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.