Thursday, 17 December 2009

Will the Saints and Colts go undefeated?

With the Indianapolis Colts thrilling 35-31 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, they now sit at 14-0, while the New Orleans Saints are 13-0. If you have been following things at all, you likely know that this is the latest that two teams have both been undefeated this late in the season.

So, of course, the question must be asked... will they both go undefeated, and eventually meet in the Super Bowl? Who has the better shot?

As of now, you have to say the Colts have the better shot, simply because they are one game further along. As the Saints showed by getting a [pretty lucky] close win against the Redskins, anyone can beat anyone in this League, especially because everyone will be giving the Colts and Saints their best shot. Every team wants to be the one that beats the previously undefeated team, which puts a lot of pressure on the Colts and Saints.

The Colts have been particularly adept as escaping with wins this year, with a bevy of come-from-behind wins in the 4th quarter. 7 of their wins have been by 4 points or less, which is really remarkable to think about. They finish with a home game against the Jets and a road game against the Bills. One thing to thing about is their tendency to rest their starters at the end of the year. As they already have clinched home field throughout the playoffs, there is a very good chance that they will pull some of their starters over the next two games, which will obviously put them at a serious disadvantage.

The Saints are just 3 games away from an undefeated regular season, and they have been by comparison the more dominant team. They have the best offense in football, and there defense has shown the tendency to be opportunistic. They play at home against Dallas, at home against the Bucs, and then finish at Carolina. If they can get by this game against a Dallas team desperate for a win, they should have smooth sailing to an undefeated regular season.

I believe the Saints will finish the regular season undefeated, and the Colts will not, because I think they will begin to rest a lot of their starters. However, in the playoffs, I like the Saints to go down to the Vikings, giving the 1972 Dolphins another deep breath and another year of breaking out the champagne.

While you're watching these two teams play, you should take a look at playing some Football Bingo, a fun game to play while you are watching the action on the field!

Football Bingo Card

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Book Review: Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants Complete Illustrated History

I had the good fortune of receiving copies of both Pittsburgh Steelers: The Complete Illustrated History and New York Giants: The Complete Illustrated History, two excellent books put together by Lew Freedman.

The books document the storied histories of each franchise with great photos, going over the best players and coaches of the franchise, as well as many of the great moments in each franchise history. It brings to life to on and off the field storylines of each franchise from its inception.

If you are a fan of either franchise, then you should definitely give the books a look. Even if you are simply a fan of football, these would be great books to get to learn and understand more about each franchise. Here are the publisher previews of each book:

New York Giants:

"Purchased in 1925 for $500 by bookmaker and businessman Tim Mara, the New York Giants were New York City’s introduction to professional football. The National Football League was a mere five years old, and for almost a century since, the history of football, the city, and the Giants has been inextricably linked. New York Giants: The Complete Illustrated History is a thorough and thoroughly entertaining illustrated chronicle of the New York Giants football team, telling the full story of the seasons, players, coaches, teams, and moments that have made history decade after decade. Filled with player statistics and team records, and brilliantly illustrated with vintage and contemporary photographs, this book is a fitting celebration of a team whose name is synonymous with football in America."

Pittsburgh Steelers:

"Pittsburgh Steelers: The Complete Illustrated History documents the great moments in a tradition that stretches back more than seventy-five years and offers an unmatched legacy of success. Fresh on the heels of a record sixth Super Bowl victory, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a team steeped in history and accomplishment. The roster of players who have donned the black and gold reads like an all-star team, and the 1970s dynasty alone featured nine players currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This book celebrates the players, the teams, the legendary coaches such as Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, and the legions of passionate fans throughout western Pennsylvania and across the nation who cheer the black and gold. Lavishly illustrated with vivid color and classic black-and-white images from throughout the team's history, Pittsburgh Steelers brings to powerful life the on- and off-field exploits and achievements of this iconic franchise."

Monday, 16 November 2009

Big 12 Basketball Preview

If you look at the experts of most predictions, Kansas is the almost consensus choice to win the national championship. It's easy to see why. They return everyone from a Sweet 16 team a year ago, including Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, two Player of the Year candidates. They also return guys like Tyshawn Taylor and Markief Morris, two talented guys who were just getting their feet wet last season. To top it off, they are adding Xavier Henry, one of the best freshmen in the country, a guy that scored 27 points in his collegiate debut. They are the most talented and experienced team in the country.

However, they will have competition within their own conference, as Texas also looks like a Final Four contender. Damion James is one of the most versatile players in the country, and he is joined by Dexter Pittman and Justin Mason to form a solid senior trio. Gary Johnson provides depth and bulk up front, as he was a double digit scorer last season. In the backcourt, Avery Bradley is one of the best freshmen in the country, and should be a great defender from day one. Varez Ward and Florida transfer Jai Lucas should battle for minutes at the point. The Longhorns will be a great team under Rick Barnes.

Oklahoma lost Player of the Year Blake Griffin, but they appear to simply reload under Jeff Capel. Willie Warren was a high recruit last year, and should take control of the team in his second season. Tony Crocker joins him to form a solid backcourt. Upfront, Keith "Tiny" Gallon will be relied upon to contribute immediately, and he seems up for the challenge, as he scored 18 points and grabbed 15rebounds in his college debut.

There is a large talent dropoff after those three teams, but there are still some teams that get after it. Kansas State has some very solid scorers in Frank Martin's third season. Oklahoma St. finished very strong last year, and will look to build on that, led by James Anderson. Iowa St. will look to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in years, and they might have the firepower to do that with the return of Craig Brackins, one of the best players in the conference.

The Big 12 appears to be very top heavy heading into the season, but the top of the conference might be better than in any other conference in America. Kansas is the number 1 team in the country, and Texas is not far behind. If Oklahoma can be a top 10 team, the Big 12 could be the most talented conference in America.

NCAA Basketball Big Ten Preview

The Big Ten has been very much maligned in recent years, as fans tend to see the slow, defensive-minded teams and think that teams from the Big Ten cannot compete with national powers. In the past, they might have been right, but things should be different this season. Michigan St. and Purdue are legitimate Final Four contenders, and they have a host of other teams that will be in the running to make the NCAA Tournament.

The Spartans made a surprising run to the Championship game last season, and return almost everyone from that team. Leading them will be PG Kalin Lucas, who is the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He is a lightning quick PG that can make a lot of things happen when he pushes the ball. The key for the Spartans will be Raymar Morgan, a guy with star ability who has not played to his talent. If he does, the Spartans could get back to the title game.

Purdue will have a little something to say about the Big Ten title race, as they return almost all of their talent from a Sweet 16 team. Their leader is Robbie Hummel, who put up excellent all-around numbers despite battling injury problems. But they are a very balanced squad, with JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Keaton Grant all providing scoring pop. They've also got diminutive Lewis Jackson and defensive specialist Chris Kramer to provide sparks in the backcourt.

The middle of the pack is also very deep and talented, as they have at least 4 teams that should be ranked or close to it for much of the season. Michigan should be a Tourney team again in John Beilein's third year, as both Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims could be all Big Ten performers. Evan Turner is one of the most well-rounded players in America, and fills up a stat sheet better than almost everyone else in the country. He averaged 17 PPG/7 RPG/4 APG last season.

Minnesota will continue its resurgence under Tubby Smith, as they should have their most talented team under him. They don't have a lot of stars, but they are deeper than any team in the conference and can throw a lot of different looks at teams. Illinois was third in the Big Ten last season, and they bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the conference. Bruce Weber will have them back in the NCAA Tournament once again.

The Big Ten will be one of the deepest and best conferences in the country this season, something that has not been said very much recently. With two Final Four candidates and up to 9 out of 11 teams thinking they will have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, look for the Big Ten to make some noise this season.

Monday, 9 November 2009

NCAA Basketball Big East Preview

In 2008-09, the Big East was the best and deepest conference in America, sending 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament, including three teams that garned a #1 seed. However, they lost a lot of talent to the NBA and to graduation in the offseason, leaving room for a lot of potential change within the conference.

Villanova and West Virginia look like they will be the main challengers for the conference title. Villanova might have the best guard play in the conference (led by senior Scottie Reynolds, hero in the NCAA Tournament), as Jay Wright's teams are always strong in this area. The Wildcats also have some very talented big men coming into the program, and the speed of their development could dictate how much success Villanova will have this season.

The Mountaineers have the best duo in the Conference, with forwards Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler. Both are potential All-Big East performers, and Ebanks could be the best player in the Big East. If they can get consistent guard play from Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant, Bob Huggins team could have a chance to go all the way to the Final Four.

There is uncertainty after that. Connecticut and Louisville will likely be down a bit after #1 seeds last season, but they should still challenge for spots near the top of the conference. If Stanley Robinson can play up to his potential for UConn, they should be considered the favorite to finish third in the Big East, especially with sophomore Kemba Walker and veteran guard Jerome Dyson in the backcourt. The Cardinals will have to deal with a lot of off the court things after Rick Pitino's tumultuous offseason, but they have the talent to be very good once again.

Luke Harangody is the best player in the Big East and could be the favorite for National Player of the Year. He put up huge numbers last season, and returned for his senior year of college poised to break all types of Notre Dame records. He likes the Irish' chances of getting back to the NCAA Tournament, but they will be on the bubble all season. Seton Hall could be a big surprise, as they welcome in a trio of talented transfers into the mix. Bobby Gonzalez could get the Pirates back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.

The Big East is not as strong at the top and doesn't have as many great teams as it did a season ago, but it should still be very strong and deep. In particular, the middle of the conference, with teams like Seton Hall, St. John's, and Rutgers, should all be improved this season, meaning that there will be no easy night in the Big East. Well, except maybe DePaul.

NCAA Basketball ACC Preview

A season ago, North Carolina had their One Shining Moment, beating Michigan St. for the National Title and declaring that the ACC had the best team in the nation. However, they lost much of their core roster (including Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, and Ty Lawson), making the ACC race wide open.

Even with the losses, the Tar Heels will still be in contention for the title. They return a lot of young talent, and they brought in a strong recruiting class. They should be very strong up front, led by Ed Davis (who showed tons of talent as a freshman off the bench and should be a star as a sophomore), Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller, and freshman John Henson. If the backcourt can play well, the Tar Heels could certainly contender for another national championship.

Duke looks to be their main contender, and the rivalry between the two schools should remain strong. Duke is also deep up front, and will be led by Kyle Singler, one of the most versatile players in the country. He has a chance to be a first-team All-American. They will be very thin in the backcourt after the transfer of Elliot Williams to Memphis, as Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and freshman Andre Dawkins will be relied on to play very heavy minutes. Still, they have the talent to win an ACC title.

Georgia Tech is coming off of a disappointing season, but they bring in one of the best freshman classes in the country. The headliner is post man Derrick Favors, who rivals only John Wall of Kentucky for best freshman in the country. He teams with returnee Gani Lawal in the post (15.1 PPG, 9.5 RPG) to form one of the best front lines in the entire country. If the freshman can mature and blend in with some talented returners, look for Georgia Tech to get back to the Tourney.

Things are less clear after that. Maryland and Clemson look like Tourney teams again, and Greivis Vazquez for the Terps could be the ACC Player of the Year. Beyond that, Florida State, Boston College, and perhaps Wake Forest should challenge for Tourney spots in what could be a deep conference.

The ACC is also a very strong conference, and things appear no different this season. With Duke, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech leading the way, the ACC will again boast some of the most talented teams in the country. While there are no favorites to reach the Final Four like last year, things are still looking up in the ACC.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Best Three-Point Shooters in NBA History

The three point shot is one of the biggest weapons in all of basketball, an equalizer that can allow less talented teams to stick with more talented teams. It has become more and more in style in all levels of basketball, as teams have begun to see it as more beneficial than two point shots. When thinking about it... if you make 1 out of 3 three-point shots, that is comparable to making 50% of your two-point shots, so if you can hit a reasonable amount of them, it makes sense to shoot threes.

So who are some of the best ever from downtown? Near the top of the list would have to be Reggie Miller, who is the all-time leader in three point shots made. He is also one of the most clutch shooters ever, as he made big shot after big shot for the Indiana Pacers over the years. Perhaps most famous is his 6 points in 7 seconds against the New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs. He had a very consistent form, and made a lot of shots over a lot of years. He was likely the best three point shooter in NBA history. At 6'7'' he also had the height to get shots off against any defender.

Ray Allen is still active, and he is one of the best shooters in NBA history. He has perhaps the quickest release in NBA history, and seemingly needs only a blink of an eye to get a shot off. Whether he is creating his own shot, coming off a ball screen, or coming off another screen, if the defender is not right on him, he can and will get the shot off. He has enjoyed a long and successful career, playing for the Seattle Supersonics, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Boston Celtics. He finally got his ring with the Celtics, further cementing his place as one of the best shooting guards in the game and one of the best shooters in history.

Steve Kerr is not one of the most prolific shooters ever, but he is one of the most accurate. Playing mostly for the Chicago Bulls, he made about 45% for his career. He was helped by playing with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pipper, which got him a lot of open looks throughout his career. His biggest moment came when he made the game winning shot to clinch an NBA Finals series. He parlayed his successful playing career into an NBA analyst spot, and is now GM of the Phoenix Suns.

The three-point shot has grown in popularity over the years, and has now become an essential part of any basketball team's strategy. Chances are, this trend will continue to develop as time passes.

NBA Preseason MVP Candidates

LeBron James captured his first NBA MVP title in the 2008-2009 title, cementing his status as the best basketball player in the world right now. He has to be high up on a list of candidates heading into the 2009-10 season as well. His Cavaliers are expected to be one of the top contenders for the title this season, and being on a successful team is key to winning the award. James is the most athletically gifted player ever in the NBA. He can finish better than anyone else, as well as being an excellent rebounder, passer, and defender. With each passing season, it seems like another weakness in his game has been shored up, so it will be interesting to see how he can improve on last season.

Kobe Bryant is another annual contender for the award, as he will be playing on the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, a team that is the favroties to repeat. Bryant has lost some of the explosiveness of his younger days, but he makes up for it with craftiness and smarts. He has a great jumper, and is very creative about getting it off in many different situations. He has started to share the ball more and more, highlighting his skills as a passer. The numbers, star power, and wins will be there, which is why you can't count otu Kobe Bryant for the MVP award.

Dwyane Wade was magnificent last season, leading an otherwise bad Miami Heat team to the NBA playoffs. He puts his body on the line every night, and no guy is better at getting to the hole and drawing contact. He is a great teammate, getting others involved (over 7 assists per game last season) and playing staunch defense. If his body can withstand the pounding that he takes, he will be high up on the list of MVP candidates.

Dwight Howard continues to grow every year, and his Magic team will again be one of the strongest contenders in the East. Howard is the best rebounder and shot blocker in the NBA, and his offensive game seems to get a little bit better every season. Howard is an athletic freak down low, with size, speed, and strength that you normally don't ever see for men his size. With a lot of help from teammates, Howard should put up huge numbers once again, and will likely lead the league in rebounds.

These are just four of the contenders for MVP. Though it is possible that someone like Chris Paul or Kevin Durant will sneak into the race and garner some votes, it seems likely to me that as we embark on the 2009-10 season, the MVP will be one of these four guys.

NBA Preseason Rookie of the Year Candidates

Right after the NBA Draft in June, almost everyone penciled in Blake Griffin for the Rookie of the Year. It's easy to see why. As the first pick in the draft, he was going to get ample opportunity to see the court. He has more physical skills and potential than anyone else in the rookie class, and he looked polish enough to contribute a lot of quality minutes right away. However, his body did not cooperate, as injuries forced him to miss at least the first 4-6 weeks of the season.

This opened the door for other candidates to stake their claim to be Rookie of the Year. One such guy is Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks. After struggling in his year in Europe, not a lot was expected from him right away. However, with a rebuilding Bucks team, he stepped right into the starting lineup and showed off his immense talent. He almost had a triple-double in his first game, and then followed that up with a 24 point game. He is leading or close to leading the Bucks in many categories, and certainly looks like the real deal so far.

DeJuan Blair was seen as a steal for the San Antonio Spurs in round 2, and he has not disappointed. He is a rebound machine, and he procured a double-double in his first game in the NBA. As he continues to learn on the offensive end from Tim Duncan, he should turn into a better and better player, and could have a chance to compete for this award if he gets enough minutes.

Stephen Curry seems ideally suited for Don Nelson's "It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission" type offense, as he likes to get up the court and take lots of shots. He has played well early going, distributing the ball well in addition to using his beautiful shooting talents. As long as he continues to get consistent minutes (no certainty for a Don Nelson team), he will put up numbers that will put him in the Rookie of the Year discussion.

Johnny Flynn is starting at PG for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he has an NBA ready body. He is a great finisher and defender, and should be able to spread the ball around well for the young Timberwolves, as he grows into a leadership role. Tyreke Evans will get plenty of burn for a bad Sacramento Kings team, and we should expect to see him lighting up the scoreboard this season.

If Blake Griffin can recover quickly from his injury problems and contribute like everyone thought he would, he will still have a shot to win the Rookie of the Year award. However, if he falters, there will certainly be a lot of other guys vying to win a little bit of hardware in their rookie season.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Toronto Raptors 2009-10 Season Preview

After another abysmal season and rampant rumors that star forward Chris Bosh could bolt after this season in Toronto, it was clear that Bryan Colangelo needed to do something big in the offseason that stir some excitement and positive feelings about basketball in Toronto heading into the 2009 season.

Enter Hedo Turkoglu, who the Raptors brought in from the Orlando Magic to help rejuvenate the franchise. After nearly signing with the Portland Trailblazers, Turkoglu changed his mind and decided to make Toronto his home at the last minute. He helped the Orlando Magic make it all the way to the NBA Finals last season, and has plenty of big game experience that he can pass on to his new teammates. He is an excellent scorer and creator.

He has a good enough handle at 6'8'' to get to the lane and score, find open teammates, and make the right decisions. He is also a solid outside shooter, and hit plenty of huge shots late in ballgames over the past couple of seasons, both during the regular season and during the playoffs. While a lot of NBA experts feel that he might be a little bit overpaid compared to what other guys in the market were getting, he should make a big difference in the Raptors fortunes.

Of course, however, Chris Bosh is still the man, and he is one of the best players in the NBA. He is excellent both on the block and at the elbow, and can hurt you in a variety of ways. He has gotten better every year since being in that vaunted 2003 draft class. He is also in the last year of his deal, and there is a lot of speculation that he could leave the Great North for a place like New York or Miami, bigger markets where he would be seen more.

Rounding out the big 3 is Jose Calderon, one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. Since taking over the offense full-time after the departure of TJ Ford, he has been very steady. He's a great shooter from the outside, and one of the best assist men in the NBA. He won't ever be a star in the NBA, but he is a very good player, a PG that you can definitely win with. He should be able to find the scorers often, potentially making Toronto a potent offense.

While Toronto does not have enough to challenge the elite of the NBA's Eastern Conference, they should have enough talent with the acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu to be strong contenders to make it back to postseason play.

What are your thoughts on Toronto?

Denver Nuggets 2009-10 Season Preview

The Denver Nuggets were one of the biggest surprise teams in the NBA last season, finishing with over 50 wins and securing a trip to the Western Conference Finals before they finally bowed out to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. This was not at all what most pundits expected, especially when they made such drastic changes in the middle of the season, trading away Allen Iverson and getting back Chauncey Billups.

Billups turned out to be a perfect fit to add stablity and create a sense of unselfishness on a talented roster. With guys like Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, and Nene Hilario, a lot of talent was there, but there was no way to put it together with Allen Iverson running the point. That all changed with Billups. He added a new mindset to the team, and his experience winning a title in Detroit resonated with the rest of the Nuggets. The team took off after his arrival, and there was even some talk that Billups should get some MVP votes for the way that he helped turned the team around.

The most talented player on the team is Carmelo Anthony, who is easily one of the most talented scorers in the NBA. He can shoot the 3-ball, score on the block, or take the ball to the rim. He is an excellent midrange shooter, which makes him especially dangerous in crunch time. Over his career there have been some concerns about his maturity and leadership, but he took big strides in those areas last season, thanks to Billups and to his time on Team USA. He was also much more consistent defensively last season, an area of his game that he had not shown before.

JR Smith is expected to take a big leap this season, as they hope he will be able to consistently play a lot of minutes. He has the talent and shooting ability to be an excellent scorer, and they hope he can provide that every night, not just in spurts, as he has done for most of his career. Nene Hilario had a great season last year, and they hope he can keep his efficiency and rebounding ability. Kenyon Martin also rebounded to have a solid year, and he is a guy that sets the tone for them defensively with his intensity and athleticism.

The Nuggets should again be in the mix for a division title. It is hard to see them getting back to the Conference Finals with both Los Angeles and San Antonio in the Western Conference, but with a couple of breaks, they could be there. They should be a very entertaining team to watch as always under head coach George Karl.

What are your thoughts on the Nuggets?

Philadelphia 76ers 2009-10 Season Preview

After the Philadelphia 76ers signed Elton Brand in the 2008 offseason, everyone expected them to become one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, possibly challenging for a top 3 seed. That never materialized, as Brand's slower style did not mesh with the Sixers breakneck pace. The team struggled mightily out of the gate, only getting back on track once head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired and Elton Brand got injured, allowing them to fully go back to their fast style which made them so successful the previous year.

Due to financial constraints (in part because of Brand), there weren't very many additions in Philadelphia. The biggest story of their offseason was the departure of Andre Miller, the point guard and catalyst of the offense, who signed with the Portland Trailblazers. That gives the PG role to Lou Williams. He is an explosive player with the ball in his hands, but it is hard to know how he will perform as the playmaker of the offense. He great in transition or getting the ball to the basket (and getting to the free throw line), but it will be interesting to see how well he can facilitate.

Their best player is Andre Iguodala, who is solid offensively and defensively on the wing. He has come into his own over the past few seasons, and has a chance to make his first all-star game this season. He is not a great offensive player, but his athleticism allows him to fly around the court. He is an excellent finisher at the rim, and he is getting better and better shooting the basketball. Defensively, he uses his quickness to be a pest, making him one of the best wing defenders in the game.

The future of the team looks to be Thaddeus Young, a star in the making. Entering his third season, he is still only 21 years old, and made huge strides from year one to two. He averaged over 15 points per game at age 20, and looks poised to make another leap in year three. If he can continue to progress, then he can be the key cornerstone for the 76ers as they try to get back to their success from the 1970s and 1980s.

Down low, they will look to Mareese Speights and Elton Brand. Speights has a very high ceiling, as he was wildly efficient last season scoring and rebounding the ball. Elton Brand is a little harder to figure out. We know that when things are right, he can be one of the most productive players in the NBA. However, they have to fit him in their system, which was a huge problem last year. If they can, Philly will be right back in the hunt for a playoff spot.

What are your thoughts on Philly?

New York Knicks 2009-10 Preview

It seemed like the Knicks went into the offseason with one goal - create as much cap space as possible for the 2010 offseason. With guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh expected to be available, the Knicks are putting all of their cards on the table that they will be able to sign one of those guys, preferably LeBron James. In the long-term, this is probably the right strategy, as there is no other real obvious fix to their problems.

However, that leaves their roster a bit thin once again as we head into the 2009-10 season. They have some nice pieces, but they don't appear to be ready to challenge for a playoff spot. There is one certainty, and that is that they will play fast under coach Mike D'Antoni. In his second season with New York, he loves an up-tempo basketball game with a lot of three pointers, which should make the Knicks one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. This might not translate into a ton of wins, but it's an improvement over the Isiah Thomas Era, which produced bad, boring basketball.

They have no clear star, but a few solid role players. Perhaps the best is David Lee, one of the best rebounders in the NBA. His offense is perfectly suited for D'Antoni's style, as he likes to get up and down the court. He does not have a lot of offensive skills, but he can get the job done in this offense. Nate Robinson is an exciting guy to watch. He can put points on the board in a hurry and pressures the ball well defensively. He didn't get a lot of attention in the FA market, however, which leads me to think he might always just be a good player on a bad team.

Wilson Chandler grew into his own last year, and has potential as a solid wing man. Guys like Chris Duhon, Al Harrington, and Larry Hughes are all solid players. They can be very solid bench guys on good teams. However, as they will be relied on a lot this year, they might be in a little over their heads.

If the Knicks have a star on the roster, it will likely be Danilo Gallinari. He showed flashes of being a very good player last season as a rookie, and they will need him to take more steps in his second year. He has a varied offensive game that they hope he can continue to develop, and he should flourish under D'Antoni. If he can grow and become a leader for the team, they might have an outside shot at reaching the postseason. If not, it will be another year simply spent waiting for the 2010 offseason for the New York Knicks franchise.

A few fantasy basketball sleepers

As with any fantasy league, the key to winning fantasy basketball is identifying sleepers who you believe will produce much more than their draft slot says that they should produce. Everyone knows about the stars that will come off the board near the top of the draft, but it is the sleepers that are taken later that will either win or lose the league for you. Here are a few of the guys that I am keeping an eye on in fantasy basketball drafts this season:

- Thaddeus Young - the third year man for the Philadelphia 76ers looks poised to take another big leap this season. Even though he will be entering his third season, he is only 21 years old. He made marked improvements in every area of the game, posting better scoring, rebounding, and shooting numbers. He looks like he has the talent to make a similar leap in year three, and could become a very valuable top 10 guy at his position, with expected boosts in scoring, rebounding, and 3-point shooting. Look for him as a solid performer in the middle rounds.

- JR Smith - He has a ton of talent at the 2 guard spot, and should continue to get the chance to showcase it after the departures of Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza. He is a great shooter that has the green light to fire whenever he has an opening, which makes him one of the most prolific three point shooters in the NBA. Starting in an explosive offense also featuring Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, he should get plenty of good looks in the Nuggets offense.

- Manu Ginobili - Everyone knows he is a great player, but he is sneakily one of the best in the NBA when he is healthy. He is an extremely efficient player. He can get to the basket and create easy baskets for himself, he is one of the best shooters in the NBA when left open (when should happen frequently in an offense with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Richard Jefferson), and he is a great free throw shooter. After struggling with injuries for the past couple of seasons, he rested up this offseason, and appears the be healthy for the first time in years. The hunger will be there, as the Spurs look poised to challenge the Lakers for Western Conference supremacy, so you know that he will bring it every night.

These are just a few college basketball sleepers that I see. By identifying them and a few more guys that you like on draft night, you could put yourself in position to have a great fantasy basketball season. Who are your fantasy sleepers?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

2009 NBA Offseason Reviews: Southeast Division

Heading into last season, everyone assumed it would be either the Boston Celtics or Cleveland Cavaliers that would represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Nobody told the Orlando Magic, however, and they made a surprise playoff run all the way to a series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, they weren't content to simply stand pat, and they made a couple of moves to try to make their team better. The biggest was the acquisition of Vince Carter, who will replace Hedo Turkoglu (who left via free agency). Carter had a great year last year, and should be an improvement from Turkoglu when it comes to outside shooting, defense, and athleticism. The Magic also signed big man Brandon Bass from Dallas, who should add some athleticism and beef to a front line that was sometimes think behind Dwight Howard. The Magic are again the favorites in the division and one of the favorites in the Conference.

After the Miami Heat made the playoffs, there was a lot of buzz that they might get a guy like Lamar Odom or Carlos Boozer, who would help entice Dwyane Wade to stick around after next season. However, the biggest pickup for the Heat was Quentin Richardson, who is solid though not a game-changer. They will hope that the improvement of guys like Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley will take them to the next level.

The Atlanta Hawks have slowly become the fourth best team in the East, simply by letting their talent grow and get better. Once again, they didn't make any big moves... their biggest was signing Joe Smith to add some depth to the front line. They will just hope the continued improvement of guys like Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams will help them challenge the big boys in the Eastern Conference.

The Charlotte Bobcats are still looking for their first playoff berth in franchise history. They traded Emeka Okafor, who has long been a centerpiece for them, to the New Orleans Hornets for Tyson Chandler. This will improve their defense and athleticism up front, but they will have to to find ways to make up for the offense lost. They are also a very young team, and we have to figure that Larry Brown will get them at least close to a playoff spot. Optimism is high that they could finally get over the hump.

The Washington Wizards struggled with injury problems all of last season, and wound up 19-63. The biggest thing for them is getting back a [mostly] healthy Gilbert Arenas, who is the center of the franchise when healthy. They added Randy Foye and Mike Miller from the TImberwolves via trade (the #5 pick), and added Fabricio Oberto to help the front line. If Arenas is truly healthy, then the Wizards believe they can contend for playoff spot, possibly even in the top half of the bracket.

2009 NBA Offseason Review: Central Division

The Cleveland Cavaliers owned the best record in the NBA at the end of the 2009 regular season, and they looked poised to deliver LeBron James his first championship. However, the team's weaknesses were exposed in a serious loss to Orlando. Namely, they couldn't stop Dwight Howard and they had a lot of trouble with the quickness of the forwards for the Magic. These were areas they needed to shore up in the offseason, and they appear to have made strides to do that.

The biggest move was the trade for Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns. If he can stay healthy, he should be an offensive presence on the low block, as well as be able to slow down Dwight Howard somewhat. Howard was too fast and strong for the Cavs bigs last year, and they hope O'Neal can stop that. On the wings, they signed Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon, two plus defenders who will help slow down guys like Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu, guys who killed them in the playoffs last year.

The Chicago Bulls were one of the most exciting teams in the NBA last season, the rookie year for Derrick Rose. He will be called on to do even more this year, as the Bulls chose not to resign Ben Gordon, their leading scorer from last season. The onus will fall on Rose to be even more of a leader, as they will run much of the offense through him. He will need to be the one to create and bail them out as the clock winds down, a responsibility that fell on Gordon last year.

The Detroit Pistons snuck into the playoffs last year, but they made some wholesale changes. Gone are long-standing performers Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, and in are guys like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, completely changing the identity of the team. They should be able to put points on the board, but will they be able to stop people? Maybe not enough to make it back to the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers struggled to a 36-46 record last season, and they are trying to build around Danny Granger. They made a lot of low key moves, signing Dahntay Jones and Luther Head, and drafting Tyler Hansbrough. They are building slowly with youth and trying to hit singles with low-risk acquisitions. They might not be a playoff team yet but they should be improved.

The Milwaukee Bucks had an interesting offseason, sending forward Richard Jefferson to the Spurs in a cost cutting move and not resigning guard Ramon Sessions. They also will be looking to their young players to perform, and will likely let guys like Joe Alexanders and Brandon Jennings play big minutes. They won't be contending this year, so they will simply see what they have in their young talent, and their offseason aim seemed to be freeing those guys up for minutes.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Mike Blowers Prediction

Sweet video with Mike Blowers, Seattle Mariners radio color announcer, making a pregame prediction that was eerily accurate. Say Mike, you wouldn't happen to know next month's lottery ticket number, would you?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

2009 NBA Offseason Review: Atlantic Division

Over the past couple of seasons, the Atlantic Division has been dominated by the Boston Celtics. Ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen got into town, they have not been challenged in the Atlantic. That doesn't appear to be changing this year at all, as the Celtics have beefed up their team with the addition of Rasheed Wallace, a free agent pickup from the Detroit Pistons. He should add another offensive weapon and veteran presence as Boston looks to get back to the NBA Finals.

The Raptors made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason by acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, a free agent from Orlando. He should add a scorer and creator, giving the Raptors a solid trio of Jose Calderon, Turkoglu, and Chris Bosh. After missing the playoffs the last couple of seasons, they look like they should have a good chance of getting back. However, they need to stay healthy, because there is not a lot of depth there.

Philadelphia has made it to the playoffs in back-to-back years and will look to improve on their finish from last season. They did not make the big splash like they did last year with Elton Brand, and had a quiet offseason. The biggest move was not resigning Andre Miller, meaning Lou Williams will slide into the starting point guard role. Williams is young and might not be a true point guard, but he has showed a lot of explosion and scoring ability early on in his career. They also signed sharpshooter Jason Kapono to fight for minutes.

The New Jersey Nets continued their rebuilding efforts by trading away Vince Carter. He was a stud for them last season, but with the struggles of the team, there was no reason to keep him around. The key piece they got back was second year guard Courtney Lee, an important contributor for the Orlando Magic last season. The Nets will look to build around him and Devin Harris.

Last, the New York Knicks did not do much, as they did all they could to preserve cap space for 2010. They made runs at guys like Ramon Sessions and Jason Kidd, but in the end their offseason was a lot of work without much results. They did get Darko Milicic, but mostly they are hoping to build around a young core and then entice a big name free agent (or two) to come to New York next season. Their only goal was not to compromise cap space for next year, and they achieved that.

What do you think of the moves made?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

NFL Picks Against the Spread 2009: Week 3

Back for the always challenging picking against the spread! When I used to do these in the past, my goal was always .500... so I will stick with that as a goal. Let's just say there is a reason I don't gamble! But picking against the spread is more fun and challenging than picking straight up.

I just got my odds from here, taking the most common line at the time if there are any discrepancies between all of them.

Titans (+3) over Jets
Perhaps no team has been more impressive over 2 weeks than the Jets (#5 in my power rankings), but I think this will be a case of one team desperately needing a win, and the other wanting a win. The Titans, at 0-2, need a win. They have playoff and Super Bowl aspirations, and they are too good to fall to 0-3 and let them die.

Packers (-6.5) over Rams
The Rams are averaging 3.5 PPG over the first two weeks. Nope, that is not a misprint.

Lions (+6.5) over Redskins
A lot of people are saying this is the week the streak ends (including Peter King, though he said that last week too)... I'm not sold, but I think it will be an ugly game. I like the Redskins to win a game that feels like a loss... sorta like last week. Something like 16-13 with a late FG.

Chiefs (+8.5) over Eagles
Without Donovan McNabb, I like the Eagles to struggle for this victory. The defense got shredded last week by the Saints. And while no one will mistake this Chiefs offense for the Saints offense, I think Todd Haley will be able to exploit some things to keep the game at least close.

Patriots (-4) over Falcons
Another desperation game... not that the Patriots are done if they fall to 1-2, but they just need to get some of their mojo back. This would be a good place to start by beating a good Falcons team. Tony Gonzalez has added another dimension to the Falcons offense. New England needs to get better pressure on the QB or else Matt Ryan will pick them apart. I like Bill Belicheck to get it done.

Texans (-3.5) over Jaguars
Jack Del Rio, start updating your resume.

Vikings (-6.5) over 49ers
I know Frank Gore is real good, and the Niners have looked solid going 2-0. But they beat a sleepwalking Cardinals team and a Seahawks team that didn't have Matt Hasselbeck for much of the game. Let's not get too crazy yet. The Vikings need to start getting off to quicker starts, but I still like them by two touchdowns.

Ravens (-13) over Browns
Yep, the Ravens offense is pretty stinkin' good this year too. The Browns lost to Denver by 21 last week... I like the Ravens to do the same thing to them.

Giants (-6.5) over Bucs
The Bucs defenders keep dropping, and the passing game can't get much consistency. Cadillac is a great story, but the Bucs are just not a good football team right now. Meanwhile, the Giants passing game is finding its groove, which should only open things up more for the running game.

Saints (-6) over Bills
Until the Saints prove me wrong, I will assume nobody can stop them. Buffalo has been fairly impressive this year and they look like they could challenge for a playoff spot if things break right. But they still aren't getting TO very involved, and you have to think he won't like that for too much longer. The Saints defense has just been good enough to think the Saints could be contenders this year, and I like that trend to continue against Buffalo.

Bears (-2) over Seahawks
If Matt Hasselbeck plays, he won't be anywhere near 100%. That does not bode well for a very mediocre Seahawks team. Plus, the defense didn't look so good either giving up TD runs of 79 and 80 yards against Frank Gore. Look for Forte to finally get on track running the football this week.

Bengals (+4) over Steelers
I'm not sure the Bengals have enough to upset Pittsburgh, but I think they keep it real close. Pittsburgh has not looked very dominant through 2 games, while the Bengals looked surprisingly solid winning at Lambeau last week. Look for them to try to get Cedric Benson involved again, which will set them up to make just enough plays in the passing game to keep this a tight ballgame.

Dolphins (+6) over Chargers
I am guessing the Dolphins will try a similar strategy that they tried against the Colts... with about the same result.

Raiders (+1.5) over Broncos
Not that JaMarcus Russell and his 35% completion rate (seriously... 35%... no, seriously) is that impressive, I think the Raiders are a better overall team than the Broncos. With the game being played at Oakland, I like them to take a squeaker against their bitter rivals from Denver.

Colts (+2.5) over Cardinals
I know Arizona is at home and played well last week... but the Cardinals are favored? I was a bit surprised, I must admit. I simply think the Colts are a much better team than the Cardinals. They got gouged in the running game last week against Miami, but Arizona is not exactly a team that is going to exploit that weakness.

Panthers (+8.5) over Cowboys
For some reason, the Panthers just bore me. I don't know what it is about them, but I am just not interested at all in them. I think something about Jake Delhomme is just so unenticing to me, that even with the dynamic running backs they have (not to mention Steve Smith), I just don't care to ever see them play. What that has to do with me picking them to cover, I don't know.

What are your thoughts? Which picks do you disagree with?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Review of "Our Boys" by Joe Drape

This isn’t some urban football juggernaut. This isn’t some wealthy suburb. The nearest McDonald’s is ninety miles away and the town has a hard time keeping businesses on Main Street. These players are the hard-working sons of farmers, laborers, teachers and coaches. They don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. They work multiple jobs. Here, teachers are nobility. Parents are heroes. And a football coach is revered.

This is Smith Center, Kansas. The home of the Redmen.

I got the chance to get an early copy of Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen, and it turned out to be one of the best football books I have ever read. The author Joe Drape moved to Smith Center, Kansas, to follow the football team all year, as they worked towards their 5th straight state title and a Kansas record of consecutive victories (they entered the season with 55).

If you didn't know anything about the book, you might think it was like Friday Night Lights, which was surreal in the sense that high school football consumed the town of Odessa, TX, and the success of the team became bigger than the players themselves. With any book about high school football, I wondered if that would be the case here.

However, it was just the opposite. Oh, the town sure loved the football team, and they cheered them on passionately every week. But their lives were not built around Smith Center football. They were able to keep perspective, and focus on the education and maturation of the boys, not just their football success.

Their head coach says, "None of this is really about football. We're going to get scored on eventually, and lose a game, and that doesn't mean anything. What I hope we're doing is sending kids into life who know that every day means something." He went on, "Sure, we like our football around here. But we truly believe it takes a whole town to raise a child, and that's worth a whole lot more." The motto of the coach was basically to get a little bit better each day, and football was simply his way of getting the message across.

It was a very heartwarming story about this rural area of Kansas, where it seems the kids are raised right and the people have the right priorities. Football is important, but it's not more important than living life and becoming the best you can be, and sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle. Not in Smith Center. Family and teamwork is valued above all else. To be honest, the book kinda made me want to move to Smith Center. In a world where we hear so much negativity, it is refreshing to read about people that simply care about each other and want the best for each other, and that seemed to be the case in Smith Center.

This book highlights all of the reasons we love sports, and especially high school sports. Players playing simply because they love the game, without letting it overtake their life. Bravo Joe Drape for writing one of the best sports books I have ever read.

At the end of each game, the team would huddle with parents in the locker room, and they would hold hands and the coaches would all say a few words. It was great bonding for the team as well as reinforcing the importance of the family As Drape writes, "I watched Coach Barta listening to his soon. I looked down the rows of fathers holding the hands of their boys. Coach Barta was more than just a helluva football coach."

Monday, 21 September 2009

NFL Power Rankings Week 3

With 2 weeks of the NFL season under our belt (after the Monday night game), it is time to take a look at some NFL power rankings. Here are my top 10 in the NFL after 2 weeks of play.

1. Baltimore Ravens
The offense has finally caught up (and perhaps even surpassed) the defense. Joe Flacco looks like a future star in the NFL (he is very close already), and their trio of running backs is making the running game very dangerous. Plus, they still have Ray Lewis leading the defense, and he is still making huge plays.

2. New York Giants
After an impressive victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the first game of their new stadium, the Giants passing game doesn't look like it's missed a beat without Plaxico Burress. The D-Line is still as deep and talented as any in the NFL, and if Eli Manning can play like he did in week 2 the offense will be one of the most balanced in the NFL.

3. New Orleans Saints
As we knew heading into the season, the offense is extremely explosive. Drew Brees nearly broke the single season passing record last season, and he might have another crack at it this year. he already has 9 TD passes through 2 games. The Saints are averaging a whopping 46.5 PPG, and obliterated a pretty good Eagles defense on Sunday. If the Saints D can hold u, they could be Super Bowl contenders.

4. Minnesota Vikings
They have looked good but not great through 2 games. They've struggled out of the gate against both Cleveland and Detroit, trailing by three at halftime each game. But neither was in doubt as the second half closed. Adrian Peterson is looking like an all-time great RB with runs like this, and the defense is playing attacking football.

5. New York Jets
The Jets have been one of the surprise teams of the NFL, going 2-0 while opening up against potential playoff teams in Houston and New England. If you were into NFL betting you probably could have made a lot of money betting that through 2 games the Jets would be allowing 8.0 PPG and no defensive touchdowns allowed (the only TD scored against them was on special teams. Matt Sanchez looks to be carrying on the recent trend of successful, young NFL quarterbacks.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Jeff Reed? After making the game-winner in OT the week before, he missed two 4th quarter FGs which could have potentially won the game for Pittsburgh in the Windy City. Instead, he missed wide left on both, and the Steelers lost to drop to 1-1. They have a lot of concerns about the running game and offensive line, but this defense is still pretty special, especially when Troy Polamalu gets back. Obviously we have not heard the last from the defending champions.

7. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts seem to be flying a little more under the radar than usual, which is a little strange. There are a little more question marks at receiver, but Peyton Manning is still the quarterback. If they can get the tandem of Joseph Addai and Donald Brown up and running effectively, the offense will again be one of the best in the NFL.

8. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has shown that there will be no sophomore slump, as he's establishing himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the game already. The Falcons are 2-0 and looking every bit the playoff team they were a season ago. The revamped defense is looking much improved, turning in good performances against Miami and Carolina, two teams that were very good a season ago.

9. New England Patriots
It is way too soon to panic for a franchise that employs both Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck, but something is not quite right for the Pats. They have no running game, Brady is throwing all day without a ton of success (100 throws in two games), the defense is not pressuring the QB, and they could very easily be 0-2 right now. At the very least, the AFC East will be more of a race than perhaps some people expected heading into the season.

10. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are one of 9 undefeated teams after week 2 (not sure a lot of sports betting was done for that!), which merits inclusion in the top 10, even though I'm not sure they're really better than teams like the Cowboys, Packers, or Bears. At the very least, Frank Gore showed that Adrian Peterson will at least have a challenger in the rushing title race. The 49ers and Vikings play in Week 3's only matchup of undefeated teams.

What are your thoughts? What order would you change?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Adrian Peterson TD Run vs. Cleveland Browns

Just in case you haven't seen this spectacular run from the best RB in the NFL.

Which is better: Big East or Mountain West?

It is a little known secret in college football... even though the Big East is considered a major conference and its winner receives a BCS bid, the Mountain West, a supposed mid-major conference, is better. This has been debatable in recent years, but in 2009 it seems pretty clear that the Mountain West is a stronger football conference.

At the top of the Mountain West is Brigham Young. BYU is now a top 10 team after knocking off national championship contender Oklahoma. They should have a very decent chance to run the table, in which case they would almost certainly receive an at-large BCS berth and possibly have a chance to play for the national championship. Their QB Max Hall is one of the most explosive in all of college football.
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Next is Utah, which went undefeated last season and is currently ranked inside the top 20. Year after year they are one of the most consistent programs in the country. After pounding Alabama in a BCS bowl last season, they are a team and program that everyone needs to take notice of, because it does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Then there is TCU, who is also a top 20 program and thinks they have a chance to go to a BCS game. They knocked off ACC opponent Virginia on the road in their first game, and look to have one of the best defenses in the country. They won 11 games last year and have established themselves as a great program.

In the Big East, there are no national championship contenders and there would not even be any BCS contenders most likely if it were not for the automatic bid. Cincinnati looks like the best team in the conference, and is the only one ranked as of this writing. Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in the business and has an explosive offense with QB Tony Pike and WR Marcus Gilyard. They blew out Rutgers in their first game to establish themselves as contenders to win the Big East again.

Elsewhere, West Virginia is talented but doesn't appear to be as good as they were in the prime with Rich Rodriguez. Pittsburgh is talented but they still haven't won much of note under the coaching of Dave Wanstedt. Louisville has dropped off as a program after the departure of Bobby Petrino. South Florida has had a nice run but they don't appear to be much better than an average team. Their is a lot of mediocrity within the conference.

Add it all up, and the Mountain West is the stronger conference, even though most people won't want to admit. With the vaunted trio of BYU, Utah, and TCU at the top of the conference, we could be hearing from them come January, when it is very possible at least one of those teams with get an at-large berth in a BCS game. If they do, hopefully the opponent will be a little more prepared than Alabama was last season.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

AFC North Predictions

As the division with the reigning Super Bowl champion, the AFC North automatically earns respect. In 2008, the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by Mike Tomlin, were crowned as Super Bowl champiopions after beating the Arizona Cardinals. They are joined in the division by the always tough Baltimore Ravens and two teams that struggled in 2008, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will once again be the favorite, as they return their key pieces from a 12-4. Their bread and butter is defense, as Mike Tomlin is a defensive coach at heart and has the top shelf talent with guys like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu. They just might be the best defensive team in the NFL. The offense is led by Ben Roethlisberger, owner of two Super Bowl rings. He doesn't always put up huge numbers, but he makes plays when they need to be made, which is what happened in the Super Bowl last season. The running game should get better with a healthy Rashard Mendenhall. Look for the Steelers to be back in the AFC race.

The Baltimore Ravens will challenge them once again. They, like the Steelers, are built on the backs of their defense. They're led by Ray Lewis, one of the best middle linebackers to ever play in the NFL. Flanked by guys like Terrell Suggs, the defense is ferocious and one of the best in the game. The offense is young at key positions, but talented. Both Joe Flacco and Ray Rice started last season as rookies, and both should be even better with the experience. Their growth will determine how far this team will go.

The Cincinnati Bengals look like the third best team, as they have to hope Carson Palmer will remain healthy. He is one of the most talented QBs in the NFL but has struggled with injuries. He should headline a solid offense, also featuring Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles. The defense was very bad last season, and Marvin Lewis will hope some new faces can turn it around. If they do, the Bengals have a chance of reaching .500.

The Cleveland Browns had high hopes heading into last season, but stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. With a QB controversy still going on (looks like Brady Quinn will get the job, but that is not certain), new coach Eric Mangini will look to provide some stability. They have some big names on the offense, lime Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis, but they didn't get much production at all out of them last season. .500 would be a major success for Mangini.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

NFC West Predictions

Last season, the NFC Champion unexpectedly came out of the West division. Even more unexpectedly, that team was the Arizona Cardinals, long one of the laughingstocks of the NFL. Led by Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin, the offense was as explosive as any in the NFL, and the passing game could move the ball throughout the field.

The Arizona Cardinals should again challenge for the division crown. The passing game will be excellent again (as long as Warner can stay healthy), and the addition of Beanie Wells in the backfield could add a spark to an already potent offense. Defensively there are still questions. The defense was just good enough last year, but they will need to get a lot better if they are going to have a chance at making it back to the Super Bowl.

The Seattle Seahawks also figure to challenge for the division crown, provided they can stay healthy. They had a lot of problems with injuries last year, and it basically doomed their season from the beginning. The health starts with Matt Hasselbeck, who has looked very good so far. If he is as good as advertised, the offense will flourish. The defense will also benefit from better health and the addition of rookie Aaron Curry, as they look to make it back to the top of the NFC West.

Next, the San Francisco 49ers will look to do some things under Mike Singletary. In his first full year of coaching, he will try to instill a grind it out mentality to the team, and they will likely feed Frank Gore early and often. If he can stay healthy and productive, the 49ers will have a chance to be a .500 ballclub. It is too soon to expect them to challenge for any division titles, but it appears they could be back on the right track after some off years under Mike Nolan.

Last, there is the St. Louis Rams, who should be improved after an abysmal 2008. New coach Steve Spagnulo is getting a tougher mentality in there which should benefit the team. Much like the 49ers, the Rams will look to win on the ground, and they should get the ball to Stephen Jackson a lot. With youth along the O-Line, they will look to build in the trenches.

The NFC West will not be a power division, but there is a lot of youth and teams on the rise. Look for the Seahawks and Cardinals to battle it out for division supremacy, with the Niners and Rams fighting for third.

AFC West Predictions

In 2009, the AFC West was the worst division in football. The San Diego Chargers were 4-8 after 12 games, but they wound up winning the division, going 8-8 and beating the Denver Broncos in a tiebreaker. After those two, the Oakland Raiders were 5-11 and the Kansas City Chiefs were a woeful 2-14. The prospects for this season don't appear the be a lot better.

It seems clear that the San Diego Chargers are the class of the division. They have the talent on both sides of the ball to run away with things. With Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, and Antonio Gates, they have plenty of playmakers to score points. Defensively, the return of Shawne Merriman should boost the defense back to being as good as it was 2 years ago. In the worst division in football, the Chargers could win it by 4+ games.

After that, the order is anyone's guess. I like the Kansas City Chiefs to finish 2nd, but there are still a lot of problems. They will be working in a new GM, new head coach, and new quarterback. Todd Haley will try to jumpstart things, but it won't be easy. They will have to hope that Matt Cassel continues to progress after coming over from New England. However, he will have a shortage of playmakers, and will have to find Dwayne Bowe early and often. Defensively, they were terrible last year and don't seem to have made a lot of improvements. They need to get better against the run, and they hope their core of young draft picks along the defensive line will mature.

The Denver Broncos will look to finish 3rd, but they face significant challenges. They have a new head coach in Josh McDaniels, and he has made some roster overhauls. Most significantly is at QB, where Kyle Orton replaces Jay Cutler. He might have to do so without his top receiver, as Brandon Marshall has been suspended for at least the rest of the preseason. The defense also figures to struggle... they were very bad last season and did not make a lot of upgrades.

The Oakland Raiders figure to be a mediocre team once again. Their turmoil starts at the top, as head coach Tom Cable was accused of punching an assistant coach during the preseason. There is also uncertainty at the quarterback position, as JaMarcus Russell has yet to establish himself as a legitimate starter. He should get some help from the running game, as Darren McFadden looks ready to breakout, but they will need him to turn into a franchise QB if they are going to have any success.

So the Chargers look like the class of the AFC West, but it will be a dogfight after that. On paper, the division doesn't appear to be much better than it was in 2008, when it was the worst division in football, but we will just have to see how things play out.

Monday, 31 August 2009

How did Brett Favre look?

Tonight we got our first real extended look at Brett Favre since he joined the Minnesota Vikings, as he played the first half plus one series against the Houston Texans. A week ago, he played in 2 series and completed 1 of 4 passes against the Kansas City Chiefs. From all accounts, the offense was very rusty with Favre last week, as he had only been with the team for a couple days.

Things looked much more comfortable for Favre and the Vikings against the Texans, as Favre completed 13 of 18 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. He was making good decisions, and making throws putting the Vikings many playmakers in position to make plays.

With guys like Adrian Peterson (who had a 75 yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage), Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin, the Vikings have lots of guys that can make plays. Defenses have a lot of guys they will have to focus on, and that could lead to some big plays if Favre can get the ball in their hands, which he looked much more comfortable doing tonight. That trend should continue as they get more reps together and the QB and WRs can get a better sense of what the others are going to do.

The biggest thing was touched on by Adam Schefter at halftime... Favre didn't make mistakes. He is the NFL's all-time leader in interceptions, and has a tendency to try and force plays when nothing is there. He can't do that this year if the Vikings are just going to be successful, as he needs to just let the defense and running game lead the team, and take whatever the opposing defense is going to give him. He was able to do that here.

The Vikings didn't have a lot of success down the field... Favre aired it out one time to Jaymar Johnson, but nothing came of it. Again, that is stuff that tends to happen when they have more practice time together, so we will just have to see how that develops.

All in all, a successful showing from Favre and the Vikings. He looked a lot more comfortable this week, and should look even better with a couple more weeks of practice left before the season opener against the Cleveland Browns.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

NFC North Predictions

The NFC North was a division that experienced a lot of change in the offseason. In 2008, it was considered a pretty weak division when the Minnesota Vikings won it, but in 2009 it appears to be much stronger, with 3 teams battling for supremacy. It should be one of the most intriguing division races in the NFL.

The cellar will again be occupied by the Detroit Lions, but they should be much improved. Of course, it is impossible not to improve on their 0-16 season, but that's beside the point. The biggest change is at the top, with Jim Schwartz as the new head coach. After coming over from the Tennessee Titans, he is attempting to instill a new attitude in the franchise. A big part of that will be Matthew Stafford, the number 1 pick in the NFL Draft, a QB with a ton of physical tools, who will undoubtedly see the field at some point this season.

The Green Bay Packers should be much improved, as they were one of the youngest teams in the NFL last season. Aaron Rodgers should be more comfortable in the passing game, and that should make the passing game very potent. The biggest key for the Packers success will be how well they can transition to the 3-4 defense. Dom Capers is trying to make the change this season, and Green Bay will be in the hunt for the division crown if they can make the transition seamless.

There is a lot of excitement around the Chicago Bears, mostly due to the addition of quarterback Jay Cutler. He was acquired in a trade from the Denver Broncos, and gives the Bears an elite quarterback that they have not had for a long-time. While their receiving options are inexperienced, Cutler will make everyone on the offense better. If the defense can recapture its form from the Super Bowl team, then the Bears will be strong contenders for the NFC North title.

Last, there is the Minnesota Vikings, who will be looking to repeat and make it back to the playoffs. The biggest change, of course, is the late addition of Brett Favre. After numerous struggles at the quarterback position over the past few season, Brad Childress is hoping that the 40 year-old Favre can bring stability to the most important position in football. He will have plenty of options, with Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, and Percy Harvin to gather the attention of opposing defenses. This offense, in addition to one of the best defenses in football, should be enough to repeat in the division, in my mind.

So the NFC North will be one of the most interesting and competitive divisions in football, with the Vikings, Bears, and Packers all looking like legitimate contenders. I think the Minnesota Vikings will repeat as division champions, but opinions are varied. It will be fun to see how things turn out.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

NFC South Predictions

Every year there seems to be a new face atop the NFC South. In a League that is full of change and unpredictably, no division in the NFL exemplifies that more than the NFC South. Over the past 5-10 years, each team in the division has had their degrees of success and division titles, which is not always the case in other divisions. Once again, entering the 2009 season the division race looks wide open.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will probably occupy the cellar of the division, as they are in the midst of a lot of change. They will have a new head coach, new quarterback, and a lot of new pieces on defense. They made it clear that they were looking to rebuild, as they did not spend a lot of their free cap space, and drafted QB Josh Freeman in round 1. They have some nice young pieces, but they won't be contending for a division title this season.

The New Orleans Saints look like they will be the 3rd place team in this division. They have a very explosive offense (led by Drew Brees), but the defense will once again be very suspect. Expect them to air it out often like last year, with Brees getting lots and lots of passing yards. He is one of the best QBs in the League, and perfectly suited for Sean Payton's offense. However, they will need a more consistent running attack from guys like Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush if they are going to have any chance to contend in the division.

I believe the Carolina Panthers will be in second place in the division, just one year after winning it and getting a first round bye. If their running back committee of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart can stay healthy, they will again have one of the best running attacks in the NFL. However, I am still not sold on Jake Delhomme. At this point in his career, he seems like a guy just good enough to get by in the regular season, but not good enough to take a team places in the postseason.

That leaves the Atlanta Falcons, who I think will be the best team in the division. They are led by 2nd year QB Matt Ryan, who is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. He adds another weapon to his disposal with TE Tony Gonzalez, one of the best tight ends of all-time. With Michael Turner back and an improving defense, the Falcons should continue to get better under coach Mike Smith. They should win the division and could be one of the best teams in the NFC.

So the NFC South should be a wide open division once again. The division race seems to be between the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, but the New Orleans Saints have the firepower to sneak in there and make some noise. I like the Falcons to eventually prevail, but it will be an interesting and entertaining division race to watch this season.

What is your prediction?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Who will be the newcomers in the NFL Playoffs in 2009?

It seems like every year in the NFL there is plenty of turnover in who makes the playoffs and who misses out. In a League with ultimate parity, a team can rise from nowhere to make the playoffs, much like the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons did a season ago. 2009 will be no different, as there will almost certainly be multiple teams that will make the playoffs in 2009 that missed out in 2008.

First and foremost, the New England Patriots. With the return of Tom Brady, they could be the most dangerous team in the NFL, and have to be considered the favorite to win the AFC East and get back to the playoffs. They will have one of the most explosive offenses in the league, with Brady pitching throws to Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Joey Galloway. Look for them to lead the NFL in scoring and make it back to the playoffs after a one year hiatus.

The Houston Texans have a longer playoff drought than anyone else in the NFL, but they should be a very dangerous team in 2009. With offensive weapons like Matt Schaub, Steve Slaton, and Andre Johnson, they have the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the League if they can all remain healthy. The defense, led by Mario Williams, needs to get better. If it does, the Texans could get to the playoff for the first time in the history of their franchise.

The Dallas Cowboys were widely regarded as one of the favorites in the NFC last season, but they collapsed in the 2nd half, causing them to miss the playoffs all together. However, they certainly have all of the pieces in place to be a very dangerous team. Led by Tony Romo and a vaunted rushing attack featuring Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice, the offense will be potent under OC Jason Garrett. The defense is led by DeMarcus Ware, who might be the best defensive player in the NFL. If they can put it all together and be disciplined, they will be in the thick of things in the NFC.

Next there is the Seattle Seahawks, who just got hit with a bevy of injuries last season which doomed things before the start. Matt Hasselbeck is back and looking very good so far. The addition of WR TJ Houshmanzadeh will help the offense be more explosive, and rookie LB Aaron Curry will be a nice boost for the defense. If they can remain healthy, they will be a dangerous team under first year coach Jim Mora Jr.

It seems like every year we experience a lot of turnover in the NFL playoffs, and there is no reason to think that 2009 will be any different. Look for teams like the Patriots, Texans, Cowboys, and Seahawks to be very dangerous and threaten for playoff spots in 2009.

Article can also be found here.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Rick Pitino

I defer to Jeff Pearlman of for my thoughts, as he says it best:
If you are a parent, and your son is considering an offer to play basketball at the University of Louisville, you need to reconsider.

Really, you do.

I know ... I know. Rick Pitino rebuilds programs, wins championships and turns out pros. That, there's no denying. But Rick Pitino also cheated on his wife and five children in a restaurant with a woman (who in a strange twist of fate later became his co-worker's wife), and gave said woman $3,000 -- which depending on whose side you believe, to have an abortion (her claim) or buy health insurance (his).

Oh, then he "mans up" (the most meaningless phrase in the history of sports vernacular) and admits to his transgressions ... six years later after she allegedly attempts to extort $10 million from him.

EDIT: Also, the founder of the group Cardinals for Life:

Meanwhile a student group at the University of Louisville called for the school to fire Pitino due to a morality clause in his contract that states the coach can be terminated for "acts of moral depravity."

Abortion should count as a morally depraved act, said Matt Foushee, who founded the group Louisville Cardinals for Life.

"The real root of this issue is that we have someone who would've been a six-year-old boy or girl right now, who is dead," Foushee said. "And the tragedy is that it is not being seen as a problem. (Pitino is) being seen as the victim."


Saturday, 1 August 2009

Best Baseball Players of the 1950s

The 1950s were a great time for Major League baseball. The game was just starting to become properly integrated, fan interest was high, and there were a lot of stars playing the game. Free from a lot of the scandal that hangs around the game in the modern era, baseball was truly America's sport, and the stars of the game were loved.

One of the biggest stars of the 1950s was Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, one of the most famous players in baseball history.
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He won 3 MVP Awards in his career (including back-to-back awards in 1956 and 1957), and is one of the most talented players in ever step on the diamond. He struggled with some durability issues for most of his career, but when he was on the field he was a terror. His OPS+ ranks him 6th all-time, and with over 500 homeruns in his career he is one of the best power hitters ever.

Depending on who you ask, some people consider Willie Mays the best CF of all-time and one of the 5 greatest players of all-time. Defensively, he may have been the best to ever roam CF, as we all remember his over-the-shoulder catch at the Polo Grounds in the World Series. He was also a very dangerous hitter, and his 660 HRs are currently 4th in the history of MLB. He was definitely one of the most complete players in the history of the game, and perhaps the best of the 1950s.

Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, was one of the best SS's in baseball history, and he was at his peak during the 1950s, winning 2 NL MVP awards. Twice he led the league in HR, and was one of the best power hitters of the decade, especially impressive as a SS. He finished his career with 512 HR and over 1600 RBI, which again are especially great numbers coming from a shortstop, historically more of a defensive position.

Then there was Yogi Berra, a 3-time MVP winner and one of the most colorful characters in baseball history. Playing for the New York Yankees, he is probably one of the 3 best catchers to ever play in the MLB. In addition to his 3 MVPs, he placed in the top 10 four other times in his career, a testament to what the media and fans thought of him during his playing career. Any look at the best players of the 1950s has to include him.

So there were a lot of stars during the 1950s... these are just a few of the best players of the decade, one of baseball's most interesting eras.

NCAA Players to Watch in 2009

After the 2009 college basketball season, there were a lot of talented underclassmen that left school early to enter the NBA Draft. Guys like Blake Griffin, Stephen Curry, Johnny Flynn, and James Harden all would have been among the best players in the college game if they had returned to school. However, even with their defections to the NBA, there are plenty of exciting NCAA players to watch in 2009.

Perhaps the best big man return to school is Cole Aldrich out of Kansas. He had a breakout season as a sophomore, being one of the key cogs for a surprise Kansas team. He averaged a double-double over the course of the year, and really showed refined skills in the post. He could have been a lottery pick this year, and will look to dominate the Big 12, possibly challenging for the Wooden Award. Greg Monroe is another exciting big man to watch, as his versatile game could lead to him being a top 3 pick in next June's NBA Draft.

There are many great forwards returning to the college game. Best among them might be Luke Harangody out of Notre Dame. He put up 23 points and 12 rebounds per game as a junior, and showed a more versatile skill set scoring the basketball than he had in his early Notre Dame days. He will look to help lead the Irish back to the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season.

Kyle Singler returns for Duke, and he is one of the most athletic and complete players in the college game. He can play either on the perimeter or on the block, and should be a huge asset for the Blue Devils after losing Gerald Henderson to the draft. Then there is Damion James, another versatile wing, who plays for Texas. He is a 3/4 tweener... big enough to bang down low, but quick enough to play on the perimeter. He will look to parlay a solid senior season in a first round draft pick.

Sherron Collins might be the most exciting guard returning in 2009. He can score in bunches for Kansas, from anywhere on the court. He is very quick off the dribble, and has lots of range. He showed a penchant for hitting big shots, and will be the leader of the national title favorites. Willie Warren from Oklahoma is another exciting player returning, as he will look to lead Oklahoma back near the top of the Big 12 even with the loss of Blake Griffin, the best player in college basketball last season.

So while there was a lot of exciting talent that left for the NBA after last season, there are still plenty of exciting NCAA players coming back in 2009 that will be a lot of fun to watch.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Thursday, 18 June 2009

2009 NBA Draft Preview: Power Forwards

This article can also be found here.

When looking at the power forward class of the 2009 NBA Draft, the conversation obviously begins with Blake Griffin from Oklahoma. He considered entering the draft after his freshman season (where he could have been a lottery pick), but decided to come back for one more year at Oklahoma to refine his game. It turned out to be a great decision. He absolutely dominated the college ranks as a sophomore, winning national player of the year awards and looking like a man among boys, and enters the draft as the undisputed #1 pick, the lone sure thing in a weak draft.

The numbers he put up were eye-popping. He averaged 22.7 PPG, lead the NCAA in rebounding at 14.4 RPG. Just for good measure, he also averaged over 2 APG, and one steal and block per game. He did this while shooting a staggering 65% from the field. But it wasn't even just the numbers, it was the way he did it. Physically, he was no match for anyone in the college game, meaning he should be ready to play right away. He can finish with either hand by the basket, and shows refined post moves. He outmuscles opponents for rebounding, and can get great position at any time. He knows how to use his body down low very well, and is very crafty in the post. His athletic ability is excellent for a big man, and he has a good handle on the ball. He needs to show more assertiveness and focus on the defensive side of the basketball, but that is just a small qualm. He will be the first pick in the draft, and he looks very ready to make an immediate impact in the NBA.

The next power forward off the board will be Jordan Hill from Arizona, who looks like he will potentially go in the top 5. He is a very high energy guy, and his game most looks like a more highly skilled Anderson Varajeo. He was one of the most improved players in college basketball this year. He has turned into a decent scorer down low. Mostly though, he is a very high energy rebounder and defensive player. He will do all of the little things necessary to win. If he can continue to develop his offensive game, he will be a very good NBA player. At worst, he should be a very good rotation player.

After that, there are a few different guys that could go off the board. One is Dejuan Blair from Pittsburgh. He is undersized at 6'7'', and there are some physical concerns about him, but he has lots of positives. Most chiefly, he is a great rebounder. He is very strong, and knows how to work his way into position. He is especially adept at grabbing offensive rebounds. He is a crafty low post scorer, and showed against Hasheem Thabeet that he can score even against players much bigger than him. He is one of the toughest players in the draft, and that should help him in his transition to the faster, stronger NBA game.

Then there is Tyler Hansbrough. Of course, he had a very distinguished collegiate career, with all sorts of awards, records, and a national title. Unfortunately, none of that means anything anymore. He is probably the hardest worker in the draft, but will his lack of elite athleticism hurt him? He can score in a variety of ways, and you know that he will work harder than anyone else at improving his weaknesses, but how high is his ceiling? That is the question teams will be asking. Finally there is James Johnson from Wake Forest, a guy who could go at high as in the late lottery. He has a lot of potential and talent, but he doesn't always have the consistency to go along with it.

So when looking at the power forwards in this year's draft, Blake Griffin is obviously the guy that stands out. He is the consensus #1 pick in the draft and the most sure thing in the draft. After him, there are a couple potential lottery picks, but nobody else that will have near the impact of Griffin. It will be interesting to see how things shake out!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

NBA Draft 2009 Preview: Small Forwards

There is no way to sugar coat it - the small forward position looks to be the weakest position in a weak draft. There might not be anyone at that position drafted in the lottery, and there does not appear to be a whole lot of depth at the position either. There are some guys with the potential to be very good players, but there is nobody within the group that has been able to combine great athletic skills with consistently excellent basketball at the collegiate level. Which leaves basically two groups at the position - first, the guys with tools that have not consistently performed, and the guys that were great performers at the collegiate level but don't have the tools to be great NBA players.

The first small forward off the board could be Austin Daye from Gonzaga. He was a very highly touted prospect coming out of high school, but has never really been able to consistently put his game at the level that Mark Few hoped he would. Though he needs to bulk up, he has the height to cause all type of mismatch problems at SF, or the quickness to cause a lot of matchup problems at PF. He has shown at times that he can be both and efficient and explosive scorer. He only averaged 12.7 PPG, but he shot great percentages, showing the ability to both get to the rim, hit the midrange jumper, or hit from the outside. However, he had the tendency to explode one game, and then disappear the next, meaning you are not sure what you are going to get from him on a night to night basis. But his game is not all scoring. He is a solid rebounder (though again he needs to add bulk), ballhandler (for a man his size), and passer. If he had been able to put his game together on a consistent basis for the Zags, he could have been a top 5 pick. As it is, he will likely go sometime in the late lottery.

Next is Earl Clark, another guy with loads of potential but lots of questions about his game and about his consistency. If you would look only at his NCAA Tournament performances the past couple of years, you would think he was a top 10 pick, no questions asked. But when you look at his whole body of work, you start to question whether or not he will be able to bring it on an every night basis in the NBA. He can score both on the block or on the outside, and has a good enough handle to take his man off the dribble. He can get down and rebound, he is a great passer for a man his size, and he has the physical tools to be a solid defender. His great run in the NCAA Tournament should boost his stock, but scouts will still wonder why he could not do that game after game throughout the season. Again, like Daye, he has the potential to be a very solid NBA player, but he also may never live up to his potential.

After that are a couple of tweeners... guys that played the 3 in college but might be better suited for the 2 in the NBA. Gerald Henderson from Duke is one of the most athletic players in the Draft, but he will likely fall out of the lottery. There are questions about his jumpshot and handle, and so it's hard to project his role in the NBA. He can defend, and he can use his athleticism on the break (which makes him ideal for a running team), but he might be a little limited other than that. Terrence Williams from Louisville is a guy that got better and better as his career went on. He doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but he solid all across the board. He is a solid shooter, great rebounder, and great passer. He can be a really good role player on a solid team.

The only other small forward that looks like he will be drafted in the first round for sure is Derrick Brown out of Xavier. He does not have the all-around game that some of the other small forward prospects have, but he is probably the most athletic of the bunch. He can fly up and down the court and jump out of the gym. This allows him to be a very good defender, as well as a solid slasher offensively. He can be very solid for an up-tempo team, as his athleticism allows him to be a menace on the break.

So there is not much star power or depth at the small forward spot in the 2009 NBA Draft. There might not be any taken in the lottery, and there is not a lot of depth throughout the rest of the first round to compensate for that. If a team is looking for a sure solution at this spot, they probably will not find it in the 2009 Draft.