Last Week: 12-4

Season: 99-61

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

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

AP Photo/TOny Gutierrez

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

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

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

Chivas USA: Giancarlo Maldonado

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

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

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

Chicago Fire: John Thorrington

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

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

Colorado Rapids: Wells Thompson

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

Columbus Crew: Eric Brunner

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

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

FC Dallas: Dax McCarty

McCarty is a serious talent in the midfield.

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

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

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

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

D.C. United: Adam Cristman

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

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

Houston Dynamo: Pat Onstad

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

Sporting Kansas City: Josh Wolff

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

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

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

LA Galaxy: Mike Magee

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

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

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

New England Revolution: Cory Gibbs

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

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

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

New York Red Bulls: Conor Chinn

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

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

Philadelphia Union: Shea Salinas

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

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

Real Salt Lake: Collen Warner

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

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

San Jose Earthquakes: Arturo Alvarez

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

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

He is certainly capable of leading a midfield.

Seattle Sounders FC: Sanna Nyassi

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

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

Toronto FC: Fuad Ibrahim

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

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

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jimmie Johnson Displays Winning Characteristics in Fifth Sprint Cup Title

AP Photo/Terry Rena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

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

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

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

Rapids-Real Salt Lake rivalry

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

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

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

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

David Ferreira earned his MVP

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

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

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

Defense wins championships

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

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

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

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

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

Designated Players don’t guarantee championships

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

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

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

Conor Casey is tough

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NFL Week 11 Picks: New England Patriots Top Indianapolis Colts in Heated Rivalry

AP Photo/Don Wright

It’s Week 11 and all the bye weeks are over, so there is a full slate of NFL games this weekend, and every weekend here on out.

The Sunday and Monday night games should be exciting. Both pit division rivals against each other. Sunday night gets the electric Michael Vick, who went to town on the Redskins last week on Monday Night, against a Giants team that, although they slipped up against the Cowboys, has been brutal against quarterbacks this year.

Monday night the Chargers and Broncos square off in a match-up of the top two passing teams in the league. An aerial battle should excite the fans in San Diego.

But the highlight will be another chapter in the Patriots-Colts rivalry. The last ten meetings between these teams have resulted in a 5-5 split. Who will get the upper hand, the Patriots and Tom Brady, or the Colts and Peyton Manning?

Who do you think will win this weekend?

Chicago (6-3) at Miami (5-4)

Chicago has won back-to-back games for the first time since Week 3, and although they have a short week, they are in a favorable situation.

The week will feel shorter for the Dolphins who are extremely banged up. They have lost their first two quarterbacks on the depth chart and will have limited time to get Tyler Thigpen acquainted with the first-team offense. Jake Long has a shoulder injury, and although it looks like he will try to play, the lack of rest could hurt. Same goes for linebacker and team sack leader Cameron Wake.

Miami is also winless at home thus far this season.

The Dolphins may lean a little bit more on the running game, but Chicago allows only 82.3 yards per game on the ground, second best in the NFL.

Miami is just too hurt and doesn’t have enough time to recover and regroup.

Chicago wins.

Buffalo (1-8) at Cincinnati (2-7)

Time for the Bengals to snap their six-game losing streak.

After eight weeks of trying, and coming heartbreakingly close the last three, the Bills have finally broke through and won a game. Believe it or not, but that does take a bit of an emotional toll. Will there be a first-win hangover?

Cincinnati hasn’t rushed the ball effectively this year, but if they can take advantage of Buffalo’s 32nd ranked rush defense, it’s hard to imagine the Bills keeping pace in the passing game.

Cincinnati wins.

Detroit (2-7) at Dallas (2-7)

Dallas got a huge win last week over the Giants, while Detroit allowed the Bills to win their first game of the season.

Jon Kitna weathered the storm of a strong Giants pass rush, throwing only one interception—compared to three touchdowns and 327 yards—and getting sacked only once (credit to the offensive line as well). With the exception of Ndamukong Suh, the Lions pass rush is not nearly as rough as New York’s.

Dez Bryant has been one of, if not the only, bright spot on the Cowboys this year, and he and Miles Austin should be able to put up big numbers.

Dallas wins.

Washington (4-5) at Tennessee (5-4)

It’s mind-boggling how Tennessee lost to Miami last weekend when they knocked out their top two quarterbacks. This should be a nice bounce-back week though.

The Titans are 31st in the league in passing yards per game, but the Redskins are ranked the same in passing yards allowed per game.

The difference maker is that the Titans, behind Chris Johnson, run the ball extremely well, while the Redskins have sputtered. The Redskins also allow 128.8 yards per game on the ground, 25th in the league, so Johnson should have a field day. That should open things up offensively for Tennessee.

Tennessee wins.

Arizona (3-6) at Kansas City (5-4)

The Chiefs have been tough to play at home, standing 4-0 at Arrowhead. Arizona, meanwhile, is 1-4 on the road.

The Cardinals have not been very good on offense or defense this year and are coming off an 18-point home loss to divisional rival Seahawks. Things are not looking very good in the desert.

Kansas City got a whooping of their own against Denver last week, but Arizona’s offense isn’t good enough for the Chiefs to fall behind by so much so quickly. This way they can stick to their strength—their top-ranked rushing attack—and bury the Cardinals.

Kansas City wins.

Green Bay (6-3) at Minnesota (3-6)

Banged up most of the year, the bye week must have been nice for the Packers. They are riding a three-game winning streak and had an extra week to put together a strong game plan for the Vikings.

Minnesota has been a circus this year—and not the good kind. Brett Favre has taken the media hostage every week debating whether he’s healthy enough to play or not, and nobody apparently likes Brad Childress and now with Wade Philips fired the seat got hotter for Chilly. It’s unfortunate too, because no one notices that Adrian Peterson is second in the NFL in rushing yards.

The Packers, despite health issues, have been pretty consistent all year, and having that bye week should only help them.

Green Bay wins.

Houston (4-5) at New York Jets (7-2)

It hasn’t been pretty, but the Jets are finding ways to win, which is what is most important, squeaking out two consecutive overtime wins.

Texans Arian Foster has been great this season, leading the NFL in rushing yards, however the Jets have a very stingy run defense, 5th best in the league in rushing yards allowed.

The Jets also rank 12th in the league in sacks, with 20, while the Texans are tied for ninth with 21 sacks allowed. This doesn’t mean anything good for Matt Schaub, who has been in the hospital for a bursa sac injury in his knee.

He’ll most likely play, but the defense will get after him, and they should be able to stop the run too.

New York wins.

Oakland (5-4) at Pittsburgh (6-3)

The Steelers did not manage well at home last week, so they will take it out on the Raiders.

The Raiders’ rushing offense is ranked higher than the Steelers’, however the Steelers have the top-ranked rushing defense. So while they battle with Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall will have a much easier day, with Oakland’s rushing defense allowing 124.8 rushing yards per game, 24th in the league.

Ben Roethlisberger will want to make up for his less than stellar performance against the Patriots, as well.

Pittsburgh wins.

Baltimore (6-3) at Carolina (1-8)

The Panthers have the worst passing attack in the league, they just put their No. 1 running back on injured reserve, and their backups aren’t close to being completely healthy either.

They now get to face a Ravens team that will be looking to get back on a winning streak after the Falcons stopped their small two-game win streak, and Ray Rice will lead the Ravens’ 11th ranked rush offense up against Carolina’s rush defense that allows 131.6 rushing yards per game.

Baltimore wins.

Cleveland (3-6) at Jacksonville (5-4)

The Jaguars had a thrilling win with that Hail Mary last week. Somehow David Garrard is second in the NFL in passer rating.

But the Jaguars have been up and down all season. Since their opening week win, the Jaguars lost two, won two, lost two, and now won two. So that means they are due for a losing streak now right?

Cleveland has played tough all season. Colt McCoy hasn’t been flashy, but he’s certainly been gritty. And after starting his career against the defenses of Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England, and the New York Jets, he will certainly welcome the chance to throw against Jacksonville’s 29th ranked pass defense.

The Jaguars also give up a very generous 114.9 yards per game on the ground, meaning Peyton Hillis should have a nice game.

Cleveland wins.

Tampa Bay (6-3) at San Francisco (3-6)

Don’t look now, but Troy Smith has helped the 49ers win two straight games, and he’s playing well. His 116.6 passer rating would be first in the NFL if he was eligible. He has been pretty accurate, completing 61.7 percent of his passes, which would put him in the top 20 of the league. He also hasn’t turned the ball over.

He’s also pretty mobile, which will come in handy. The Buccaneers are 31st in the NFL in rushing yards against, giving up 143.8 yards per game. Just so happens that San Francisco has Frank Gore, an absolute beast in the backfield.

He started off the season slow, but has scored in consecutive games and has rushed for 100-plus yards in three of his past four games.

San Francisco wins.

Seattle (5-4) at New Orleans (6-3)

Seattle gives up 272.2 passing yards per game, 28th in the NFL. The Saints, led by Drew Brees, throw for 276.2 yards per game, 5th in the league.

Throwing the ball is what New Orleans does best, and Seattle can’t stop it. After the wake-up call they got from Cleveland, the Saints seem to be clicking in their previous two games. They should keep the ball rolling in this one.

New Orleans wins.

Atlanta (7-2) at St. Louis (4-5)

The Rams have enjoyed a decent year so far, certainly surpassing expectations set for them in the beginning of the year. The Falcons, however, are often overlooked to being the best team in the NFC, and a top team in the NFL.

Atlanta runs the ball very well and has a great turnover differential. Some would say those two things are the two most important things a team can control to become legitimate contenders.

Simply put, The Falcons are just the better team here, and they win the games they should win.

Atlanta wins.

Indianapolis (6-3) at New England (7-2)

This has been the best rivalry in the league over the past decade. It’s also been close; each of the previous five meetings has been decided by a touchdown or less.

Both team’s strengths are the passing game, but if New England’s running game, which has been pretty steady lately, can take advantage of a porous Colts rush defense, then they should have the upper hand.

In Indy’s six wins they give up, on average, 95.5 yards per game rushing. In their three losses, that number becomes an astonishing 208.7 yards per game. Not that BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead will tear it up to that extent, but they should be able to make their presence known more so than the Colts stable of runners, whoever is healthy.

That’s the thing with the Colts; offensively they just have too many injuries. With Peyton under center, they still have every opportunity to win, but they are facing a Patriots team at full-strength at Gillette.

Things are just going the Patriots’ way right now.

New England wins.

New York Giants (6-3) at Philadelphia (6-3)

Michael Vick looks amazing this season. Period. He’s first in passer rating and he’s developed a tremendous chemistry with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. He also can still run the ball and extend the play.

He’ll need to against the Giants vaunted pass rush. That being said, the Eagles have more sacks than the Giants do, and Vick has fewer turnovers (zero, actually), than Eli Manning (13 interceptions—second in the NFL—and one fumble). The Giants will be without Steve Smith, and tight end Kevin Boss is also not at full strength.

If the Eagles can force Eli Manning into silly turnovers, than the fans can see more of their exciting offense.

Philadelphia wins.

Denver (3-6) at San Diego (5-4)

This matchup features the top two passing teams in the NFL. The only difference is the Chargers play pretty good defense too.

Yes, the Broncos put a beat down on Kansas City last weekend, but unlike the Chiefs, the Chargers passing game can keep pace with Denver’s.

Even without Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd last week the Chargers still scored 29 points gained 367 total yards, and won the game.

San Diego wins.

Last week: 8-6

Season: 87-57

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tom Brady: Is He the NFL's Most Underappreciated Player?

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was in destroy mode Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the team’s 39-26 victory over a team that has a strong defense, and who many opine is the best team in the NFL, Brady led the way. He went 30-for-43 for 350 yards and three touchdowns, as well as one rush that earned him another touchdown.

For his career, Brady 6-1 against the Steelers—4-1 at Heinz Field—and has 14 touchdowns against the Steelers and only three interceptions.

Part of it is game planning: New England throws the ball against Pittsburgh 73 percent of the time and only rushes on 27 percent of the plays, as opposed to throwing it 55 percent of the time and rushing it 45 percent against every other team in the league.

Still, in order to continue that trend, the Pats need to be successful throwing the ball. That comes down to Tom Brady taking charge.

It isn’t just against the Steelers, though. New England, especially the way it is currently constructed, places all of its burdens on Brady.

It’s cliché to say the team will go as far as he does, but there is no better way to describe it.

Which begs the question, is Tom Brady underappreciated?

Many would say it’s impossible for a quarterback to be underappreciated. That they get all the attention, and Tom Brady and his hair get more airtime on ESPN than all the players in the league not named Brett Favre.

But do people realize how important Tom Brady is to this team? And does his team undervalue him?

Take last week’s loss against Cleveland.

The loss wasn’t Brady’s fault; the team was bad in all phases of the game. But Brady was certainly not on his mark.

He completed only 19-of 36 passes. Although he had two touchdowns compared to zero interceptions, one of those TDs he was bailed out by Aaron Hernandez, who was able to make an amazing play off a deflected pass.

Brady was out of sync with his receivers and just didn’t have it going for him that day.

It happens.

It’s difficult to play at top level for the entirety of the season. But the Patriots are hard-pressed to find anyone to pick up Brady’s slack.

The running game is at its worst in recent memory. The defense is extremely vulnerable, with a lacking pass rush and a very inexperienced and inconsistent pass defense.

If Brady has a bad game, then the rest of the team is doomed. Even if you point to the Week 4 thrashing of Miami where special teams were the focus, Brady was still very accurate, going 19-for-24 and a touchdown.

Brady is the emotional leader of this team as well.

Look at the barking he did on the sidelines against Pittsburgh. He knows what the team needs to do to be successful.

If it isn’t getting done, he’s going to tell everybody what they need to be doing. He’s competitive, he’s tough (he missed a practice this week with a foot injury) and he’s fearless.

With an elite player like Brady on the roster, most teams would do whatever it took to put the best team around him and maximize his potential to take them to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots organization, however, insists on getting rid of its top players. Major weapons on offense and defense (Randy Moss and Richard Seymour come to mind) have been traded away for draft picks.

The Patriots have placed around Brady a bunch of journeymen, retreads and rookies.

While there was a definite need to make the defense younger, the Patriots waited too long. Instead of bringing guys along, they are throwing players into the fire now.

That’s not to say guys like Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty won’t be good pros—because they do have a lot of potential—but as long as Tom Brady is on the roster, they should be trying to win now.

People will say Peyton Manning does a lot with a mostly unknown cast of players, but the Colts don’t trade away all their best players—they just all get hurt.

Brady will do everything he can to win games and put the young guys on his shoulders. But there will be days where it will be too much, and the Patriots haven’t put together a team ready to win without his heroic efforts.

He’s the ultimate team player. But for a team that believes the player is a part of a system, Brady seems to be getting the short end of the stick.

By not getting the best possible players, are the Patriots really undervaluing Brady? Are they wasting the remainder of his productive seasons?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NFL Week 10 Picks: Minnesota Vikings Continue Winning Ways Against Chicago Bears

AP Photos/Andy King

Late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were down by 14 and it looked like the season was about to finally crash down on them. Then Brett Favre reached way back, pulled some of that old magic from his hat, and sparked a comeback that included a game-tying touchdown to Visanthe Shiancoe with 27 seconds left.

In overtime, the Vikings finished the game off, scoring a field goal for the victory. So now the Vikings are still within reach of climbing the division standings.

Miami and Tennessee are also both middle of the pack teams, trying everything they can to jump into the playoffs. The Titans claimed Randy Moss off waivers, and the Dolphins have made Chad Pennington starting quarterback once again. These two teams will square off in Week 10.

Also, all four NFC West teams, all within two games of each other in the standings, will also face each other.

Who will strengthen their playoff positions? Who will fall back?

Baltimore (6-2) at Atlanta (6-2)

The Ravens had a nice 16-point win last week, and many look at them as one of the top three teams in the NFL. However there was one alarming stat: they went 1-7 in the red zone.

Baltimore was able to get three interceptions off Miami, and for some off reason they stopped running the ball, even though Ronnie Brown averaged 6.6 yards per carry after a great first drive.

Atlanta will not do either. They have a plus-seven turnover ratio and they run the ball extremely well, while not venturing away from it. The Falcons will not give the Ravens any chances and they will continue to go to Michael Turner, eighth best in rushing yards in the NFL.

Atlanta wins.

Detroit (2-6) at Buffalo (0-8)

Half a season and still no wins, but every week now they seem to be on the doorstep. Could this weekend be the one in which the stars align right?

The Bills are the worst team in the league in defending the run, but the Lions rank 30th in the NFL with only 81.8 rushing yards per game. So it’s hard to imagine they’ll really take advantage of the Bills there.

The Lions rank eighth in the NFL in passing yards per game, but surprisingly the Bills are actually sixth in pass defense. Also, the Lions are literally hurting at the quarterback position. Matthew Stafford may be out for the year due to a reoccurring shoulder injury. Shaun Hill is scheduled to start, but he’s coming off an arm injury which would leave them with Drew Stanton.

The Bills will need to be more effective in the running game and more balanced on offense in general.

Still, it is tough to go a whole season without winning a single game (unless you are Detroit).

Buffalo wins.

Minnesota (3-5) at Chicago (5-3)

A courageous last-minute comeback from the Vikings kept them, surprisingly, in the hunt for the division championship.

Turnovers will need to be cut down (three turnovers and two interceptions), but the Vikings have the firepower to get through it. Brett Favre threw for an astonishing 446 yards last week and he got strong games from a variety of sources: Percy Harvin had nine catches for 126 yards, Bernard Berrian had nine catches for 89 yards, Visanthe Shiancoe had 66 yards and the game-tying touchdown, Greg Camarillo contributed 66 yards, and Adrian Peterson was productive on both the ground and the passing game with a touchdown and over 60-yards in each.

The Vikings need to cut back on the turnovers, which will help them escape from such a huge early deficit. And if they can keep the game close, they can rush the ball more with Peterson, not only using his skills, but also eating up some clock and not letting the game be decided by a Favre mistake.

Chicago has struggled to get their offense going. Last week against the Bills, Buffalo actually outgained them, and the Bears had seven penalties. They were bailed out by the Bills three turnovers.

Minnesota wins.

New York Jets (6-2) at Cleveland (3-5)

The rushing game, both offensively and defensively, helped the Browns really beat-down the Patriots. It will be a different game this week, however.

The Patriots defense has been shaky all season, and they don’t have a viable rushing game to counter-back. Not to take anything away from how hard Cleveland and Peyton Hillis played, but the Jets are much better in both areas.

They really stuff the run, allowing only 87.4, fourth-best in the NFL. They also are fourth-best in rushing offense, rushing for 148 yards per game. They can’t take Cleveland for granted, but the Jets will grind it out against the Browns.

New York wins.

Tennessee (5-3) at Miami (4-4)

Everyone is anxiously awaiting Randy Moss’ debut with the Titans, but the Dolphins were also very active this week, signing veteran cornerback Al Harris and appointing Chad Pennington the new starting quarterback.

Especially with Kenny Britt injured, Moss should provide a huge boost to the Titans 26th ranked passing attack. Many people are excited about the possibilities of what Moss can do to help clear space for Chris Johnson, but wasn’t he supposed to do the same for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota? And he had a better second receiver with Percy Harvin than Nate Washington will be. It may come down to how much better of a coach Jeff Fischer is than Brad Childress.

Pennington cannot throw the deep ball like Chad Henne can. However, it hadn’t really been incorporated as much in the offense as people would’ve liked. Pennington is a much more accurate passer than Henne, and he won’t force the ball, so turnovers won’t be the issue. Marshall will still get his looks, as he put up over 100 receptions with Kyle Orton as his quarterback in Denver last year; and they are similar style passers.

Pennington’s infusion will also mean more emphasis on the rushing game. Ronnie Brown averaged 6.6 yards per carry last week against a tough Ravens D, but for some reason Miami didn’t go to him after a strong first drive. Marshall even lobbied for him to get more carries. Pennington’s presence will get him that.

Miami wins.

Cincinnati (2-6) at Indianapolis (5-3)

It’s tough to think about how the Colts will replace Austin Collie, second on the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, yet the Colts always seem to be able to fill in for people, just like Jacob Tamme and his 108 receiving yards and one touchdown did for Dallas Clark last week.

Pierre Garcon is getting healthier by the week, and he should have a much bigger impact on the game.

The Colts are incredibly weak against the run, but the Bengals have seemingly abandoned the rushing aspect of their offense.

Indianapolis wins.

Houston (4-4) at Jacksonville (4-4)

Matt Schaub suffered a rib injury in the last game, but he anticipates he will play and Jacksonville is a good matchup for him and the Texans.

The Jaguars allow 267.1 passing yards per game (28th in the NFL). While the Texans give up a league-worst 298.3 yards per game, the Jaguars won’t be able to capitalize like the Texans (233.6 yards per game, 12th in the league) as they throw for only 181.4 yards per game (28th in the NFL).

Maurice Jones-Drew gives the Jaguars a potent rushing attack, but Arian Foster gives the Texans a very balanced offense. He leads the NFL in rushing yards, and the Jaguars don’t do very well defending the run.

Houston wins.

Carolina (1-7) at Tampa Bay (5-3)

The Panthers are last in the NFL in points per game (11.0), last in yards gained per game (244.4) and last in turnover differential (-11).

They also rank last in the league in passing yards per game and both of their top running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, are banged up and their playing status is up in the air.

The Buccaneers may not have pulled off a victory against the Falcons last week, but they played it close. Their rushing game was bested by Atlanta’s and Josh Freeman’s two interceptions didn’t help, but this team is better than Carolina.

Tampa Bay wins.

Kansas City (5-3) at Denver (2-6)

There seems to be a familiar trend across the NFL. Teams that pass the ball exceptionally well (Denver, Cincinnati and Dallas) do not necessarily win games. Most of the times they need to pass so much because they are behind by so many points.

Meanwhile rushing the ball allows teams to control the clock and tire the defense.

It isn’t a shocking revelation, but no matter how good a team’s passing game is, if they do not have a running game to compliment it, they don’t fare very well.
Denver has the third best passing attack, but they only have two wins. Meanwhile, their running game is the absolute worst in the league, averaging only 67.3 yards per game. Also, their defense is extremely vulnerable to the run, ranked 31st in the league.

The Chiefs may only be ranked 30th in the passing game, but they are first in rushing yards per game (179.6). Jamaal Charles is sixth in the league in rushing yards with 719, and Thomas Jones has chipped in a very respectable 570 rushing yards, good enough to be in the top 20. The Chiefs are the only team to have two runners in the top 20 in rushing yards.

Kansas City wins.

Seattle (4-4) at Arizona (3-5)

The Seahawks have lost both of their previous two games by an average of 32 points. The Cardinals have lost their previous two games by an average of three points.

Arizona played a strong three and a half quarters before inexplicably letting the Vikings back into the game. Larry Fitzgerald had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season, and Derek Anderson didn’t throw an interception.

Anderson also gets a consecutive start, so if he and Fitzgerald can get a rhythm going, they could dominate a Seahawks pass defense that is ranked 30th in the league allowing 270.5 passing yards per game.

Arizona wins.

Dallas (1-7) at New York Giants (6-2)

The Giants have scored 41 points in both of their previous two games, the first against coming against Dallas. The pass rush has been terrorizing quarterbacks all season and is tied for fifth in the league in sacks (24). They have put pressure on the quarterback and forced turnovers and throwaways. They also have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL (2005).

Dallas just fired its head coach, and while it was a move that did need to be made, it doesn’t change too much. Turnovers and silly penalties have plagued this team all year and the players have not responded.

Jon Kitna, taking over for the injured Tony Romo, has thrown six interceptions in both games he has started, and the running game isn’t taking any pressure off him as the unit is ranked 31st in the NFL.

New York wins.

St. Louis (4-4) at San Francisco (2-6)

Frank Gore dominated in the 49’ers last game, and his dominance allowed Troy Smith to play well. He wasn’t forced to make big plays so he didn’t, and that resulted in zero turnovers.

A lot of the 4-4 Rams’ success comes from their ability to stop the run. In four wins the Rams only allow 71 rushing yards per game. However, in four losses they allow 124.5 rushing yards per game.

Frank Gore is heating up, rushing for over 100 yards in each of his past three games and scored his first touchdown his last game since Week 2. If he can keep up the hot pace, San Francisco could keep themselves in the race for the division crown.

San Francisco wins.

New England (6-2) at Pittsburgh (6-2)

The Pats got spanked by the Browns Sunday and it isn’t a sure thing they’ll bounce back from it.

New England surrendered a whopping 230 rushing yards, 181 of which were to Peyton Hillis. With such a dominating rushing performance, the Browns also ruled the time of possession battle.

What the Browns did the Steelers will do even better. Rashard Mendenhall is seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (702), tied for third in rushing touchdowns (seven) and he is a physical runner, so he’ll make sure to eat up a lot of clock.

Ben Roethlisberger is an upgrade over Colt McCoy (not taking anything away from what McCoy has done thus far) and the Steelers defense is tough, especially with James Harrison and Troy Polamalu separating players from the ball.

The game is also in Pittsburgh where the Steelers are tough to beat, and New England hasn’t been very good on the road.

Pittsburgh wins.

Philadelphia (5-3) at Washington (4-4)

Last time, the Redskins went into Philadelphia and emotions were high as Donovan McNabb returned to Philly since they traded him. Eagles’ starter Michael Vick was injured and Washington pulled away with a victory.

Six weeks later and McNabb was pulled in his last game, with Coach Shanahan saying he didn’t know the two-minute offense well enough. While there is some controversy in Washington, Philadelphia got Vick back last week and things are looking good.
The Redskins rank 31st in passing yards allowed per game, allowing 280.9. The Eagles passing attack ranks 10th in the league, averaging 238.8 yards per game.

Vick has returned and not only can he still run, he’s become a much better passer, and throwing the long ball to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin only helps his case.

Philadelphia wins.

Bye week: Green Bay, Oakland, New Orleans, San Diego

Last week: 9-4

Season: 79-51

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

LeBron James: Is the Media Picture Fair?

AP Photo/Jeffrey M. Boan

Written by Chris Shore:

The nation waited desperately as the decision was being made. For weeks, one man held the attention of the American public and media creating all sorts of rumors and speculation. It came down to the final day, broadcast across the country, everyone wondering where he would go.

Then it all finally ended. LeBron James announced he would be joining the Miami Heat for the upcoming season.

The decision, broadcast live on ESPN, has provided enough drama to rival any primetime television series. LeBron was cast as both hero and villain throughout the selection process; whichever he ultimately is remains anybody’s guess. But is it right to judge LeBron James based on the media image we are given? Our perception of the man is skewed by media sensationalism, but we still form opinions based on this, unfairly judging LeBron.

As Walter Lippmann notes in his book, Public Opinion, “whatever we believe to be a true picture, we treat as if it were the environment itself.” Instead of relying on facts we imagine our own “pseudo-environments” filled with drama; the media is heavily responsible for this distortion.

The articles give us a hollow outline of the man that is LeBron James then fill it with stories of kingdoms, broken hearts, and betrayals.

“The King will bestow upon his faithful subjects a proclamation that will tear apart the kingdom of LeBron James fans,” declares an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Another L.A. Times article names LeBron “the most coveted free agent in sport’s history.”

“The LeBron James free-agency saga is nearing its fateful and surreal conclusion,” proclaims The New York Times. “The fate of five franchises will turn on a single sentence.”

Clearly we should be ready to condemn LeBron as he shakes the fate of the nation. Yet without the façade of crumbling kingdoms, fighting franchises, and heartbroken hometowns, all that is left is a man making a career choice. We cannot rely on these exaggerations to develop opinions because they do not tell us who he is.

True the situation is more complicated than a single decision. The addition of LeBron James to any roster would guarantee higher ticket sales and a more competitive team.

But rather than focus on the genuine complexity, the media simplifies, inserting instead, stereotypical images. Lippmann suggests with complex situations, “we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it.”

So LeBron is forgotten as an individual and we concentrate on LeBron as an entity. The New York Times talks about the unselfish, soft-spoken hero whose “obsession with basketball has more to do with a unique sense of team.” Meanwhile, other sources call LeBron a coward and focus on the resentment Cleveland citizens felt as they, “burned the jersey of the player they cherished for seven years.” So which of these familiar stories should we allow to prompt judgment?


We cannot make fair assessments based on simplified or distorted stories. Instead of understanding who LeBron James is and what he is going through, we only see a caricature; a familiar imitation of a man with no originality. We cannot objectively judge an individual when we are already presented with a subjective interpretation.

While complete objectivity is impossible, the media must strive to report as objectively as possible. Such reporting would lead to not only a better informed public, but one that is more open-minded and full of individuals that form their own opinions. After all, people believe what they see, even if it is only what they see in their heads.

Nike Basketball: LeBron Rise commercial, video from YouTube.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Oguchi Onyewu Gets Mean Again

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

At the beginning of the summer of 2009, Oguchi Onyewu was enjoying a wildly successful soccer career. He was a mainstay in the U.S. Men’s National Team starting defense and he completed a transfer to Italian giants AC Milan.

Things haven’t gone smoothly since then.

He has made only two appearances with Milan—a friendly against Club America in the World Football Challenge and a Champions League game against Zurich, both losses—injured his patellar tendon in a World Cup qualifier and even though he made the World Cup roster he was benched after the first two games.

He still hasn’t been able to find the field for Milan.

However a spark of life has been injected into Onyewu.

He was named captain for the U.S. in an October friendly against Colombia, a testament to his hard work and perseverance during his rehab. More recently, the physicality of Gooch’s game returned.

Onyewu was involved in a scuffle on Milan’s training ground with top striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. According to reports, Onyewu was upset by a reckless tackle from the Swede and responding by choking him, followed by punches being thrown.

Club vice president Adriano Galliani told reporters, “I'm happy when I see players pumped up. I'm happier seeing fiery training sessions than boring ones.”

While the violence is not something that should be taken lightly, Onyewu was a force in the U.S. lineup because of his size—at 6’4” he is the tallest field player to play for the National Team—strength and his physicality. He is famous for his takedown and ensuing stare down of Mexico striker Jared Borghetti.

Frustrations may have taken Onyewu to the edge, but he needs that edge. He needed to remind the soccer world that he is a physical force to be reckoned with. Onyewu needs to establish his presence on the pitch and if this fight makes Onyewu more aggressive on the field, than it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

He is the best center back in the U.S.’ player pool. However he hasn’t played like it. It’s time to get that mean streak back in him. Hopefully, the fight means that he isn’t putting up with being a bench warmer anymore, that he’s taking action.

A determined, angry, and physical Gooch means a strong centerpiece to the United States defense.

Video from YouTube, talks about Onyewu's strengths (his strength and physicality) and shows the stare down with Borghetti.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New England Patriots: Has Tom Brady Ever Fully Recovered from His Knee Injury?

AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

No matter how much Bill Belichick preaches that no one individual is greater than the team, Tom Brady is the face of the New England Patriots.

His talent, leadership and determination have led the Pats to three Super Bowl victories, in which he was rewarded the game’s MVP twice. He was the NFL regular season MVP when he led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season.

But has Brady ever really recovered from his ACL and MCL injuries suffered in 2008?

Brady can still play, and New England is still a good team, but is either elite anymore? Sometimes Brady just doesn’t have it—like against Cleveland yesterday—and the team cannot bail him out.

The overall passing stats will have you believe that nothing has really changed. He is on pace to throw 27 touchdowns, right around his season average, and he hasn’t thrown an inordinate amount of interceptions. His passer ratings for the past two seasons are the highest in his career, excluding the magical 2007 season, and his completion percentage is actually higher post-injury than pre-injury.

But there may still be an issue.

Mentally, Brady wasn’t always at his best last year. He looked uncomfortable and timid in the pocket last year, especially early in the season. Brady isn’t as mobile as he used to be, and when defenses send strong pass rushes at him he doesn’t do a good job evading them. Rather, he takes a good beating nowadays. And at 33-years-old, he isn’t getting any younger.

While the numbers may not be as noticeable long term, this season—despite the team’s successful record—his numbers show a significant drop-off.

Brady has not thrown for 300 yards yet this season. In the four games since the bye week, Brady has pass completion percentages under 60 percent in the past three games, and they get lower each week, bottoming out at 52.8 percent this past weekend.

He was exceptionally poor against the Browns. The team was out of sync all game, and while his receivers, namely tight end Rob Gronkowski, dropped a number of balls, Brady was terribly off the mark all game.

There are a lot of factors other than the injury that are causes for concern and make Brady look not as sharp. First, since the bye week this year where a real difference is seen, there is no more Randy Moss. Moss is a future Hall of Famer, and he does make things easier, as far as throwing to him and taking attention and coverage away from other players. But Brady didn’t have Moss early in his career.

The running game is pretty bad, probably the worst it has been in Brady’s entire career, so they can’t alleviate the pressure off of Brady. Injuries and holdouts have weakened the offensive line and they don’t block as well anymore.

All of these reasons allow the defense to crank up the pressure.

As for defense, this Pats defense is not nearly as good as the units of the Super Bowl teams, so they aren’t keeping teams at bay. The way the defense is playing now (since Brady’s injury) they don’t have a good pass rush and the coverage is poor. They allow big plays, a good amount of points and Brady needs to be "on" in order to keep New England in the game.

Maybe it was just a bad game for Brady; it’s tough to be "on" for all 16 games in a regular season.

But something wasn’t right. Defenses are pressuring Brady and he isn’t responding well. He can’t get away from the pressure like he used to and he doesn’t have the help to cover any mistakes or deficiencies in his game.

With such a bad running game and the shaky knee, Brady could get to be more like former Miami Dolphin Dan Marino—a legend, but declining in production towards the end of his career without sufficient help, namely a strong running game to balance out the offense so he doesn’t have to play at the highest level every game.

Is Brady’s knee still an issue? Is it, even slightly, hampering him? Are the team’s weaknesses elsewhere shortening Brady’s career?

One thing for sure is that he will never tell us the whole truth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NFL Week 9 Picks: Miami To Win on The Road Again

AP Photo/Derek Gee

The season is half over. And as the calendar turns into November, teams are getting serious about their playoff aspirations.

Teams at the top of the standings are out to prove their dominance. Teams in the middle of the pack are looking to go on a run. And the teams at the bottom? Well the majority of them are evaluating for next season and looking to play spoiler.

Buffalo is the only team without a win so far, but they have put together some inspiring outings lately with two overtime losses in a row. Can they put it together to finish off a team on the ropes?

Staying in the AFC East, the Patriots and Jets get the attention—and for the most part, rightfully so—but Miami never seems to go away. With the exception of the New England game, they are within a single score in their losses.

They are on the road again, where they have an unblemished record, but the competition won’t be easy. Many have called Baltimore one of the better, if not top, teams in the entire NFL.

Who will win this week?

Tampa Bay (5-2) at Atlanta (5-2)

Tampa Bay is enjoying a good season thus far. What they need here to really put themselves on the map is a win against the team with the best record in the division. But are they that good yet?

The Bucs are 1-1 in the division, with the win over the lowly Carolina Panthers and the loss coming to the New Orleans Saints. Are the Bucs really that good where they can beat the Falcons?

Tampa will have a rough day against a good team. They will be affected most in the rushing game. They are ranked 30th in the league in rushing defense, allowing 149.4 yards per game. Atlanta, meanwhile, has the fifth best rushing offense with 137.4 yards per game.

Michael Turner and the disciplined Falcons offense will grind out the game and show the Buccaneers that they are a still a bit away from the top of the division.

Atlanta wins.

Chicago (4-3) at Buffalo (0-7)

The Bills have yet to win a game, but they have looked much better since Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken the starting quarterback position, especially in recent weeks. Last week they lost in overtime to the AFC West leading Chiefs, and the week before they took a talented Ravens team to the brink, also losing in overtime.

Chicago has lost two in a row, but it hasn’t been against as good of competition and the results have not been as encouraging. The Bears have been out played, and they made a lot of mistakes in their latest game. Against Washington, Jay Cutler threw four interceptions and the team has another two fumbles.

With the home crowd behind them and some solid play recently against strong competition the Bills will finally get in the win column.

Buffalo wins.

New England (6-1) at Cleveland (2-5)

Colt McCoy is getting thrown into the fire early in his NFL career. His first start came against the Steelers and their tough D and Ben Roethlisberger’s return, then against Drew Brees and the Saints, and now he goes up against the NFL-best Patriots and Tom Brady.

He came away with a big win against the Saints, but the Pats are really clicking right now.

They haven’t been flawless—their pass defense could certainly tighten up—but on offense a number of guys are contributing in a number of different ways, reminiscent of the Patriots of old. Brady is fired up and they are playing solid, winning football. Emphasis on the second word.

New England wins.

New York Jets (5-2) at Detroit (2-5)

A 9-0 loss to the Packers? The Jets looked like the Week 1 Jets, which is pretty scary—in a bad way.

What really hurt New York were Mark Sanchez’s two interceptions. And after opening the season with zero interceptions in five games, he has four in his last two.

The Jets need to get back to handing the ball off to LaDanian Tomlinson more. He only averaged 2.7 yards per carry against Green Bay, but the Jets do still have the third best rushing offense in the NFL. Let Tomlinson grind it out and win the game.
He should have a good amount of success against Detroit and its defense that allows 130.4 rushing yards per game.

New York wins.

New Orleans (5-3) at Carolina (1-6)

The way the Saints rush the ball is atrocious. But against Carolina it won’t matter.
New Orleans can still throw the ball well, fifth best in the league actually. And Carolina just cannot score points. Add that DeAngelo Williams, their best weapon on offense, missed last week and may not play again this week, and it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to keep up with the Saints.

New Orleans wins.

Miami (4-3) at Baltimore (5-2)

Baltimore has shown weaknesses this year.

Ray Rice has been banged up and vulnerable, so the ground game hasn’t been as potent. Even with new weapons at wide receiver, Flacco has a career low 59.3 completion percentage. And last week the Ravens defense gave up an unbelievable 514 yards to the Buffalo Bills.

The Dolphins are a more talented team than Buffalo, and with the exception of the Patriots game they have been right there, an extremely competitive team. Their defense is ranked in the top half of the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed per game. And their passing offense, with the help of Brandon Marshall, is ranked 12th in the NFL with 232.4 yards per game.

The Dolphins are also 4-0 on the road. They will be up to play this game, and last week against a lowly Bills team proved that the Ravens are beatable.

Miami wins.

San Diego (3-5) at Houston (4-3)

Now is the time for San Diego to go on their midseason roll. They have started off slow, but they’ve done this before. They’ve been a middle-of-the-pack team, like last year, and then go on a tear, rising to the top.

They won last week and are in perfect position to go on their first winning streak this season.

They have the number one passing game in the NFL—Philip Rivers is third in the NFL in passer rating, first in yards, and tied for second in touchdowns—and the Texans, coming off a disappointing loss to the Colts, are dead last in pass defense, allowing a shade under 300 yards passing per game (299.4).

The Chargers defense should also be able to contain the Texans offense, which is a good unit, as they have the top ranked pass defense and second ranked rush defense.

San Diego wins.

Arizona (3-4) at Minnesota (2-5)

When a team trades a third-round draft pick for a player and one month later they release him, there is a clear sign of dysfunction and mismanagement. There is only one team in worse shape than the Vikings right now (Dallas).

However, Arizona is not cruising through this season. There is a rotating door at the quarterback position, and the Cardinals will be going back to Derek Anderson for this weekend. The constant changing of the guard under center has lead to no chemistry with Larry Fitzgerald, basically wasting him.

Minnesota still has Adrian Peterson, and both their rush and pass defense rank in the top half of the league.

Minnesota wins.

New York Giants (5-2) at Seattle (4-3)

Matt Hasselback will miss this game because of a concussion. Chaz Whitehurst gets his first NFL start, but it will be a rough day for him.

The Giants are tied for third in the league in sacks, while the Seahawks are tied for third in the league in sacks allowed. Seattle also doesn’t have a strong running game to alleviate pressure.

The Giants will come at Whitehurst hard and often.

New York wins.

Indianapolis (5-2) at Philadelphia (4-3)

Indianapolis has Peyton Manning, so they are always in every game. However they do not run the ball well and their defense against the run is terrible. It’s bad enough to cost the Colts the game.

The Eagles have the ninth ranked rushing game, gaining 129.3 yards per game. LeSean McCoy sits just outside the top 10 in the league in both rushing yards and yards per carry, and the Eagles will also receive a boost with the return of Michael Vick as the starting quarterback; and everyone knows his strength is running the ball.

Add to the fact that Andy Reid has never lost after a bye week, the Eagles, at home, have many things going in their favor.

Philadelphia wins.

Kansas City (5-2) at Oakland (4-4)

The top two rushing attacks go at it in this vital AFC West showdown. It won’t necessarily come down to the passing game either, because both are generally not that good—although they have made some plays lately.

Which team will be able to stop the others’ potent running attack?

The Raiders are very vulnerable on the ground, giving up 127.4 yards per game. Meanwhile the Chiefs not only execute on offense, they also get the job done on defense, surrendering only 96.4 yards per game on the ground.

The Chiefs have been rolling this year and their defense will carry them here.

Kansas City wins.

Dallas (1-6) at Green Bay (5-3)

It seems like every week Roy Williams makes a comment about how the team will run the table, make the playoffs, and everything will be fine.

The problem is that you start running out of games to turn things around.
Dallas was embarrassed by Jacksonville last week, and quarterback replacement Jon Kitna threw four interceptions.

The Packers only shutout the Jets.

Seems pretty lopsided here.

Green Bay wins.

Pittsburgh (5-2) at Cincinnati (2-5)

One would think the difference between the Bengals last year and this year is their running game. Last year they were very physical and efficient when they ran the ball, and that opened up the passing game. This year they just don’t. It’s hard to imagine why Marvin Lewis hasn’t figured that out, but that seems to be the biggest difference.

It doesn’t matter how many yards Carson Palmer throws for, it just doesn’t result in wins.

Pittsburgh shuts down the run, and then they control the line of scrimmage, pounding the ball with Rashard Mendenhall.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is also 5-0 on Monday Night Football.

Pittsburgh wins.

Bye week: Denver, Tennessee, St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington, Jacksonville

Last week: 11-2

Season: 70-47

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bill Belichick Saw Something We Didn't When He Traded Randy Moss

AP Photo/Winslow Townson

When the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick traded away Randy Moss, many were up in arms.

The best deep threat in the game was gone. Could any young receivers step up? Defenses didn’t have to double Moss anymore. How would the different coverage affect the receivers? Wes Welker? The running game?

The Patriots went out and picked up Deion Branch to add to the wide receiver depth chart. But really, how could the Patriots be a better team without Moss?

The Pats faithful responded differently however. They just said that Bill must have seen something and they were cutting ties before it affected the team.

But what did Belichick see? In a non-scheduled press conference, he told everyone Moss’ contract situation and off-field attitude were not reasons for the move. So what was it, other than getting a third-round pick, which was seen as below value for the future Hall of Fame receiver?

Maybe they just saw a decline in production; in four games Moss had nine catches for 139 yards (no more than 59 yards in one game) and three touchdowns, not to mention not catching a single pass in the Miami game and didn’t play in the second half yet the team winning 41-14 anyway.

So he went to Minnesota. Four more games, 13 more receptions, 174 yards (declining each game), and only two touchdowns later Moss was released.

Meanwhile the Patriots won three games without the enigmatic wide out. They’ve seen Branch and Brandon Tate step up and have big games. They haven’t been the prettiest games offensively, but they’ve gotten the job done and now have the best record in the NFL (6-1).

The Vikings are a bit of a mess right now, and the decision to let Moss go after giving up a third-round draft pick (maybe low for Moss, but still having value) only a month prior speaks volumes of the mismanagement going on.

However, reports have (again) surfaced of Moss’ mouth and attitude off the field being reasons for his dismissal from his team. Head Coach Brad Childress apparently told his team, when referring to Moss’ release, “We want good people who are good football players. This just doesn't fit,” according to Yahoo! Sports.

And once again, Moss had a poor game before his departure, catching only one pass for eight yards.

So is Moss a cantankerous individual unhappy with his stability with teams in the league and a disruptive force in the locker room? Is his production just not good enough?

And if Moss doesn’t get claimed by anyone, he can re-sign with New England for the rest of the season for a fraction of the cost (if money was the issue for the Pats).

Whatever the case with Moss, whatever teams he winds up on and how the Pats play their hand, Bill Belichick looks like an extremely smart man right now.

And those Pats/Belichick faithful look even better.