Friday, September 25, 2009

Football Friday and Angel Stadium Review

Before my review of Week 2 and Week 3 picks, here's Angel Stadium in a nutshell. When someone says the design of the stadium is similar to Yankee Stadium, their right, though also is a little Dodger Stadium-like in design. I'm glad the crowd wasn't into doing the wave, and only had bouncing beach balls as the distraction. I couldn't stand that Rally Monkey, just annoyed me how they constantly showed it batter after batter. Yankee fans I would say was 25-35% of the crowd Wednesday afternoon; for some reason, I believe if this was the Red Sox, it would be 35-45%. Other than that, it's not really a memorable stadium, in neither good nor bad way. Now let's look back at Week 2:

- I think we are looking at last year's Ravens with this year's Jets. Rex Ryan has them playing defense just like he had Baltimore a year ago, while Mark Sanchez is just playing smart, safe football at QB. Huge win against the Patriots, who for once seem vulnerable (where have we heard that before). Darrelle Revis is proving to be maybe the best CB in football after shuting down Andre Johnson and Randy Moss in back-to-back weeks. All these tools have Mark Sanchez smiling like he's still dating LA girls at USC (though there's very little dropoff in NY, ask Joe Namath). On the other hand, Matt Stafford shouldn't be confused with Matty Ice; the Lions are still bad and it's nice to see a QB struggle in his rookie year again.

- The brothers Manning continue to show their greatness last weekend with dueling game-winning drives to steal games their teams should have lost. Peyton didn't even have the ball for more than 15 minutes, a point hammered home by ESPN afterwards. As for Eli, he bailed out the Giants who couldn't run the football or stop it on the ground. I loved hearing all the praise Eli received last week, the way Eli handles himself in a two-minute drill is just perfect. I knew when there was 3:40 left to go that it was too much time for him and he proved it. Which is more than I can say for his opponent.

- All of a sudden Jake Delhomme has company in the maligned QB group now that Cowboys fans and alumni at leaping off the Tony Romo bandwagon. Romo was absolutely awful against the Giants and was the reason the Cowboys lost in the opener in the House that Jerry built. Apparently, Jerry Jones had a lot to do with Cowboys Stadium since NBC saw it fit to show him every two minutes (as if the network name is Jones Broadcasting Company). JBC cameras even found Jerry with a no-so great moment for him, but maybe the greatest moment for all Cowboy-haters when he went digging for oil after Bruce Johnson's pick six.

- The Dolphins were also on the wrong side of the a game they should of won, but this because of some awful coaching by Tony Sparano. He went for an inside draw on 3rd and 6 with the game tied and Miami in field goal range, taking the three points, even though Peyton Manning is the other QB. Then, they run as poor a two minute drill as Eli runs one good, burning a timeout when they waste the full play clock. The other two bad coaching performances of last week include Norv Turner and Todd Haley. Haley was killed by Jason Whitlock, Mike Lombardi and briefly by Bill Simmons for his overreacting on the sidelines and his bad playcalling. As for Norv, I watch the end of the Ravens-Chargers game and I was appalled by the play selection on 4th and 2 against a team like the Ravens. I don't bail on my picks too early, but if I did, I would immediately switch the Chargers with the Ravens. Baltimore is the best team in football now that Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense is able to put up points and the defense is still there.

- I continue to be impressed by Drew Brees on a week-by-week basis as the Saints are primed to challenge the Pats scoring record and Brady's touchdown record. Their competition in the Falcons has done well to win their first two and Tony Gonzalez seems to have completed that offense, which has seen no sophomore slump by Matt Ryan.

- The rest of the unbeatens in the league include the Vikings, Niners and Broncos. For Minnesota and San Francisco, it's because of Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore, respectively. For Denver, it's because of Brandon Stokely and the Cleveland Browns, respectively. The Browns are awful and I will continue to drive home the point that Eric Mangini is this decade's Rich Kotite; I still can't believe the Browns hired him.

- Kudos to the Texans, Bengals, Cardinals, Bills and Raiders for winning bounce back games after varying degrees of tough Week 1 losses. Houston puts their bandwagon on track, Arizona looked like last year; Cincy allowed Chad Ochocinco do his Lambeau Leap, TO finally did something productive and the Raiders won in spite of JaMarcus Russell's putrid passing because Todd Haley is proving to be a bad coach and the new frontrunner of the first year coach that's fired (for the record, no Raider coach is ever on the board, you can predict crazy/senile)

- The opposite of kudos goes to the Titans, Packers and most especially the Redskins. Anytime your fanbase is angry after a win, you get a negative kudo from me.

Now let's make Week 3 picks, as well as college. I apologize for finishing this late and I'm only going to show my picks for the 3:30 and later games today (Home team in CAPS):

Tennessee (+2.5) over JETS- Let down week for the Jets (Titans); Titans (Oilers) need this one.
HOUSTON (-3.5) over Jacksonville- Jaguars are awful, Texans probably are good.
Kansas City (+7.5) over PHILLY - Can't trust Kevin Kolb yet, reverses if McNabb somehow plays.
BALTIMORE (-13.5) over Cleveland- Ravens haven't had a blowout win yet, it's this week.
Giants (-6.5) over TAMPA BAY- Even hurt, the Giants should easily beat the Bucs.
DETROIT (+6.5) over Washington- Never again give a touchdown with this Redskins team.
Green Bay (-6.5) over ST. LOUIS- The Packers are better than last week; the Rams aren't.
San Fran (+7) over MINNESOTA- Let's just say I think the real Brett Favre will show up.
Atlanta (+4.5) over NEW ENGLAND- The wrong week for the Pats to play the Falcons.
Chicago (-2,5) over SEATTLE- Last week could start good things for the Bears, Seahawks will struggle with Wallace at QB.
New Orleans (-6) over BUFFALO- Don't overreact to the Bills win over Tampa, do with Brees.
SAN DIEGO (-5.5) over Miami- Battle of bad coaches, Norv's team is better than Tony's.
Pittsburgh (-3.5) over CINCINNATI- I just can't pick against Big Ben, not against an inferior team.
Denver (-1.5) over OAKLAND- The fact the Raiders were favored to start this week was laughable.
Indy (+2.5) over ARIZONA- Cards looked too good against a bad team, tougher against Peyton.
DALLAS (-8.5) over Carolina- Romo shouldn't disappoint two weeks in a row, easily should win.

NFL Record: 18-14 (Bears were underdogs last week, not favorites)

California (-5.5) over OREGON
VA TECH (+3.5) over Miami
TCU (+2.5) over CLEMSON
Pittsburgh (Pick'em) over NC STATE
Notre Dame (-6.5) over PURDUE
PENN STATE (-9) over Iowa
HOUSTON (+1.5) over Texas Tech
Washington (+9) over STANFORD

College Record: 13-20-1

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's Next for Floyd

Sorry I'm late with my review about Floyd Mayweather's win over Juan Manuel Marquez, but NFL over the weekend and the trip to Los Angeles has slowed down the blog this week. Fortunately for you, I'm writing this here in the hotel computer and have given you an article to read before I write my football friday spot as well the eventually completion to my N.Y. Rangers What If's column once I return.

Now, about the match, there isn't anything much to write; Floyd was dominant over Marquez. A battle between two defensive fighters which Mayweather was the faster and quicker (yes, there's a difference). Mayweather had a knock down in the second round and as I tweeted, figured he would take the decision and go the twelve rounds as he did. However, the end of the fight turned out to be the real story as Max Kellerman brought over Shane Mosley to talk with Mayweather. During the match, I heard the HBO commentators discuss about Floyd giving Sugar Shane a wink, that seemed to represent him saying "You're next." Thus, Mosley came over and he and Floyd had a shouting match (sorry, the best I can find on YouTube) that was reminiscent to a war of words and mini-fight involving Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney which Howard Cosell was in the middle of and took a punch in the mouth, before they eventually fought.

Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports (who I must say have the best writers of any website when you think of Dan Wetzel, Jeff Passan, Kevin Iore, etc.) wrote that Floyd shouldn't get distracted by this nonsense with Sugar Shane and fight Manny Pacquiao. I fully agree; this is the fight that I as a boxing can't dream of missing and is the only fight that can beat what UFC does. I went out to the city to watch the fight Saturday night. I walked from 42nd St and 2nd Ave, over to 3rd Ave where there are plenty of bars, as still had to go to Jack Dempsey's on 33rd and 6th, while passing a few places that had UFC 103 plastered all over in each bar. The heavyweight division will never be on that level again, unless Cris Arreola achieves the promise that Iore thinks he has. All the other division, while good in their own way, don't have captivating fighters for the casual fan, the guy who would rather watch Brock Lesner, Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva instead of a Kelly Pavlik or Antonio Margarito.

Later this year, Pacquiao will face Miguel Cotto since Mayweather used Marquez for a tune up match. Barring an upset by Cotto, we will be set with the best fight since Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad in 1999, two fighters, in their prime who have opposite tendencies and most importantly, a fighter who Floyd Mayweather would never be able to let hang around because of Pacman's punching power. So Floyd, don't screw this up like the rest of the sport of boxing always finds a way to do.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Football Friday

Before making my Week 2 picks, along with Saturday college football action, here's my review of last week in football, the best we saw in years. It seemed like in both college and the pros, there were great finishes galore. Consider the following:

- Wisconsin comes back to beat Fresno St in OT, while Central Michigan pulls off the amazing comeback to defeat Michigan St in East Lansing at the same time as North Carolina avoiding a mini-upset in Hartford by coming back against UConn

- Notre Dame coming closer to the end of the Charlie Weis era due to his own negligence. Obviously, we can point out the pass on 2nd down that forced the 3rd down pass, something that if you're going to do, do on 1st down, so that you can get yards on 2nd down. But remember the last play of the game, you need your receivers to go down on that 20 yard pass when there's no chance to score. Golden Tate was at the 45 and ran for the sideline, when if he goes down, they have another play. I blame that on coaching, and Weis should know better and prepare for situations like Bill Belichick does.

- Another one where coaching cost a game, Ohio St. and Jim Tressel. Everybody is one him for kicking a field goal on 4th and goal at the 1 and they should be (though not to the extent of firing him; if Bob Stoops can avoid real trouble for bad game coaching, so can Tressel). Fact is, Pete Carroll ran the ball from the same spot in a hostile crowd and scored, and Tressel should of done the same in a friendly crowd. Plus, you players are more enthused when they go for it, as proved by the Steelers last year despite never converting.

-Kudos to Matt Barkley and Tate Forcier for stepping in as true freshman and showing the poise of fifth-year seniors. Once Tebow, McCoy and Bradford leave school, these two will be the QB's we will follow for the next few years.

- Whatever the opposite of kudos is goes to Tennessee who show why more people will give the four touchdowns pick them to get beat against Florida. Losing at home to UCLA, a middle Pac-10 team, the equivalent of a 11th or 12th place SEC team, means the Lane Kiffin is on that rousing start that we all expected.

- Hopefully my Dez Bryant for Heisman half-drive isn't hurt by Oklahoma State's loss to Houston last week. At least he will have his chances against Texas and Oklahoma to show why voters should only think QB for the award.

- The great call in NFL history occured in the Broncos-Bengals game, which I know you saw and won't really get into. But I've heard about the fact, particularly from Bill Simmons that Brandon Stokley used the Madden waste time before scoring move was brilliant. Of course, maybe he doesn't score if the Bengals have deep safety help.

- As a guy who's always never liked Jake Delhomme, thinking he was vastly overrated and based his career from one game and having Steve Smith as a receiver, I'm finally being vindicated as Jake has already murdered the Panthers season. Meanwhile, the Eagles once again have an injured Donovan McNabb and sign Jeff Garcia as the insurance option. Garcia really should be in Carolina, unless McNabb is really hurt. If he can play through his rib, then A.J. Feeley would be better in Philly because he can spot start this week and wouldn't take the spot that Michael Vick takes. I must assume the Eagles have Vick as a WR/QB or RB/QB in order for him to be able to play next week.

- Tough losses for the Bills and Raiders on Monday night. While Oakland can take satisfaction in playing close to the Chargers, the Bills have another Monday night stomach punch for their fans. I will say this about the Raiders, they still should of beat the Chargers because they outplayed them and if their linebackers don't give up the first down to Darren Sproles, they win. If Tom Cable doesn't call timeout with :21 left, the Chargers probably force overtime. As for the Bills, first you blow an 11-point lead of the Patriots, then Terrell Owens already starts with Trent Edwards and so begins a long season in Western New York.

As for the picks, here they are (Home Team in CAPS, should of included that before):

KANSAS CITY (-3) over Oakland -Raiders won't repeat last week and Chiefs need this.
TENNESSEE (-7) over Houston- Both need this, Titans win and get late score.
New England (-4) over JETS- I was leaning Jets, not with Rhodes embarrass comment.
GREEN BAY (-9.5) over Cincy- The Bengals can't recover from that loss against a better team.
DETROIT (+10.5) over Minnesota- Lions played them tough last year, Favre doesn't change it.
New Orleans (-1) over PHILLY- Can't go against Brees with possible Kevin Kolb sighting.
ATLANTA (-6) over Carolina- See above with Jake, but Panthers D isn't that good either.
WASHINGTON (-10) over St. Louis- Sorry Spags, need to prove you can compete.
JACKSONVILLE (-3) over Arizona- Can't go with the West team playing 1pm in the East.
SAN FRAN (-1.5) over Seattle- Niners continue their renaissance season.
BUFFALO (-5) over Tampa Bay- I'd pick against them, but the Bucs are just as bad.
DENVER (-3) over Cleveland- Browns are still bad, Broncos win in the Belichick Paranoia Bowl.
Baltimore (+3) over SAN DIEGO- Flacco is legit and the Chargers worry me this week.
CHICAGO (-3) over Pittsburgh- If the Bears lose, their two back of GB and Minn.
New York (+3) over DALLAS- Giants are better and ruin the Cowboys Stadium debut.
Indianapois (+3.5) over MIAMI- Dolphins are showing to have the year-after syndrome.

NFL Record: 8-8

NORTH CAROLINA (-7.5) over East Carolina
Boston College (+7) over CLEMSON
California (-14) over MINNESOTA
Utah (+5) over OREGON
FLORIDA (-30) over Tennessee
IOWA (-4) over Arizona
VIRGINIA TECH (-5.5) over Nebraska
Cincinnati (-1) over OREGON STATE
BYU (-8) over Florida St.
Georgia (+2) over ARKANSAS
TEXAS (-17.5) over Texas Tech

College Record: 9-14

Monday, September 14, 2009

Turning Back the Clock

My birthday is on April 30. As a present, my friend Dennis wanted to take my to a Mets-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Ballpark, somewhere I've never been. However, the day of the game, it was rained out and would be rescheduled on Sept. 13th. I wasn't particularly thrilled that I would have to sacrifice a day of NFL Week 1 with travel to Philly and as the Mets fell further and further into the second division of the National League, I thought I would just watch a few innings and watch Sunday Night Football.

Then I read that Pedro Martinez was going to start the nightcap. You see, back in May, the only pitchers worth watching a Mets-Phils game for the pitchers was Johan Santana and Cole Hamels. Now, Johan is injured, but the Phillies added Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez. Now, Pedro isn't the old Pedro and can't dazzle crowds like his days in Montreal and Boston (as well as frustrate Yankees fans, which ended in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS). He wanted to go back to the Mets, but after a less than stellar 2 1/2 years of a 4-year contract, the Mets decided that Tim Redding, Livan Hernandez and Oliver Perez would be better for them. So Pedro signed on with the Phillies in July and joined the rotation in August. Since he started, he's pitched at times well, other times, brilliant like when he outpitched Tim Lincecum on Sept. 3rd. It was in that start that brought Martinez into last night's game and I happen to be legitimately, not excited, but interested in this game.

After traveling about three hours to the stadium and catching the end of the late football games, it was game time and Tony Danza led with the National Anthem (yes, that Tony Danza). The toughest innings for Pedro was the first two as the Mets put runners on 1st and 2nd in the 1st innings and loaded the bases in the 2nd. He got out of it with a strikeout to Daniel Murphy in the 1st and a Cory Sullivan flyout in the 2nd. Then, Martinez got into a groove, retiring the order until a David Wright double in the 6th. He kept Wright on 2nd by striking out Carlos Beltran and giving up a couple flyouts. The 7th inning was when the Phillie faithful started to sense it was a vintage Pedro performance and despite the wave being prominently involved (seems like it's everywhere now, including Yankee Stadium), they responded appropriately. And Pedro worked into another two men on situation and put out the fire, still ahead 1-0.

I was surprised Pedro was out in the 8th inning, but the crowd was now fully aware that any batter would be his last. He got Wright and Beltran out quickly, but ended up walking Murphy in a nine pitch at-bat. Then, Charlie Manuel came out to seemingly take out Pedro, who was at 128 pitches, but ended up leaving him, acquiring Grady Little's sense of managing at that moment (not to mention glorious memories creeping up). Then, the Mets showed why they ended up being on the verge of elimination that night, by having Murphy steal third and was thrown out. Pedro ended the game with eight innings of shutout ball, with six hits, two walks and seven strikeouts, numbers you expect from him c. 2000. After a quiet ninth inning for a change by Ryan Madson, the Phillies gave him career win 219.

Martinez now has arguably better stats (5-0, 2.87 ERA to 6-2, 3.11) than Cliff Lee, who also came over at midseason with much more fanfare. Whether he can keep this up or not will be determined in the next month, especially if Pedro can get a start in the playoffs, which wasn't really considered when they signed him. However, I think as baseball fans, we should appreciate when great pitchers can show us a glimpses into their prime. If you have a young child, you can tell him or her about how great the man on the mound is and they could see it and would remember it forever. I know I will, even though there's no reason to believe this isn't the last time Pedro should have a great start.

Now it's time to review Citizens Bank Park for those who like to travel to different parks:
  • I loved the place, though it's helped by the seats we had in lower level 3B side. This is how a ballpark should look.
  • They have three bars around the building which is always good; I was in McFadden's which did a good job showing all the late football games and the beer wasn't too expensive which having been to Yankee Stadium know this is rare.
  • Everybody in Philly wears Phillies shirts at the game, except those with Eagles jerseys and the Mets fans who wasted their money traveling down the Pike; for some reason, I'm guessing that won't surprise you.
  • I have to admit, the Phillie Fanatic is the best at what he does, however I won't speak ill of Mr. Met since it's always good to see him walking around.
  • I love how I can get Yuengling at most concession areas, since it's my favorite beer.
  • Great way to end the game with the late Harry Kalas singing "High Hopes", as good as "Go Cubs Go"
  • Leaving the Philly Sports Complex by car was awful, even the Meadowlands would only be trouble for about 20 minutes, here it was about 45 minutes. Imagine the Flyers and Phillies playing at the same time during the playoffs, you're better off staying until the next day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 and This Week's Football Picks

Before I do my weekly picks, allow me to write about 9/11. I still remember it like it was yesterday, I was in high school and heard rumblings about something happening to the World Trade Center. It wasn't until I left when I realized the horror of what happened. While I was fortunate not to lose any family in the tragedy, one of my father's friends who was a cop was lost trying to do all he can to save lives. If you live in New York and you get a chance, look for the beam of light and take the time to remember anyone you may have lost.

Here are my picks:
Miami (+4) over Atlanta
Baltimore (-13) over Kansas City
Philadelphia (-2.5) over Carolina
Denver (+4) over Cincinnati
Minnesota (-4) over Cleveland
Houston (-4.5) over Jets
Indy (-7) over Jacksonville
New Orleans (-13) over Detroit (not picking the Lions in the opener like last year)
Dallas (-5.5) over Tampa Bay
San Francisco (+6.5) over Arizona
Giants (-6.5) over Washington
Seattle (-7.5) over St. Louis
Chicago (+3.5) over Green Bay
New England (-10.5) over Buffalo
San Diego (-9.5) over Oakland
NFL Record: 0-1

North Carolina (-4.5) over UConn
Mississippi St (+14) over Auburn (Upset special)
Wake Forest (-3) over Stanford
South Carolina (+7) over Georgia
Tennessee (-10) over UCLA
BYU (-18) over Tulane
Notre Dame (-3) over Michigan
TCU (-11) over Virginia
Wisconsin (-8.5) over Fresno St.
USC (-7) over Ohio St
College Record: 5-8

Thursday, September 10, 2009

NFL Preview Part III

If you read through Part I and Part II of my NFL preview, you're wondering why I never told you my Super Bowl pick. Well, I set the stage with things that could happen for all 32 teams. Now it's time for my predictions on the upcoming season. I gave away predictions, such as the Patriots and Chargers winning their divisions and the Lions getting a win this season. Here's 10 more (that actually will expand to more than that):

1. The Eagles won't make the playoffs. It seemed like once Michael Vick joined Philadelphia, they were instantly made the favorites in the NFC. However, as I said when he was signed, Vick won't make a huge impact on this team. He may have looked okay during the preseason, but the game is played at 80 percent in August. Once the season starts, everyone plays at 100 percent and I just don't believe you can just sit for two years and comeback like it was two days. Add to that, Donovan McNabb played every game last season for the first time since 2003, I can't see that happen again (not to mention Philly fans calling for Vick after every interception). Let's also remember that Brian Westbrook also misses about five games a season.

2. This year's MVP will be a defensive player. At least in this blog, in real life, no one will vote for a defensive player because they never do. As for me, unless the offensive player had a year like Tom Brady in '07, it can't be always better than a defensive player's year. I thought James Harrison should of been in the hunt for MVP last year. I know Ed Reed, Osi Umenyiora and DeMarcus Ware are all worthy of consideration in a given year. I will say that Ed Reed will be the MVP of the league this year as he gets 10 INT's and runs three of them for a touchdown. You're top offensive players with be Drew Brees and Knowshon Moreno as top rookie, while Aaron Curry will be top defensive rookie.

3. One of the eleven first year coaches will be fired. The NFL has increasingly become harder to maintain work because the object of winning is too prevalent in the state of the game. Seeing three offensive coordinators, including long-time coach Chan Gailey, lead me to think that some of these coaches who were just hired will certainly be fired. Now Tom Cable certainly could be fired, but he doesn't count because the Raiders are bizarro world. But, I definitely could see Eric Mangini let go, in fact, here it is. The Browns will finish 4-12, the players will cause a revolt and he will be gone. Of course, we will lose more coaches than the new ones.

4. The Brett Favre experiment will crash and burn and Brad Childress will be the fall guy. You all knew that I would go out in this point of view, but I just don't see Brett Favre only handing the ball to Adrian Peterson and throw safe passes. He's a gunslinger and the only way for a gunslinger to stop slinging guns is to shoot him. While that works in Westerns, in football, they just don't get signed to $12 million contracts after a while. Sure the Vikings can start 4-1, but their stretch of Baltimore, at Pittsburgh and at Green Bay will do them in and they won't recreate the early momentum. Childress will be fired as a result and he will have company; Dick Jauron will finally be let go after a failed season with TO, same for Wade Phillips when the Cowboys finished last in the NFC East (albeit at 7-9).

5. The most disappointing team this year will be the Falcons. I know the offense can be good, but it won't be and the lack of defense and harder schedule against NFC and AFC Easts will lead to another year where Atlanta won't have two winning seasons in a row. They will be joined by the Panthers who will be 7-9 and that will end the Jake Delhomme era. It actually could be considered a successful one that almost beat the Pats in the Super Bowl, but he has lived off that Super Bowl loss for way too long. As for the AFC, the most disappointing team will be the Titans. I know you saw them play well tonight, but I just can't believe Kerry Collins is capable of two good seasons in a row; trust this Giant fan, I know. Finally, the Super Bowl curse continues, the Cardinals will finish 6-10, Kurt Warner gets hurt and miss the playoffs.

6. Seattle will just miss the playoffs and fail in their sleeper status this year. I think too many people are on their bandwagon. I just think they finish 9-7 and lose out on a playoff berth. Now if the Seahawks don't make the playoffs, the sleeper of the year is the San Francisco 49ers. I believe in Mike Singletary more than Jim Mora Jr. and even though Michael Crabtree not being there hurts, I think Frank Gore plays great and they stop enough on defense to also go 9-7 and win a tiebreaker.

7. Houston will be the AFC sleeper, though they really aren't one. This is a team that is getting picked by people who know that 5+ teams are new to the playoffs each year. I just love that offense and Mario Williams will be a beast (another player who could win my MVP). It's also a winnable schedule with games against Miami, the Jets, Buffalo, Cincy, St. Louis, Arizona, Oakland and I'm sure they can win at least 4 more. They join the Ravens as the AFC Wild Cards as the Chargers, Colts, Steelers and Pats win divisions again.

8. Washington and New Orleans also make the playoffs. The Saints become the latest team in the NFC South to go from the cellar to the postseason as the division champ, while the Redskins surprisingly carry their defense in the playoffs like in the past few years. They will be joined by obviously the Niners, Bears as the wild card and Packers and Giants as division winners.

9. This season will continue as The Tyson Zone of sports seasons. Simmons is right, the stories in the league will only get crazier; I won't be surprised to hear that a player smoked crack an hour before a game, like in Playmakers. Two serious issues facing the league, the drop in attendance this year coming up and the potential lockout. Somehow, the experience of watching a game live has to get better, because I'm better off watching at home or a friends place with NFL Sunday Ticket. Pricing has to go down so the real fans can watch the game and effect it with crowd noise. As for the lockout, do everything in your power Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith to avoid it. Problem is the owners don't know what they want, which almost derailed things in 2006. I hope sports fans are prepared because 2011 is shaping to be a year which both the NFL and NBA could have a work stoppage and MLB and the NHL have to have contracts expire around that time as well.

10. Here's the final picks: AFC playoffs have Pittsburgh beating the Texans and Baltimore beating Indy in Round 1. The Chargers beat the Colts while the Steelers upset the Patriots in Round 2. San Diego knocks off the defending champs in the AFC Championship game. The NFC starts with the Bears beating the Niners, while the Saints take care of the Redskins. The Packers beat Chicago in Round 2 as the Giants beat the Saints in the final game at Giants Stadium. The Pack get their revenge on the Giants and head to the Super Bowl. Our winner, Green Bay sticking it to Favre as they beat the Chargers. Regardless of who goes to the Super Bowl, this one will be not be thought of as a great one immediately following the game.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

NFL Preview Part II

Now that we're switching from the AFC to the NFC, one thing is quite clear, this conference is more wide open. It seems like only four teams are capable of winning the AFC, while the NFC has eight such teams. It seems right that the NFC is open, last year all but the Giants didn't make it in 2007. However, unlike past years when the NFC's parity belied a weakness that gave us Rex Grossman in a Super Bowl, the conference has now become good and it's right up there with the AFC. Let's continue with the NFC preview.

NFC East- One thing's for sure, this is still the best division in the league, since the Detroit Lions still call the NFC North home. The Giants and Eagles basically split when it comes to who should win the East by most people, as well as the NFC itself. New York is set at RB, Eli Manning is entrenched at QB, the offensive line is good, the pass rush should be great and I expect the secondary to play very well (best secondary since Mark Collins and Everson Walls were there). Every story you hear about the Giants this offseason was their receivers and how they didn't do the job after Plaxico Burress shot himself. The fact is, when a playmaker (who wasn't playing well in the first place) is just taken out during the season, you can't just replace him (also the case with Osi Umenyiora). Now the Giants are ready to go into the new campaign with Domenick Hixon, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks. One more thing to remember, the Pats showed you don't need great receivers to win a title, as did the Ravens.

The Eagles are along with the Vikings the team everyone will watch because of the Michael Vick dynamic. They will try to see if Vick disrupts the offense, or turns it into a lethal one. I, on the other hand, will pay attention to their defense now that Jim Johnson has sadly passed away, Brian Dawkins left to Denver and Stewart Bradley was injured for the season. Can Sean McDermott maintain that defense at a high level? Other things to look at are will Donovan McNabb stay healthy, as well as Brian Westbrook. Either way, look out for a look at LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Macklin as two new weapons, on an already improved offense.

The team lack buzz is the team over the last few years had more buzz than the NFC West combined. Dallas comes into this season with the only thing being talked about is the new game of who can hit the Cowboys Stadium scoreboard. Is it like the catwalk in Tropicana Field where it's out of bounds when off the side, but a live ball down the middle? Will Tony Romo be able to hit it when he sees Jessica Simpson making out with John Mayer? Speaking of Romo, he no longer has TO as a receiver, thus it's time for Roy Williams to prove if he can be a number one target. I think the Cowboy defense will be good as DeMarcus Ware will challenge Michael Strahan's sack record. Two questions, can Romo finally win in December and can Wade Phillips avoid being fired for Mike Shanahan or Mike Holmgren.

In our nation's capital, the Redskins seem just like last year's team. Now obviously, Albert Haynesworth was a big move, but this defense was good already and I can't see him turning them into all-time great. Which means they need to score some points and Washington will again have trouble. They still lack a great receiver and Santana Moss isn't getting younger. Also, Clinton Portis, while great on the field, is always hurt. As for Jason Campbell, he will be punished as the offensive line isn't a typical Redskins line. Chances are, if Jim Zorn can't turn them around, he will be out the door, along with Campbell chained to his neck.

NFC North- We go from the best division to the most interesting as the NFC has three legit teams that can win the Super Bowl. Let's start with the Bears, since they made the flashiest move in trading for Jay Cutler (and because he's my picture). I don't have to ask Jake from BUSE that the streets of Chicago embraced their first good QB since Jim McMahon and possibly great one since Sid Luckman. Their season will rest on if the Bears defense can improve somewhere closer to 2006 levels. My season will rest on whether Matt Forte takes the leap, since three of my fantasy teams include him. Also, can Cutler turn a poor group of receivers into an above average group? If so, they will contend, if not, they won't. Sometimes picking football is that simple.

While the Cutler trade involved picking up a QB entering his prime, the Vikings signing Brett Favre is the case of a team so desperate that they pick up any has-been or never-was at QB. After last year's dreadful playoff performance, the Vikings knew they had to replace Tavaris Jackson as a starter and no one was excited after they traded for Sage "Finds New Ways to Lose" Rosenfels. Thus, Brad Childress with his Tony Kornheiser beard (our first great PTI look-a-like since Wilbon and Chi McBride) visited Hattesburg, Miss to bring back Brett Favre, even giving him the airport pickup, the most binding of social contracts. Now, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson, they have a great run defense and a quality pass rush led by Jared Allen. They needed a game manager QB who can make a play or two. Only once did Favre prove he can do that, 2007 and that ended with an OT interception in the NFC Championship game and the next chapter of Favre's epic that he read from Roger Clemens.

Favre's old team, the Packers, have moved on from last year's drama and now are primed to have a good season as well. The Vikings have a manageable first five games, but Green Bay can really be 9-2 or 10-1 after Thanksgiving; that's how easy that schedule is. Aaron Rodgers is ready to build on his success this season (another player I need for most fantasy teams). The defense and Ryan Grant need bounce back years this season, which I believe will happen. Dom Capers coming in to coach the defense is akin to having Norv Turner as your offensive coordinator and the switch to the 3-4 will be much more seamless than if anyone else (except Wade Phillips or Dick LeBeau) made it. They also have a terrific secondary to get over any kinks in the front seven.

Here's my next pre-prediction column prediction, the Detroit Lions will win a game this year. That being said, they won't pull a Miami and make the playoffs. This year will be about watching Matt Stafford throw the ball to Calvin Johnson and seeing if anything else on this team can get better. The key question for Detroit, is Jim Schwartz a good coach or overrated as a Jeff Fisher assistant. Gregg Williams was in the middle, since he's a good coordinator, but a bad head coach. Schwartz must be a competent coach if the Lions are to have future success.

NFC South- As they switch from facing the AFC West and NFC North to AFC and NFC East, this division should drop from last year. The favorite to win is the Falcons who added Tony Gonzalez to an already impressive offense with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner and Roddy White. The biggest issue with Atlanta is defense since they didn't play any last year. If their offense slows down in any way, they will miss the playoffs. Ryan can't have a sophomore slump and if he doesn't, the Falcons have the offense to win this division. Keep an eye out on if Mike Peterson makes the defense play better, particularly at linebacker.

The champs from a year ago, Carolina are in the crossroads. They still have a terrific rushing attack with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith still plays here and their defensive line still has Julius Peppers rushing the QB. However, do you really think Jake Delhomme can recover from his all-time stinkbomb of a playoff game? That's how the Panthers season could come down to, though I believe their defense is overrated. I mean, imagine being a Panthers fan and you see Delhomme throw an interception, you'd think to yourself that you should leave the game at that point to avoid watching a hanging.

The best pure passer in the NFC has the Saints lurking as a possible sleeper top team in this league. Drew Brees I believe will be even better this season, which is say a lot after throwing for over 5,000 yards last year. The defense was the reason New Orleans went 8-8 since they stopped no one. The key addition is the hiring of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator, along with signing Darren Sharper. If Williams does what he's done in the past for defenses, the Saints could go to the Super Bowl. If not, they will be 8-8 again.

Tampa Bay is the last of the three teams to fire their offensive coordinator in the last week, giving some unwelcome spotlight to new coach Raheem Morris. It's one thing for a desperate Dick Jauron to fire his OC, but for first year coaches Todd Haley and Morris, I'm puzzled. The defense will be good at times, but it's in transition now that some of the older players have left, particularly Derrick Brooks. Derrick Ward has joined them in the backfield and with Earnest Graham and possibly Cadillac Williams, the running game should be good. The rest of the offense will wait for Josh Freeman's development.

NFC West- This division is still the worst in the league, since there's no San Diego's here. Now I know what you're thinking, what about the Cardinals, defending NFC Champs and almost Super Bowl winners? Well, the fact is they didn't win, and remember the loser jinx means they won't make the playoffs. How can they break this? Another great year from Kurt Warner and the defense to play like they did in the playoffs. They also could use a breakout rookie year for Beanie Wells, so they can have some sort of running game to complement Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. As long as the Cardinals win their divisional games, they will have their shot to head back to the playoffs.

The biggest threat to challenge Arizona is the old standby, the Seahawks. Seattle is healthy this season and in circles, the favorite to win this division. It really does come down to Matt Hasselbeck playing this year (much like Carson Palmer in Cincy). The passing game is better now that TJ Housmandzadeh is catching balls for him. Aaron Curry will be the best rookie in this draft and strengthens a pretty good group of linebackers in the league. Their defense should play well as a whole and if they get anything out of the running game, watch out.

"I want winners" is the motto of coach Mike Singletary of San Francisco. The way the Niners end 2008 was good enough to gain early sleeper status. I even have a San Fran NFC Championship bet on my refrigerator door. Unfortunately, I wish my bet was an over/under, not a Super Bowl appearance since the Niners won't go that far. The Michael Crabtree mess hurts this ballclub because if there was one player they needed, it was a big play receiver to give Shaun Hill a legitimate target. The Niners need Frank Gore to prove worthy of his fantasy status and then some, as well as continued improvement from the defense led by Patrick Willis.

Finally, the Rams led by Stevie Spags. Spagnuolo takes over an awful team from a year ago who need a change in culture and attitude. The good news, Steven Jackson could be back as the Steven Jackson of a few years ago (who was number two in fantasy draft behind LDT). The bad news, Marc Bulger is still there and though he's not awful, he's not good either. On defense, they will be better as Leonard Little and Chris Long will get a chance to rush the QB like Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora did. But more than anything, this is a rebuilding year which 5-8 wins is a good thing for St. Louis.

Finally, here's the pick for tonight's opening game. I have the Steelers (-6.5) over the Titans since the defending champs always win the first game next season and it won't change my view on either team unless there's a major injury, which for tomorrow, I will be sure to highlight in case I need to.

Monday, September 7, 2009

NFL Preview Part I

Tis the season to be jolly, now the NFL is officially back. And with that, it's time for all of us in the mainstream media and blogosphere to write our predictions. Here at The Cycle, this will be the start of a three-part preview over the next 3 days, starting with an AFC overview, followed by the NFC and finally, I will make 10 fearless predictions and have my weekly picks that will be a staple every week. Will these predictions be right? Probably not, according to Down Goes Brown. Will I end up getting mocked when the season's over like these guys? Almost a certain. So why bother? Because that's the price of fame, putting yourself out there, like A-Rod. And yes, I know I'm the exact opposite of fame. Anyway, let's begin:

AFC East- This was arguably the toughest division last year for two reasons; the AFC West and the NFC West. Miami, New England, the Jets and Buffalo got to fatten up on both divisions. I'm sure you're curious why the Jets are crossed out; ask Denver, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle why. Let's not fool ourselves here, the Pats have Tom Brady again and will win this division, so I won't make you wait two days on the easiest slam dunk since Lew Alcindor had them outlawed in the 60s. This offense still is very strong and Brady-to-Moss will torch D's again, followed by the sneaky Brady-to-Welker passes. The defense for the Pats isn't too bad with Derrick Burgess coming on board, though, the Seymour trade will lead to some struggles. However, any struggles on defense will be masked by the offense.

Miami is one of the top candidates of the year-after hangover (plenty more to follow) as the schedule gets harder and the wildcat won't fool anyone this year. Actually, this should be thought of as a transition year as Chad Pennington never fares well in an odd year, giving Chad Henne or Pat White the opportunity to lead the team in 2010. Remember, the schedule was very easy a year ago, including a game in Toronto. Now, they have the Bills in Buffalo and the AFC and NFC South teams to play, much harder.

Buffalo and the Jets should struggle this year as facing the likes of New Orleans and Indy won't help these teams at all. The Bills have no offensive line, especially with the loss of Jason Peters to Philly. They made the splashy move get Terrell Owens, mainly because the Bills have not mattered since the Music City Miracle murdered the franchise Francisco Cabrera-style. In five weeks, the splash will be gone once the Bills realize that Owens isn't a game-changing receiver anymore and that Trent Edwards won't have a chance to get Owens the ball. Even his fireworks will only be like lighting a cigarette instead of blowing up a building as past ones have been. Also hurting the Bills, a down year I believe in store for Marshawn Lynch and a young defense that needs to grow. It also doesn't help that the Bills were one of the teams to fire their offensive coordinator last week.

Defense is what is going to be good for the Jets as Rex Ryan takes his Baltimore mentality, along with Bart Scott and Jim Leonhart, and will impose that and his larger-than-life personality in New York. Their problem is that the offense will struggle due to Mark Sanchez's growing pains. It doesn't help that there's no big-play receiver for him to hookup with and an aging runner in Thomas Jones. I do believe the Jets will end up being a much better second half team once Sanchez gains experience.

AFC North- Of all the divisions, it seems like all of the teams involved should be where they were last year; Steelers in first, followed by the Ravens, Bengals and Browns. For a moment during the preseason, Pittsburgh looked to be in trouble when Ben Roethlisberger hurt his Achilles, but it seems like he won't miss anytime. The Steelers also return almost everyone from the Super Bowl team last year, meaning teams will again fear playing against the likes of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.

Baltimore's defense, despite all sorts of losses from coordinators to linebackers, will still be among the elite, mainly because Ed Reed still plays football. The biggest question is Joe Flacco and if he will have a sophomore slump and needs Derrick Mason to play as well as he did last year, despite his brief retirement. I do, however, see a big year out of Ray Rice who will end up heading the three-headed monster backfield with Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain. And even with an aging Ray Lewis, him staying in Baltimore is like having a coach on the field.

Rice's teammate from Rutgers Brian Leonard has found a home in Cincinnati as we will see tomorrow on the last episode of Hard Knocks. This year's season will be remembered for the drive-by, assassin style roster cuttings by the Bengals, Andre Smith training shirtless and letting his man boobs out for America to cringe while watching and Tank Johnson doing household chores and the comedy that is caused by this. Actually, I don't think this team is going to be too bad; they have a good defense which is better with Rey Maualuga at linebacker and even Roy Williams at safety doesn't hurt them. This season comes down to Carson Palmer's health; if he plays, the Bengals could surprise, if not, they will be just as bad as a year ago, with another year Chad Ochocinco is older, another year crazier.

While Cincy tries to win with longtime coach Marvin Lewis, the Browns have hitched their star back to the Belichick tree. I don't get why the Browns keep picking up Belichick rejects; Bill did an awful job before the old Browns moved to Baltimore and Romeo Crennel ended his run as coach nicknamed Cromeo, looking just like Art Shell when he returned to the Raiders. Now, they try to win with Eric Mangini, who left after the debacle with the Jets. Doesn't a move like this remind anyone of Rich Kotite, who coached the Eagles in 1994, choked their season, then went to the Jets. You know what each of those teams have in common, snakebite history. This is further compounded by that Cleveland has no starting quarterback, where even Belichick thinks Mangini is going too far. The defense is still bad, no running game and a number one receiver who drops more than TO in Braylon Edwards (and yes Braylon, I haven't forgiven you for murdering my fantasy season last year, you better suck again).

AFC South- This division is expected to be the best in the AFC as it has been for the past four years. You can make a case for each team in the division making the playoffs (yes, even Jacksonville, which should thrill all 100 of their fans). The favorite as usual is the Colts and Peyton Manning, despite losing Tony Dungy to retirement. This Indy defense has the chance to be the best in the Manning Era (except for the four, and only four games they played D in the run to Super Bowl XLI), with a strong pass rush and a good secondary, as long as Bob Sanders is in the lineup. The real questions happen to be on offense, can Anthony Gonzalez finally become the number two behind Reggie Wayne and can Joe Addai and Donald Brown give the Colts a solid running game.

Last year's champs, the Titans, probably won't be as good as a year ago, but 13-3 would be worse for them, so the playoffs are certainly are very possible. How they recover from losing defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and DT Albert Haynesworth is their biggest question. This defense is still good, but if they don't play as well as last year, they could miss the playoffs. Also, does Kerry Collins play as well as he did last year? If the Titans win, it will be because of Chris Johnson's development, LenDale "No Patron" White with an epic contract year and great coaching from Jeff Fisher, the NFL's Jerry Sloan.

If there's a team that most of the so-called experts (you can't be experts if you pick 9 or 10 teams to return to the playoffs, I'm looking at you ESPN) are picking to be in the playoffs other than New England, it's the Texans. After last year's second half run, Houston is primed to make the playoffs for the first time ever. It all rests on the health of Matt Schaub, because if he's injured, they stay go nowhere. No way do I believe Sexy Rexy or Dan "I Run Into My Endzone" Orlovsky can get the job done, not with the Colts and Titans to deal with. However, if Andre Johnson can prove to play healthy for a full season, so could Schaub. He's lucky that Steve Slaton is a beast and Andre Johnson is a top-3 receiver in this league. As for defense, Mario Williams will end the year with 15+ sacks and make an average defense look good.

Jacksonville's projections run the spectrum of very bad and playoff sleeper. One thing we can agree on, Maurice Jones-Drew is good. They need a big year from MJD if they have any chance to win, though a big year from him might not help at all. David Garrard, if anything, is efficient at QB and though Torry Holt is old, he's still reliable to have at WR on a team devoid of great receivers. The defense is the great unknown as they will make or break this team. They play each their division foes in three of the first four games; how they fare will make or break their season. Of course, no one in the Jacksonville area will know football is being played until Florida-Georgia since each game will be blacked out, since the Jaguars can get people to buy tickets.

AFC West- This division seems like it's the Chargers to lose. Well, it is; there is absolutely no reason for San Diego to lose this division, short of a swine flu outbreak. The offense will be better than last year because I believe LaDainian Tomlinson will have a comeback year, making this offense lethal. Add in Phil Rivers passing, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson catching and Darren Sproles playing the role of Leon Washington, only better, they could score around 500 points this year. Now I was prepared to say the Chargers defense would be very good this year; now with the Merriman-Tequila incident combine the worlds of sports, reality and Twitter. As long as Shawne isn't suspended during the season, it won't hurt the defense and 11-5 or better is almost certain.

So now, who will finish second? Denver and Kansas City seem like the logical candidates, since you can't use logic and the Oakland Raiders in the same sentence, except when you say you can't and only then. The Broncos have had quite the Raider-like offseason as they fired Mike Shanahan, hired Josh McDaniels, failed to get Matt Cassel, annoyed Jay Cutler and had to trade him 50 cents on the dollar. Now they have a huge issue with Brandon Marshall, he's a jerk. It's one thing to want a new contract, but to act like a petulant little kid in practice means you should be blackballed in this league. All Denver needs is to trade him, then use his enormous talent and dominate, not even Vince Carter mailed his way out of Toronto as bad as that. Otherwise, I would actually pick the Broncos as a sleeper, because for all of what Josh McDaniels did to cause this, even Cutler said he was a good coach, plus a little defense would make the Broncos a .500 team.

The Chiefs are on that short list of teams who if they win, it's out of nowhere. This year, that group include: KC, Oakland, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincy, San Fran and Buffalo. Every year one of those teams no one likes will win; last year Atlanta and Miami, in '07, Tampa Bay, in '06, New Orleans (hence no NFC South team is on this list). I would of picked Kansas City, since they have Matt Cassel at QB, Todd Haley is a major upgrade over Herm Edwards, and Scott Pioli is the GM. However, they traded away Tony Gonzalez and that's a red flag. They also fired Chan Gailey before the season, major red flag (see Bills, Buffalo). They will win at least four more games than a year ago, but that's still a 6-10 team in this league.

Last but not least, the Raiders. Here's the Raiders offseason, drafted an overrated Darius Heywood-Bey over the better receiver in Michael Crabtree (I have more for him in the next post), sign Jeff Garcia, then cut him fearing he could ruin JaMarcus Russell, have their coach accused of punching an assistant and basically traded Derrick Burgess and a 1st round pick to the Pats for a 3rd and a 5th rounder and an aging Richard Seymour, who still hasn't reported to the team as of Wednesday. Everyone has chimed in this last trade, from comparing him to the 10th man in a fantasy league who knows nothing about football (Oakland is the only team to draft kicker and punter in the 1st round of a draft unless they did more than kick) to saying that the NFL should take away Al Davis' right to trade. Need I say more.

Part II should be out with NFC overview tomorrow afternoon, with my Thursday game pick, Friday most likely will be when my final predictions are posted and I promise the Thursday game won't influence it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Farewell to a Super Bowl Hero

(For the record, this is a worthy photo as my Twitter background for the foreseeable future)

Today, in edition to being the true start of college football, is cut day in the NFL. Teams have to cut rosters from 75 to 53 players for Week 1 next week. Most times, the men who get cut are no-name players who we try to talk up as important players, but in fact aren't (sorry Tommie Hill, the greatest play in preseason history didn't save you). However, one of the cuts today was David Tyree, the man who made the greatest catch in football history. And I don't want to hear from those who think it's Montana-to-Clark, because Tyree's catch had more degree of difficulty.

David Tyree, however, was more than just one catch in the Super Bowl. He played a great special teams for us that had him selected to a Pro Bowl in 2005. He was also used in spot duty as a wide receiver when needed. Super Bowl XLII would be one of those games. He scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the 4th quarter to give the Giants a 10-7 lead over the Pats. After New England responded like the champs they were, the stage was set for Eli-to-Tyree (by the way, can we get real nickname for this catch; is it Catch-42, is it The Play, the Miracle in the Desert, The Glendale Grab, just pick one). Plaxico scored the touchdown and the greatest Super Bowl I ever watched (from a purely biased standpoint) was won by the Giants.

Tyree missed all of last year after hurting his knee during training camp. He came into training camp this season a year behind and down to eighth in the depth chart (FYI: Teams apparently don't carry eight WR's). I would watch Tyree's footage in training camp and all I'd see was him dropping passes, fitting in with the rest of the receiving corps not moving up into the top-6 wideouts on the team. After hearing about Tyree getting cut, Ralph Vacciano of the Daily News tweeted that both the Chiefs and the Ravens were interested in giving Tyree a call and signing him. I hope they are serious, and he can find his way back into the NFL and contribute as a special teamer and spot-legendary catch maker.

Best of luck David, you will be welcome into the new Giants Stadium forever.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

College Football Preview

I love to watch college football, and I try to get as good a feel as I can for who's going to be good and bad. Problem is, I know nothing of recruits since Seton Hall never had a football team. As long as the Pirates play in the Big East and the NCAA Tournament is a possibility, I always will look at recruiting and comparing college basketball teams. What Seton Hall robbed me of is a football team to tailgate hours and hours for and the chance to storm the field after big wins, unlike a certain fellow New Jersey school that no matter how many times we finish better than them in basketball (which is everytime), will always have football over our heads.

The good thing about this year in college football is there are so many name players coming back such as Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Dez Bryant and of course Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris rolled into one, Tim Tebow. This definitely shapes our best college season since 2005 when Reggie Bush, Matt Leinhart and Vince Young were centerstage and were all-time great NFL prospects great college football players. That is the first of my fearless predictions on this college season, which will also feature a picks post just like I will do during the NFL season. Here's five more:

1. Notre Dame will finish at 9-3, but their schedule keeps them out of the BCS. Charlie Weis won't survive this year without a BCS bid and true to form, the Irish will fire him after the season. Notre Dame will try to get Urban Meyer and get laughed in their face again, before picking up another former NFL coach, Herman Edwards to become the next Pete Carroll and to make up for any residual anger over how they handled Tyrone Willingham (though his Washington career has proven the Irish correct to fire him). And if there was a coach that would be as good as Carroll, wouldn't it be Herm. He can motivate anyone and would rarely have to make any real decisions in coaching. We all remember how Carroll ruined the game for USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl by leaving Bush on the bench and running White on 4th and 2 when 100,000 people knew what play was coming. Well he's proven to succeed without any real coaching ability and Herm will too. Of course, Notre Dame could hire Jeff Jagodzinski, who was fired by the Bucs today to try to irk Boston College.

2. Rutgers will win the Big East with a 8-4 record and get the BCS bid despite 4 teams out West who will have better years. I'd say that Penn St would do the same, but they have a joke of a non-conference schedule that even my high school alma mater could beat. The ACC will be better since they have to be, though Virginia Tech is still the team to beat. And it will still be USC's Pac-10 to lose, since Oregon and California will have to prove they can beat the Trojans. USC is still the one team not in the Big 12 or SEC that could win a National Championship and it wouldn't be tainted and/or surprising. Any other team it will be because the Big East is terrible this year, the Big Ten is the Big Ten, and the ACC can't be expected to become a top conference one year after the parity that was involved. As for the Pac-10, they are arguably worse than the Mountain West.

3. There will be two teams outside non-BCS conference that will make it to the BCS. Boise St will be one of them (yes, I'm picking them against Oregon) and even though they will lose to Oklahoma, BYU will win the Mountain West and finish 11-1 and get into the BCS. They will join Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Penn State, USC, Texas, Oklahoma , Florida and Alabama in the BCS this season. Of course, Boise State will go undefeated and will not go to the BCS Title game, and once again we will hear about a playoff in college football as we do every year. I guess that's the most fearless pick you can make in sports is complaints about the BCS. It would be like the ESPN NFL Power Rankings deciding who goes to the Super Bowl. That's what will always hurt college football for those who don't live and bleed with their alma maters.

4. Dez Bryant will be the best player in college football this season and that won't be good enough for an invite to Manhattan for the Heisman Trophy. We don't even need to play games this year, the finalists will be Tebow, Bradford and McCoy, that's it, thanks for playing everyone else. Bryant will be this year's Michael Crabtree...wait a minute, this year's Michael Crabtree decided his best course of action is to listen to his cousin and not play this year for the Niners, costing him the millions he would of got if he just took less than Darius Haywood-Bey... scratch that, Bryant will be last year's Crabtree. Colt McCoy will win the Heisman this year because Heisman voters will think he deserves it since Tebow and Bradford won it already (should McCoy get hurt, Jesus' QB will win his second).

5. Florida will not win the National Championship this season. Anytime teams like Florida are hyped as they are, they either lose a late game to knock themselves out of the BCS Title Game picture, or they lose the BCS Title Game. Florida should get to the national championship game, and they will play USC in a battle for Team of the 00's (should be pronounced "oughts"). I know USC is starting a true freshman in Matt Barkley, but for some reason, I think USC will find a way to A. not waste a Pac-10 game, costing their shot at a title and B. keeping the game lower scoring than Oklahoma did last year. USC will be unbeaten this year, the first one since Texas in '05. Texas will win the Big 12, but lose to Oklahoma State, costing them a championship game appearance, while Oklahoma will finished tied with Texas, but lose in Dallas at The House Jerry Built.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, I will make college picks each week and you can compete against me on ESPN's College Pick'em with confidence points. On this site, I pick against the spread so here's my picks this week (based on College Pick'em and interesting games omitted):

LSU (-18) over Washington

Minnesota (-7) over Syracuse

Navy (+22) over Ohio State (I don't think Ohio St. blows them out)

Missouri (-7) over Illinois

BYU (+22.5) over Oklahoma

Wash St (+16.5) over Stanford

Maryland (+21) over California

Wake Forest (-2.5) over Baylor

Oklahoma St. (-4.5) over Georgia

Alabama (-6.5) over Virginia Tech

Monday's games

Rutgers (-5) over Cincinnati

Florida St. (-6.5) over Miami

Upset special

Western Michigan over Michigan both ATS and SU

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Great NHL What Ifs of the Last 25 Years

After the raging success of my first What If columns on the NFL and my second on the Giants and Jets in particular, I felt it appropriate to tackle on the NHL. Why? Because their season starts next and it's great to have some hockey chatter at a time when there is very little to talk about. Just like before, I'm separating the Rangers into its own article because I may value a Rangers What If more than it would be if it was compared with the rest of the league. Also, moves are considered more important than games since games can be arbitrary, while moves are selective. Let's get with the list:

10. What if the Vancouver Cauncks avoided having a bunch of ugly sweaters?

The Canucks would have won a Stanley Cup, in that case. You think the hockey gods want a team wearing this, this or this carrying around the Stanley Cup? Now having a great sweater doesn't guarantee a Stanley Cup as the Blackhawks and the Maple Leafs can attest to. However, it never hurts to take care of the sweater department. Of all the Stanley Cup champions at least since the Original Six era, only the '96 and '01 Avalanche, '04 Lightning and '07 Ducks would be considered as having pedestrian uniforms and we have seen teams like the '98 Capitals and the '99 Sabres lose wearing terrible sweaters. Coincidence? I think not. Thus, if the Canucks keep these sweaters, their chances of winning a Cup only get better.

9. What if Kerry Fraser calls a high sticking penalty on Wayne Gretzky in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals?

Let's set the scene, it's Game 6 of a hard fought series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and L.A. Kings. Glenn Anderson gave the Leafs a 3-2 series lead with an OT goal and Wendel Clark scored a hat trick in the sixth game to tie the game at 4. Prior to overtime, Glenn Anderson is called for a roughing penalty and it appears like the Leafs will catch the break they need. Wayne Gretzky high-sticks Doug Gilmour and cuts his chin. Back then, as evident in Game 3 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals, the refs would call five-minute majors and game misconducts for high-sticking with a cut; going by now, it's always a double minor and a four-minute penalty. Unfortunately, Kerry Fraser didn't call even a two minute penalty and the Kings won the game on Gretzky's goal about a minute later, leading to Gretzky's finest performance of his career in Game 7 on the road as the Kings won the series.

So what if Fraser calls the penalty? Besides giving Down Goes Brown a whole lot less material (by the way, he deserves all the credit for posting the Leafs videos), the Leafs go to the Stanley Cup Finals. That game was going to end quickly and the Leafs had the momentum with Clark's hat trick. And not having to face Gretzky for either four or five minutes would have been enough time for the Leafs to win the series. That sets up CBC's wet dream of a Final, Toronto-Montreal, since both teams were still in opposite conferences. It's also a Final that pits Pat Burns coaching against the team left for Toronto the previous year. Now, that series could go either way, because the Leafs played better defense than the Kings did, but the run the Habs made that year is hard to ignore.

(Quick tangent here: This series loss by the Leafs is certainly up there in the toughest defeats a fan base ever experience and would easily rank toward the top of Bill Simmons Levels of Losing. If you're not a hockey fan, think of this is as the Don Denkinger Game or the Hue Hollins Game. Leafs fans have every right to bitch and moan about this game because if it happened to Rangers, I'd bitch and moan too. Hell, this blog would be called Fuck You Kerry Fraser.)

8. What if Mike Milbury never became the GM of the Islanders?

Then Rangers-Islander games would actually matter, instead of a chance for Rangers fans to fill Nassau Coliseum to chant "Kansas City". I mean seriously, the damage Mad Mike did to this once proud franchise is equal to the damage Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas did combined. These players either played for the Islanders, or were drafted by them: Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi (pre-Steve Moore), Wade Redden (when he was good), Zdeno Chara, Olli Jokinen and Bryan McCabe. That doesn't include trading the pick that would be Jason Spezza with Chara to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin. Looking at that, plus the Islanders would of drafted Marian Gaborik or Dany Heatley instead of Rick DiPietro in 2000, this team would have been among the best by 2001-02 and Milbury's tenure wouldn't have had it's high point be losing a Game 7 in Toronto during the 2002 playoffs. Yes, I know the Islanders lose money every year and the chances of another dynasty weren't going to happen, but if the Oilers can make a run to the Stanley Cup, the Islanders could too.

7. What if Ulf Samuelsson doesn't go knee-to-knee on Cam Neely during the 1991 Wales Conference Finals?

Following a disappointing loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1990 Cup Finals, the Bruins were poised to head back to the Finals in 1991. They won the Adams Division and had the best record for any Wales Conference team, then beat the Hartford Whalers and the Habs to reach the Conference Finals against Pittsburgh. After taking a 2-0 lead in the series, the Penguins bounced back while Ulf Samuelsson earned his reputation as a dirty player by hitting Cam Neely knee-to-knee, an injury that Neely never really recover from. He was the leading goal scorer for the Bruins and without him at 100 percent, the Bruins were finished and lost the series in six games.

So what if Samuelsson didn't hit Neely in Game 3. I believe that the Bruins win the series and win the 1991 Stanley Cup. It also changes the next five years for Boston as now instead of Neely playing a combined 22 games over two seasons, missing the 1992 playoffs in particular. There's a good chance that the Bruins would of won another Stanley Cup and Neely would have reached 500 goals and thus wouldn't be considered an iffy Hall of Famer as I'm sure some people think he shouldn't be in. Consider, Neely in 1993-94 played 49 games and scored 50 goals that year. He was still capable of scoring after Samuelsson's hit; he would been scoring if he wasn't hit.

6. What if Steve Moore doesn't take out Markus Naslund on Feb. 16th, 2004?

I know what your thinking, you might not remember this hit. However, this is was the catalyst to Todd Bertuzzi's retaliation on Moore about a month later. Steve Moore gave Naslund a concussion which Bertuzzi felt had to be returned and then some. Bertuzzi would miss the rest of the season and the Canucks would be upset in the first round against the Calgary Flames by Martin Gelinas' overtime goal (by the way, this is quite a cruel way to lose in an elimination game, since Matt Cooke tied the game at home with five seconds left, took their fans off the ledge, then lose two minutes into OT, throwing them right back on it). Neither Naslund or Bertuzzi would ever be the same, ruining the West Coast Express line of them and Brenden Morrison and allowed Canucks fans to raise in their game with Sabres fans on who's been more tortured since 1970.

So what if Moore doesn't give Naslund a concussion. Well, the Canucks had been building toward a Stanley Cup in the previous seasons. The one thing that keeps me from declaring Vancouver as the champions in 2004 with Bertuzzi is the injury that Dan Cloutier suffered in the playoffs, when he was sidelined with a knee injury in Game 3 of the Flames series. It was unknown at the time that Cloutier wouldn't play another full season in the league. However, if you give me a healthy Cloutier, there's no reason why the Canucks don't win the Stanley Cup with their offense, defense and goaltending that year. It also solves a key problem for the post-lockout Vancouver teams as they seemed to not score as much as they did pre-lockout since Naslund wasn't the same and Bertuzzi was gone in a year.

5b.What if Gary Bettman and the NHL decided against having a lockout during the 1994-95 season?

A tale of two work stoppages, both the 1994 MLB Strike and the 1994-95 NHL Lockout didn't solve anything. Fortunately for baseball, when the players threatened to strike in 2002, the owners didn't let it happen and baseball was saved. The NHL, on the other hand, allowed a season to get wiped away a decade later. But this column will only deal with the first one since its the World War I of work stoppages to 2004-05's World War II; it could have been prevented.

First of all, the NHL picked the exact wrong time to have a work stoppage. In a related story, the NHL tends to always do things either the wrong way (expansion) or at the wrong time (not having a TV contract during Gretzky's prime). After the 1993-94 season, it was the best of times for the NHL; the Rangers Stanley Cup win brought on the biggest buzz in the sports history and they were benefiting from a weakened NBA after Michael Jordan took his hiatus a year after Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired. They had finally returned to television as Fox signed a deal to show hockey games and the Stanley Cup Finals, a first on network television in 20 years (not counting Game 6 of the 1980 Finals on CBS). The problem was, the league wanted a salary cup and obviously the players refused. Neither side was willing to end the season, so they had a poor agreement that would compound the leagues' problems for the next decade. It didn't help that the team winning that Stanley Cup would change hockey for the worst during those years between.

5a. What if the Devils failed to win the 1995 Stanley Cup following the lockout?

This was the second reason why the NHL declined during the late 90s-early 00s. The neutral zone trap, aided with larger goalie pads and overexpansion watering down the talent pool hurt the scoring ability for many teams. The symbol of the trap is the New Jersey Devils under coach Jacques Lemaire, who won the shortened Stanley Cup in 1995 (how ironic that the two most despised teams of recent memory for their mind-numbing style of play, the Devils and Spurs, won their first titles in fake seasons). Their success was copied a year later by the Florida Panthers during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals and it snowballed from there. The low point was the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals when the Devils and the Ducks played the worst Final in any sport as it was all technique, no-skill. One of the best things to happen after the lockout in 2004 was the changing of the rules to limit the ability for teams to trap and the first year after the lockout, scoring was up a full goal a game.

But what if the Devils didn't win in 1995; what if Claude Lemieux doesn't score with seconds left in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Flyers? I ask that because that was the closest the Devils were to elimination. If they lose Game 5 and the series, it becomes Detroit-Philly Stanley Cup Final two years earlier and a different series than the 1997 Final was. After the sweep by the Devils, Scotty Bowman added a more defensive element to the team and I believe jettisoned Paul Coffey and Dino Ciccarelli for those reasons. Bowman implemented a form of the trap with those Red Wings teams and to be fair, that element has always been around since the loss in 1995. If Detroit wins in 1995, I'm certain they continue to a more free-wheeling style that the Red Wings utilized in the beginning of the 90s and if they couldn't be stopped, teams would try to outscore them like the Oilers in the 80s. However, here's a third possibility; the scoring would still go down because of the changes in goaltending equipment and style of play (not too mention a lower quality of talent in the league being drafted in the 90s).

4. What if Eric Lindros didn't refuse to play for the Quebec Nordiques in the 1991 Entry Draft?

This is an interesting what if that I will tackle on from a NY Rangers perspective during their list, but here's if he plays for the Nordiques. Now, Quebec for the third year in a row held the 1st pick in the draft and the previous two picks were Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan, along with Joe Sakic as a mid 1st-rounder in 1987. Eric Lindros came into the 1991 Draft as a can't miss prospect, but refused to play in Quebec because of the language barriers, Quebec being a small-market and his mommy telling him not to. Thus, he was traded to the Flyers for a package led by Peter Forsberg. We all know that Lindros ended up not living up to the hype as The Next One, but it was for his injuries, not lack of production when on the ice.

So what if he stayed in Quebec and joined Sakic, Sundin and Nolan? Well for starters, he would have definitely played with all three since Sundin wasn't traded until after the 1993-94 season, before Forsberg started playing and would of had more time playing with Nolan since Lindros would have began play in the 1991-92 season I'm sure. I also believe that if Quebec would have moved like it eventually did, he could of have a healthier career not dealing with the punishment he receive playing Atlantic Division teams. And Lindros was more prepared for the new era in hockey because of his size and I believe would have succeeded with them, possibly win a Cup before they acquired Patrick Roy.

As for the Flyers, I believe their renaissance during the 90s was due to Lindros and trading Mark Recchi to Montreal for John LeClair and Eric Desjardins to strengthen the blue line and create the Legion of Doom (not only the best name for a line since the Sabres French Connection line in the 70s, but the last nickname in sports that didn't look for initials or shortened name). While Forsberg is certainly a talented player and Hall of Famer, I always thought of him as Joe Sakic's second banana, like Sergei Federov was Steve Yzerman's second banana in Detroit. Having said that, the Flyers would have probably needed to make another move to complement Forsberg in order to win. Meanwhile, Lindros and Sakic would have been like Crosby and Malkin now and if you include Sundin, then you have Gretzky, Messier and Kurri (which is almost an perfectly accurate comparison: Sakic=Gretzky, Lindros=Messier, Sundin=Kurri).

3. What if Mario Lemieux didn't have Hodgkins' Disease during the 1992-93 season?

Then I believe Wayne Gretzky's records for most goals in a season (92) and most points (215) would have been broken. I will argue that not only was the 1992-93 season the best NHL season since 1967, it was the best all-around sports year in history for all four majors. The NHL was perfectly at 24 teams, and was still scoring like the 80s. However, goaltending in a weird way was better that year then it was for the previous fifteen. It was in this setting that Mario Lemieux went on an all-out assault on the best scoring records in history. Now, I'm sure most everyone thinks Gretzky's records are safe, but Mario was going at it. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease in January of 1993 when he was at 104 points and missed the next 24 games. After his return, he put up another 56 points in 20 games and led the Penguins to their only President's Trophy. However, in the playoffs, they were upset by the Islanders in seven games, villainizing David Volek into the Bucky Dent of Pens history and ending Pittsburgh's two-time Stanley Cup reign.

So what if Lemieux wasn't stricken with the disease? Well, if he plays all 84 games that year, he breaks both the goals and points records, but with Mario's injury history, it's probably not likely he plays every game. Thus, I believe he ends up short of both records, but still scores over 200 points. However, his 1993-94 season probably isn't as poor as it turned out and he doesn't sit the entire 1994-95 season from the effects of radiation treatment. I would also think he doesn't retire in 1997, though his hatred of the trap factored in the decision. Lemieux ends his career as the second all-time scorer behind Gretzky and I think the Penguins win another Stanley Cup during his career. Another thing effected, Mario Lemieux needs to retire in order to become the owner since rules didn't allow him to own the team as an active player, which incidently was overlooked when Lemieux came back during 2000-01. Perhaps, Mario ends up playing somewhere else if he's still playing and the owner of the team needs to get money from somewhere.

2. What if Patrick Roy doesn't get embarassed against Detroit on Dec. 2nd, 1995?

Roy was an institution in Montreal during his ten years there and had carried the Canadiens to two Stanley Cups and numerous honors for Roy, including Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophys. However, after missing the playoffs in 1994-95 and starting slow the following year, Montreal fired coach Jacques Demers and GM Serge Savard and replaced them with Mario Trembley and Rejean Houle, respectively. Roy and Trembley never got along and a powder keg was set to spark and spark it did on that faithful night in the Fourm. That game had Detroit goals and lots of them, an angry Roy, a pissed off crowd, mock cheers, mock salutes and finally, a trade demand at the end of Roy's night. Trembley didn't pull Roy until it was 9-1 and Roy proceeded to tell Habs president Ronald Corey "It's my last game in Montreal". Days later, Houle traded Roy in the most one-sided trade in hockey history, sending Roy AND Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. The result from the move is apparent, the Avs have won two Stanley Cups with Roy as the goaltender and the Canadiens have never been back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

So what if either Roy plays better against Detroit or Trembley pulls him after the first period when he allowed five goals? Well I came into thinking about how the Canadiens would of fared if Roy stayed in Montreal and I believe they go to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals since I'm fully confident that Montreal ends up as a four or five seed and travels the path Florida travelled in that playoff season. Plus, Roy was a better goalie than anyone in the Eastern Conference that year. Also, the Canadiens probably don't fall off like they did in the beginning of the 2000s because the Habs would owe it to Roy to keep being competitive or trade him.

However, I read a blog piece by the CBC's Elliotte Friedman that the Avs and the Habs were working on a trade that would of sent Roy to Colorado for Owen Nolan and Stephane Fiset. That was when Savard was still the GM, but he was fired before the trade could be made. If this move is made, Montreal is better set for not only that season, but the few years after that. Nolan could join Pierre Turgeon, Vincent Damphousse and Mark Recchi as the main scoring threats on a team that did a good job scoring that year, and Fiset was the goaltender of a Nordiques team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference the year prior. It's quite interesting though how much the Montreal Canadiens missed on every big trade they made in the 90s, with the exception of Vincent Damphousse for Shayne Corson prior to the 1992-93 Cup season. Imagine if the Canadiens had kept Chris Chelios, John LeClair, Eric Desjardins, Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider and Patrick Roy. You could basically say that Serge Savard and Rejean Houle answer the riddle "How many GM's does it take to rival the work of Mike Milbury".

1b. What if the Oilers never traded Wayne Gretzky following their fourth Stanley Cup?

This is the biggest what if since it was the biggest trade in NHL history and one of the biggest in sports history. Big enough that it had to be split in two because the L.A. Kings weren't the only one who were actively seeking Wayne out. Now, if the Oilers decided to keep Gretzky, I'm sure Edmonton wins the Cup in 1989 and 1990 and Cup wins in 1991 and 1992 were also quite likely. 1992 would then be the end of his contract and he becomes a free agent. Now, I think the Oilers would have decided to trade Gretzky eventually, but at much less value. They probably don't get the $15 million they received for Gretzky (or what value equals that a few years later) and maybe not the five players received from the Kings. Looking in hindsight, because the Oilers won the 1990 Stanley Cup with him, it was the smart move by the team.

1a. What if the Kings weren't the team that acquired Gretzky in the summer of 1988?

This is the better question because it seemed like the Oilers were going to move him. Now along with Los Angeles, the other teams interested in Gretzky was Vancouver, Detroit and the Rangers. The Rangers were the first team out because then-GM Phil Esposito wasn't willing to pay the $15 million to get Gretzky. Wayne's father, Walter, wanted Gretzky to go to Detroit and that was Wayne's favorite team growing up since he was a huge Gordie Howe fan. Vancouver was also very interested and rumors had them offering the Oilers over $22 million for him. If Detroit acquires him (assuming the Red Wings don't trade him), they are set to start winning earlier with Gretzky and Yzerman. If Vancouver trades for him, eventually he and Pavel Bure team up and Vancouver would have won the 1994 Stanley Cup (sorry Canucks fans for repeatedly torturing you with what could have been). If the Rangers, then they probably don't pick up Mark Messier (maybe LA does).

The most important question is how does the sport of hockey evolve if Gretzky isn't in Los Angeles? I'm convinced that the NHL would have eventually tried to go back into the Sun Belt, but Gretzky playing with the Kings made the transition easier and quicker. He might not be the reason that a Dallas or a Tampa Bay is in the league, but it's his fault that there are ten Sun Belt teams, you could say. Then, real teams would have won the Stanley Cups in 2004, 2006 and 2007, instead of a pack of bandwagon fans who need to be explained what a blue line is. He is also the first in a wave of the U.S. gaining at Canada's expense. Quebec and Winnipeg both moved within ten years of the Gretzky trade and no longer could teams other than Toronto be a glamour team in free agency. I remember reading in Sports Illustrated about the health of the six Canadian teams and who would be likely to move and while Vancouver and Montreal were in better shape, only Toronto was safe from moving. If Gretzky stays in Canada with the Canucks, perhaps that keep the leagues presence in the country as is and Detroit wouldn't change the league like L.A. did.