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NFL 2017 Inc.

No matter where you fall on the side of excitement over football this year two things are for certain:

  1. It has waned for everyone thanks to the issues of long term effects and all the information being fed to parents about it.
  2. Football still remains far and away the most popular sport in America.

The fact that its still a ratings bonanza for every network means it still gets to swing its dick in every room its in.  So when Roger Goodell gets to play cop and supersede the investigation done by law enforcement and hand a six game punishment to Ezekiel Elliiot, which got reversed by a federal judge on Friday, a mere 24 hours before the Cowboys and Giants were set to open the season against each other.

Of course in a weird twist, he was eligible to play in Sunday’s game but that’s neither here nor there.

The NFL has gifted its Commissioner with a brand new contract extension but i wonder if Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, two of the most powerful owners are waking up this morning exactly thrilled with the Commissioner’s powers.  He suspended Tom Brady four games for his dubious role in DeflateGate, which while it thrilled me as a Giants fan, always seemed like payback for the Patriots constantly getting themselves into these investigations after the Commissioner slapped them on the wrist for Spygate and told them “don’t do that again”.

But the NFL isn’t suffering because Roger Gooddell sucks as a Commissioner.  Or because of a looming (in 2021 no less) labor strike that’s almost guaranteed to happen.  Oh and once the new TV contracts come in the owners may be working off numbers that the players may not necessarily like.

The NFL is suffering because its retired players are and its current personnel are taking notice.  Consider that the average NFL player’s career lasts four years.  Most will never take home the millions that playing in a major professional sports league promise, but all will take home scar tissue created by sometimes almost a decade spent sustaining car crash like hits to the head and body.

Consider players like 23-year-old Su’a Cravens from the Washington Redskins who will spend the next month contemplating retirement.  Or the slew of 20-somethings who have already decided to retire early before the damage becomes permanent and affects their post-football life.

The NFL’s contract structure guarantees its players very little and gives ownership outs once the player is no longer fit to compete.  It seems unfair to ask players to continue risking its body for an opportunity that isn’t guaranteed but that’s how the NFL has always been and it doesn’t seem like it will change despite what Odell Beckham will try.  It remains to be seen what change the NFLPA can affect in the next labor negotiations but many things will be on its mind, namely the safety of its constituent base.  If not for a bigger share of the profits to then be put into a retirement fund, but at the very least to reduce the Commissioner’s power as its only legislative body dispensing his justice.

The best theory I heard about Gooddell’s recent run of challenging his sport’s best players is to do the bidding of the owners (his bosses) to undermine the players.  If you reduce them to interchangeable parts and tell everyone that nobody is special then you can negotiate from that position.  That’s where the biggest challenge will be.  It will be interesting nonetheless.

But it may blind them from the bigger issue which is to reduce the number of games (i’m looking at you preseason) that puts its best stars in dangerous spots in meaningless situations.

Moving on, I’m going to preview the season by doing my first power rankings in four tiers: Tier IV- No shot, Tier III- long shot, Tier II- raised eyebrow, Tier I- contender.

I have my picks for week 1 in the next column- enjoy

TIER IV- NO SHOT

32. New York Jets-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 1000-to-1

Outlook: Call this season what you will but the Jets are like that Delta jet that decided to race Hurricane Irma.  Sounds dumb but you have a duty to your customers.  The Jets should consider forfeiting the season but have a duty to their customers to show up physically for 16 games but every move they made this offseason from trading Sheldon Richardson to releasing Brandon Marshall was done with the future in mind.  Much of the Jet fanbase will be watching college football more intently than they do any of their games but consider this.  The defense is decent, but with a paper thin offense it will be tough to watch.  The Jets will need another season or two, after this to fully rebuild itself from this doldrum.  Not like the owner will be around to enforce any of this anyway.

31. Buffalo Bills-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 200-to-1

Outlook: The Sean McDermott led Bills made a conscious decision to remove a bunch of its former young stars via trades or letting them walk out of the complex (mostly to New England) to greener pastures.  What it did is set them up for a bountiful future.  What the Bills will do this year is play decent up front on both sides and figure out if Tyrod Taylor has any trade value.  They long ago wrote him off as a starting NFL QB and will hope to recoup some value by the trade deadline (my guess) to get more picks in the event that a team that fancies itself a playoff contender will need a competent QB.  At the very least they have a ton of picks to fall back on while the season plays itself out in Western New York.

30. Cleveland Browns-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The only reason i have them ahead of the Bills is because their rebuild is in the second phase.  The Harvard bred, forward thinking front office of the Browns has built the team in a very old school way.  They handed out a ton of money to help build one of the better offensive lines and are using the draft to build its defense.  Myles Garrett looks like a generational talent at the defensive end position and the position-less Jabrill Peppers will likely line up in the backend and use his athleticism to affect the deep pass accuracy of his opponents.  But the Browns are betting they have hit on QB already by naming third round draft pick DeShone Kizer as their starting QB.  Is it truly hard to think that a team with a stout offensive line and a rookie QB can make some noise this season?  Where have i seen that before?

29. Chicago Bears
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: This seems like a good time to mention that the John Fox tenure at Chicago is about to come to an end.  That’s the deciding factor in why I put them behind the San Francisco 49ers.  The Bears have a bad front office but have the pieces that should make them attractive to any coach-GM candidate.  The key to this season will be when Mitchell Trubisky becomes the starting QB and the city of Chicago will be on edge.  The future of GM Ryan Pace will be on the line.  If he shows any kind of promise it may be enough to keep him on the job but if this season ends as disastrously he may be on a one way ticket out.

28. San Francisco 49ers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: We can all agree that Jed York is a bad owner and his decision to pick Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh likely set his franchise back.  But now he’s armed a GM with no experience and a head coach with zero prior experience.  While every decision will be viewed from that perspective, I liked their draft, and their steadfast nature to select the best player available.  That’s how every rebuilding team should approach the draft.  Kyle Shanahan has decent pieces on offense to make them a threat to any team that thinks they can sleep walk to a win.  It makes them intriguing for the season and should help the Niners start moving forward.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Even with dictator Coughlin manning the front office rather than the sideline expect the team to be fashioned in his image.  An imposing defense and hopes that the run game keeps the offense on the field long enough to give the defense rest and makes the defense play closer to the line so Blake Bortles can throw it deep to Allen Robinson.  While I think that seems unlikely, they will make betting against them tough.  MY prediction is that Leonard Fournette is the least likeliest to succeed in the NFL.

26. Miami Dolphins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: Jay Cutler.  Every Bears fan, and every Denver Broncos fan know what this means.  Cutler is a nightmare to predict and the fact that many predict him to have his most productive year now that he’s reunited with former OC Adam Gase is beyond foolish.  What makes people think that Jay Cutler will be better than he was in his other stops in the NFL?  What makes people think Jay Ajayi is a top 10 back in the NFL?  His overall stats were solid but consider that outside of 3 games (1 against Pittsburgh, and 2 against Buffalo) where he had nearly half his year’s output, he had only one other 100 yard game.  I just don’t think this team will be the main deterrent to New England that some think.

25. Washington Redskins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: the offseason was mired in a standoff with QB Kirk Cousins who may already have one foot in San Francisco.  If that happens, the Redskins will be left to head into next season without a QB of the future and outside of a drafting slot to get one of the top QB’s expected to enter next year’s draft.  But there will be enticing options and Jay Gruden has shown that he can turn a late round draft pick into a good QB.  Kirk Cousins is in the Alex Smith memorial hall of fame of guys who seem to lead their teams to respectability at the least while not scaring any defense or opposing fan base.  That Week 17 game where the Redskins had everything to play for and the Giants had nothing to play for shows you exactly who Kirk Cousins is: he can get you to the door, he doesn’t have the ability to walk through.

TIER III: Long Shot

24. Los Angeles Rams
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: I like them even without Uncle Wade having his best toy to play with heading into Week 1 at the least in Aaron Donald.  But regardless, the Rams should be improved with Wade’s aggressive scheme.  Hiring a QB-guru-centric coach is the right way to go but getting a home crowd advantage may prove difficult in a town that has rarely shown an interest in football before.  Consider the improvement in the defense and a safer approach to Jared Goff’s development and the addition of Sammy Watkins as steps in the right direction.

23. Detroit Lions
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The Lions paid Matthew Stafford on a season where he improved his efficiency and helped his team to an above average record in close games.  The Lions were 8-4 in one possession games.  Make them even .500 and the division race isn’t even close.  The Lions will hope that games don’t end up that close by upgrading the offensive line but their defense remains suspect and that’s going to be too much to overcome.

22. Indianapolis Colts
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Scott Tolzien is starting week 1.  Which means all of the proclamations of Andrew Luck’s health improving were all fluff.  You have to worry about the organization’s franchise guy if the reports of him missing a significant portion of the season are true.  Not when Tennessee has a chance to be legit contenders this year.  Let’s see.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  The Ringer’s Robert Mays put it best: the Bengals don’t do anything particularly well.  They are just solid on both fronts.  Losing their first round pick for a few games will hurt Andy Dalton but then Andy Dalton wasn’t likely to lead the Bengals to anywhere but 8-8.  Dalton and the Bengals need to break up for both their own good.

20. Denver Broncos
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  The Broncos ultimately won the Brock Ostweiler deal even if they don’t have much to show for it.  Their defense will remain elite, but their offense won’t be unless Jamaal Charles returns to Chiefs form.  The Broncos play the style of one cut line play that fits what Charles can do but without his elite burst it may be a lot of 2nd and 8’s in the Broncos future.

19. Baltimore Ravens
Odds to win Super Bowl: 50-to-1

Outlook: This is one of two teams I’m leaving out of the contender talk but I can see a scenario in which they challenge for the division crown.  I love their defense and John Harbaugh coaches the team well.  Joe Flacco will have a decent set of weapons (none inspiring enough to make me consider them legit contenders) but ultimately won’t prove enough to overthrow the Steelers from taking the division.

18. Houston Texans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Ton of positive momentum stemming from JJ Watt’s incredible work as humanitarian/fundraiser stemming from Hurricane Harvey’s relief efforts.  But while this defense will remain elite, consider the offense’s ceiling to depend on when they feel comfortable enough to run Deshaun Watson out there.  He will take some lumps this season but this is about the future and the quicker Bill O’Brien realizes it, taking a step back, to potentially take a few steps forward, the better off the Texans will be for the future.

17. New Orleans Saints
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: These are ridiculous odds based solely out of some gumbo-eating handicapper.  There is nothing the Saints did this offseason that make them 25-to-1 odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Nothing.  Drew Brees will do his thing on offense but losing Brandin Cooks was bad but necessary.  Not getting Malcolm Butler was a curious decision in that trade but a first rounder on the OL was another curious decision.   This is a big year for the Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton team.  If this season turns bad, expect major changes in the Bayou.

TIER II: RAISED EYEBROWS

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  I’m taking points off for being on Hard Knocks.  Jameis has all the weapons on offense to realize his true potential.  This is the year we find out if he can overcome his mental mistakes.  There’s just too many moments where we heard Dirk Koetter scold him for making a poor decision.  He takes way too many chances.  This team is good enough to be 12-4 this year but it will all depend on how many times Dirk Koetter has to scold Winston.

15. Los Angeles Chargers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 60-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s a dark horse candidate to legitemately surprise people.  There’s been too many times this team has been snakebitten for one year not to go their way.  Rivers has a very good complement of weapons to put up his usual stats and the defense has an absolute stud in Joey Bosa who will terrorize opposing QB’s alongside Melvin Ingram.  Expect this team to be the talk of LA and the one difficult ticket in their 30,000 seat stadium.

14. Arizona Cardinals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  If everything about Bruce Arians wanting to chuck it deep more is true, expect Carson Palmer to have a really good year.  David Johnson is enough to scare defenses that they CAN be aggressive deep because of the many ways that he threatens a defense.  Expect the Cards to be terrific and Hasaan Reddick to have the best year from any defensive player from this draft.

13. Carolina Panthers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30-to-1

Outlook:  The great white hope Chrisian McCaffrey will be a test in where the RB position is headed.  Teams are now looking for the next David Johnson and the Panthers may feel like they have their guy in McCaffrey who will line up in multiple ways.  Keeping him on a pitch count will help keep Jonathan Stewart AND Cam Newton healthy.  I would not be shocked by a F U year from Cam and the Panthers to put them back in the discussion as among the league’s best.

12. Tennessee Titans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 20-to-1

Outlook:  The trendy AFC contender pick.  Mariota still seems like a gimmick QB to me and for me he’s the one guy that can drive this ship to be champions or not.  They will win the South but I have my reservations in putting my faith in a gimmick QB and a coach named Mularkey.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook: Ton of Super Bowl talk with a defense ready to contend but I still don’t see them being better than the Packers.  Do you?  Regardless, Sam Bradford is on injury alert for me.  His stats were misleading last year as he led the league in accuracy but his yards per attempt were the lowest out of all QB’s who started atlas 15 games.  The Vikings need Bradford to take a step forward.  It might be too much as he’s now in journeyman phase of his career.

10. Philadelphia Eagles
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s the other team that could potentially upset the natural order of things in the division. There’s a clear path forward for this team.  They improved a receiving corps that hindered QB Carson Wentz’ development.  Even a slight improvement by Alshon Jeffrey and co will make the Eagles a looming threat to both the Giants and Cowboys.  I can see them being no less than 3rd in this division and can easily see them playing important games in late December for playoff positioning.

9. Kansas City Chiefs
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: Double check those odds after a decisive Week 1 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots where it looked like they cloned dynamic offensive talent Tyreek Hill in Kareem Hunt, their rookie RB who had the best debut fantasy performance by a rookie running back in history.  I still don’t trust Alex Smith to lead an NFL franchise to the promised land.  With Eric Berry landing on IR with a ruptured achilles the back end of KC’s defense takes a huge blow given how many athletic tight ends there are in the league.  Berry was an equalizer far too few teams in the NFL have.

TIER I: The Contenders

8. Dallas Cowboys
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: Someone will have to explain the Cowboys rosy outlook given the turnover they had on defense.  I get what they are doing on defense, but have they really improved?  Wasn’t last year the high watermark for Dak’s efficiency?  Isn’t losing two of their offensive line starters going to cost them? They can’t possibly better thant hey were last year when they went 13-3 right?  Am i clouded by my Giants fan bias?

7. New York Giants
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: The offensive line still makes me uneasy.  But the defense only gets better with continuity and adding a big hulking receiver in Brandon Marshall makes them better in the red zone.  A lot of guys played beyond expectation last year and expecting that kind of projection to continue would be unrealistic.  But I think this offense plays better and my spidey-senses are tingling about this season.

6. Oakland Raiders
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: I don’t get this line.  If there’s one team that can have all the goodwill undone from the previous year, its this team.  I don’t buy the Marshawn Lynch addition as a reason to push them over the top but a good QB like Derek Carr can offset a lot.  Ask the Giants from last year.  I think Carr is a top 8 QB in the NFL.  But I don’t buy this team as a legit Super Bowl threat.  I’m just not willing to bet that they take a huge fall from last year but the first four games will be telling.

5. Atlanta Falcons
Odds to win Super Bowl: 16-to-1

Outlook: There’s got to be a Super Bowl hangover.  You don’t lose that game, THAT WAY and come back like nothing ever happened.  Matt Ryan is in a contract year and seeing what QB’s are making must have him salivating.  Steve Sarkisian, new OC for the Falcons won’t shy away from taking chances and that’s exactly the mindset you need after losing the Super Bowl for, taking chances.  Kudos to coach Dan Quinn for wanting to maintain that identity despite what the naysayers will say.  Expect a YUUUUGE year from Julio Jones.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 10-to-1

Outlook: If there’s a team that can dethrone the Patriots its this team.  If the Chiefs showed that you can play man-defense and the Pats are really going to be that thin on defense, the Steelers may have the offense to beat the Pats even in Foxboro.  But for the Steelers to have any chance in January, they better be hosting the Patriots.  Even then it may not matter given their recent history.

3. Green Bay Packers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: Sunday’s season opener between the Seahawks and Packers will legitimately have a chance to decide who hosts who in the NFC championship game so writing off Week one won’t be easy for the loser of this game.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a bevy of weapons on offense against that spectacular defense.  I still think the Seahawks are a better team overall and John Schneider made sure of that with the slew of trades he made to fortify this team’s depth.  Sunday afternoon should be eye opening.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: The Seahawks doubled down on their strengths and moved the needle slightly on offense which may have given Russell Wilson another half second to play with which may be enough.  The responsibility of keeping Wilson upright falls on a very shaky O-line which had two more starters go down with season ending injuries but expect Wilson to play almost MVP-like to lead the team to the Superbowl in a rematch against…

1, New England Patriots
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 11-to-4

Outlook: We’ve been down the road before where early in the season Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself and his demise is prematurely being discussed because…ratings.  But make no mistake, this team beefed up on offense and I trust Bill Belichieck to get his team ready on defense every week.  Against the Chiefs the Pats seemed to play against their natural instinct to be aggressive and made some uncharacteristic mistakes which swung the game in KC’s favor.  Don’t expect those mistakes to continue.  Brady is mad.  And when Brady is mad, that usually means good things for the Patriots and bad things for the rest of the league

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Headlines 1/15/13

Oprah Winfrey got a very big scoop apparently.  In an interview with Lance Armstrong, which will air on Thursday night on her network OWN (check local listings for channel number), he admits to doping and says that he will testify against others who doped.  Juliet Macur of the New York Times says while its unclear how deep into one of the most sophisticated doping programs he goes, he does name names and is willing to bring down everyone involved.  The AP story suggests that Armstrong came not to withhold any information but to be as forthcoming as he could.  Some believe that his willingness to be a whistle blower against others is a way for him to escape further legal damage coming from numerous lawsuits that seek to recoup money Armstrong won because of years of having to cover up his doping despite people fervently believing that he was guilty.

Lance Armstrong is a case of everything being too good to be true.  In what is quickly being seen as the dirtiest sport, the sport of organized cycling will take a major blow if and when Lance begins naming names.  These could be well-placed individuals in different camps who have aided Lance in winning 7 consecutive Tour de France titles.  These could be high ranking officials on the US Postal Service team that he was a part of for so many years.  Who knows.  But this interview, set to air Thursday, will for the first time have Lance Armstrong admitting to the world that he is indeed guilty of using substances to enhance his performance.  I don’t think about what he represented as a cyclist, dominating the world’s greatest race on a yearly basis for such an extended period of time.  I think about what he represented as a figurehead in the battle against cancer.  His Livestrong campaign was one of the strongest.  You saw those yellow bands everywhere and now, the face of that board, is a disgraced human being with nothing more than the cancer that is currently living in remission.  

From the articles I’ve read about Lance Armstrong, he was not a nice person to those who crossed his path and dared to stop him from cheating.  Yes, cheating is rampant in the sport, but it didn’t make it ok and Lance felt he was above the rules.  He was one of the most adored athletes in the world, except to the French newspapers who for years carried on, what seemed like a vengeful vendetta against the man who was dominating their country’s annual athletic event.  I always thought to myself, man those guys just keep coming after him.  Why?  Never once did I imagine a scenario in which he was guilty.  I thought, here’s a guy who’s battling cancer.  How could this guy cheat?  But now that we know, now what?  Cycling has lost its one true star.  The entire sport is dirty and will take years to clean up.  All because one man was so selfish as to use his power and influence to stop people from stopping himself.  When this movie gets made, I can’t wait.  For now, we’ll just have to listen to the rumors and read the stories.  Listen to everything but trust nothing.  Lance is just another guy now.  He’s just another person walking this earth.  He’s no longer one of the elites.  A far fall from grace from a man we all thought was fighting a noble fight.  It turns out the noble fight was the one the few who dared to stand against him, were fighting.  

In other news, the Jets are beginning to interview a few new candidates for their open offensive coordinator position including Cam Cameron, Pat Shurmur and Marty Morningweig according to this report in the Daily News by Manish Mehta.  

File this under the weird but true section: James Dolan had surveillance equipment pick up every word that Carmelo Anthony was saying during a game last week.  That’s our James Dolan!

Also, Shump is back.…do the shumpty shump!

 

Sorry for the limited news, will have more during the day.

 

Enjoy!

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Headlines 1/9/2013

Woody and RexAfter another season of disappointment and playoff-absent football, the Jets big two of Rex Ryan, and Woody Johnson stepped to the podium finally to answer questions and the media surely got some answers.  Conor Orr of the Star Ledger writes that the sales pitch for their future was unveiled yesterday by the men in the white shirts and green ties. Gary Meyers of the Daily News says that Rex is a good enough coach that he deserves one final chance, but that’s all he should be guaranteed by Woody.  Woody’s Wrecks describes Steve Serby of the Post after hearing about the Jets game plan for next year. Ben Shipgel of the New York Times writes that the more pressing concern than rebuilding his image, is rebuilding his staff, Mike Westhoff retired, Mike Pettine is gone, and Mike Tannenbaum was fired.

On twitter, beat writers were complaining about lack of room to tweet out minute by minute updates of the press conference.  I’m sure they wouldn’t have been able to type fast enough with the way that the front office came out and put on a show.  The Jets were their usual clownish selves.  Selling the fans and the media a product that only the two at the podium can’t see because they are too close.  Yesterday was about a renewal.  It felt like Rex was being hired for the first time.  It felt like 2008.  Promises about what the Jets were going to do.  How they were going to fit the image of their head coach.  The offense will attack and nobody is gonna wanna play the New York Jets next season.  

I almost feel sorry for Jet fans who had to be thinking the same thing when the press conference was over: “we’re in deep doo doo next year”.  It almost felt surreal to hear Woody stand up there and give a full fledged vote of confidence to a head coach who has done nothing more than give him headlines in the backpages; good and bad.  Let’s not sweep the two conference championships under the rug, but I’ve said it for years now.  The Jets transitioned from that team in both philosophy (choosing to pass more without checking whether the QB was ready to shoulder a greater load) and in personnel.  They let several clubhouse leaders and veterans go like Tony Richardson, Thomas Jones, and Jerricho Crotchery and brought in guys like Santonio Holmes and unproven rookies.  In order for the QB to take on a leadership mantle, he has to set the tempo in practices and show up in every single meeting prepared and also, and most importantly, show up on Sunday ready to give his team a chance to win.  On so many Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season, that opinion of whether Mark Sanchez gave the Jets that opportunity to win began to change.  His confidence dwindling by the minute Rex continued to bet big on him.  And as more and more was expected of him, Sanchez continued to disappoint.  His low point was the butt fumble, but I think the low point of his professional career may have been when fans were outwardly pining for Tim Tebow to take over.

I THINK, I’m a better QB option than Tim Tebow, so I dont know what Mark Sanchez was feeling.  He of the 2 AFC Conference Championship games under his belt.  Rex spoke mostly of his offense and rightfully so.  His defense held up their end of the bargain, once again finishing as a top 10 unit even without their best defensive player on the field.  They won 6 games which sometimes doesn’t even seem right considering how media folk came with pitchforks and knives like they had just went winless this season.  The Jets still have a ways to go.  They have to undo the mess they created for themselves the last two seasons.  Their defense is good enough to keep them in games.  If they have to return to the conservative offense that kept them out of mistakes and away from Mark Sanchez’ turnover issues then that’s what they will have to do.  The Jets have plenty to work on but now comes the more pertinent question: how much longer does Rex have?  Woody sounded resolute that he will have say in matters going beyond the coaching sphere.  Whatever GM gets hired, he will have to keep Rex for this season.  But its clear that whatever GM comes, will only have one year of Rex to deal with and it certainly sounds like whoever comes in had better not have his sights set on firing Rex without Woody’s blessing because that may be a problem.  Woody and Rex are joined by some voodoo black magic that doesn’t allow either to blame the other for their problems because they certainly don’t have restrictions blaming everyone else around them.  So more and more people are leaving.  Goodbye Mike Tannenbaum.  Goodbye Tony Sparano.  Goodbye Mike Westhoff.  Goodbye Mike Pettine.  Hello new unnamed GM who will certainly be starting from a point of non-favor because he doens’t fit the paradigm that Rex and Woody have created.  God bless whoever comes in.  

We won’t even get in to the tatoo conversation. 

KG AND MELO via TMZ

It seems the Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Garnett beef that escalated to Melo waiting like a school bully after school outside of the cheese bus will be investigated by the league and possible sanctions may land on Anthony for being so aggressive at, according to Anthony, “just wanting to talk with KG about what was said.”  The internet speculated about what KG said to set off such a heated response by Anthony but its understandable to assume that its something that no man should say to another man.  Tony Williams of the Star Ledger writes that Melo must keep his cool as teams now may look to take Anthony out of his game by employing similar dirty tactics.  Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News puts it best “its 10 years in the league and NOW Melo is deciding to let KG’s taunts bother him?”  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that Melo agreed that he played Monday’s heated game against the Celtics way out of character.

This is the fourth such game that I’ve seen a team take Carmelo Anthony completely out of it by their physicality.  Memphis, Chicago (Twice) and now Boston on Monday.  They all bumped him, grabbed him, got away with a ton of physical play and left Melo with the tab.  The only reason Carmelo Anthony didn’t get thrown out of that game, and trust me he was begging to,  was because the game was in NY.  Melo started playing defense with his hands.  He began rushing shots.  He was more focused on hitting KG and trying to set off an altercation rather than play basketball.  It was so clear that it was working and kudos to Doc Rivers for installing a game plan that would make the Knicks switch Melo to guard KG who he was not in the right mind to guard.  That’s what smart teams do.  They saw Melo melting down and went for the kill.  I know Doc had to be thinking to himself “what do I have to do to get this guy fouled out? I already got KG to say the most disrespectful thing you can think of to his wife.”   Whatever the case may be, the league may not wind up suspending Carmelo Anthony since there wasn’t any physical altercation and nothing really happened once Melo got to that area where KG was.  The TMZ clip shows more of the Melo/KG argument with KG putting his hands up as if to say “Yo, the game is over, what do you want now?”  And that’s what Melo has to realize.  KG will go to that length to beat you and after the game will forget what he did.  Its not something I exactly applaud but its the attitude that Melo has to have.  You war with the team during the game but after, its just another game.  KG has always been a trash talker of extremely low character calling Charlie Villanueva who has alopecia a cancer patient.  So this is the kind of stuff you will hear from KG.  Melo has to be tougher mentally to handle those things and tune those people out.  I found myself yelling at the TV at other Knick players to get Melo out of there but there was no one to save Melo from himself and his anger towards Garnett.  Whatever the case may be, look for more teams to try this strategy and especially in the playoffs where its win or go home.  If a game in January could make KG say that, imagine the kind of reckless conversation he’s having in May and June.  

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Headlines 1/4/2013

act_carmelo_anthonyThe Knicks had been struggling for some time on defense and needed a team to come in to reinvigorate them on that end and wouldn’t you know it, the schedule read: San Antonio Spurs!  Yep, the Knicks not only beat the Spurs, sweeping the season series for the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks dominated the Spurs on their home court.  Al Iannazzone of Newsday wrote that this was one of the more impressive showings by the Knicks this season beating what Mike Woodson calls “the best team in the NBA.”  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that after watching footage from games just six weeks ago when they had the best defense and offense, they were able to put on a vintage 2012 performance for the second game of 2013.  Mike Vaccaro of the Post thinks that there are stretches within the game that make you think about what can be for the Knicks.  Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that maybe Spurs coach Greg Popovich should have sent his stars home, maybe the reserves would have put up a better effort against these Knicks in their fourth game in five night stretch.

A few things about this Knick game were encouraging, first and foremost being the defense.  Certain coaches bring an identity and can typecast their team.  Mike D’Antoni certainly has a reputation of being an offensive genius while ignoring defensive principles, while Mike Woodson is known for emphasizing defense.  I don’t doubt that both preach the other side of the ball that they are supposed to be not so well versed in, but sometimes you just get that reputation and its hard to shake it unless there’s a dramatic shift in their team’s play in that other side of the ball.  But the Knicks forged a defensive intensity that you just hadn’t seen from them.  My theories, in order, were 1. Jason Kidd, 2. Tyson Chandler, 3. Mike Woodson.  These three guys have won and know that the only way to win games in May and June is on the defensive side of the ball.  Kidd in particular has impressed me because he faces quicker guards on a regular basis, but his intelligence and quick hands are great equalizers and allow him to keep up with even the quickest of guards.  

Chandler has always played defense and last year was like the lone wolf howling at the moon and the Garden faithful enjoyed watching him play.  This season he has more help and certainly stands to gain more once Iman Shumpert returns.  This season, the Knicks just seem to know how to rotate better and know how to play with each other better because they have so many leaders on this team.  Whether its Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace (one Defensive player of the Year and the other, a member of the no-name Pistons squad in 04 that won the title), or Kurt Thomas on the bench, there’s so much veteran guidance and leadership and call me crazy, but maybe this was Grunwald’s plan all along: to have as many veteran voices on the bench to plead with Carmelo to play more defense and play more efficiently on offense.  

This win also speaks to the play of Pablo Prigioni.  Last year’s clear weakness was point guard play.  No doubt it contributed to the hype that Linsanity got and maybe inflated his value, but this year, the trio of Kidd, Felton and Prigioni have been such a better unit that its hard to remember the last time the Knicks got this kind of production from the position.  Prigioni, since preseason, has been doing that sneaky steal atleast twice a game and he again got a key steal and fed Carmelo for an easy two.  Every member of that team is confident with Prigioni in there and now with Felton out for four to six weeks, you don’t feel as uncertain.  Yes, I understand the concern people have with playing 35 and 40 year old point guards major minutes in games in January, but the hand has been dealt.  Its interesting that the Knicks have been experimenting with Shumpert at the point.  Perhaps getting youthful legs in there will be helpful, but having him as a primary ball handler is all good and well, but he has to be an instinctive point guard, otherwise he’s just another Toney Douglass: the full five second too late point guard who just never had the feel of a point guard.  Are the Knicks going to pay for playing these guys major minutes like this?  I’m sure.  But the fact is this is what they have to do and the Knicks just have to make do.

BTW, does anyone object to the whole JR Smith as our third most important player?  After Carmelo and Tyson, JR’s contributions off the bench- and its becoming nightly, are a reminder of how much of a luxury it is to have a guy that can create his own offense and can also spot up and score.  You can sit Carmelo for stretches when JR is going the way he is.  Does he have a ton of irrational confidence?  Sometimes.  But to play this game and to be good you have to.

Carmelo scored 23 but the most encouraging sign of his maturity came in two ways.  He was actively looking to pass out of double teams and rarely made a bad decision when he did and even if the relationship between he and Amare may be a forced partnership, its easy to see how comfortable and assured he is that he is the franchise cornerstone and he makes the Knicks go.  He tried desperately to get Amare involved in the offense in one series in the fourth, while the Knicks were building up their lead, passing it inside to Amare, who continued to do the fifteen pump fakes before putting up the shot that usually gets blocked (which is an indicator that he’s getting old and has lost most of the athleticism that made him a star), getting the rebound and then throwing it right back to Amare.  That comes from a confidence within that this is in fact his team and there’s no real threat there and I’m glad.  The only way for this to work is for Amare to understand his role on this team and that he’s going to be a third or fourth option depending on the set.  I do like that second team of offense that comes in behind the starting five when the Knicks bring in Novak, Prigioni, JR and Amar’e into the game.  Then you add in the stretch five of Rasheed and you certainly have the makings of a deep ten man rotation that could be formidable, depending on health, come May and June.

Rex Ryan tattoo of Mark Sanchez january 4And then there’s Rex Ryan.  The Daily News this morning published a picture of tanning Rex on a beach in the Bahamas sporting a tattoo of a woman (presumably his wife) sporting a Mark Sanchez jersey and….nothing else on his right arm.  This article in the Daily News is sure to make the rounds in the talk show universe today and adds another level of weirdness to this whole Jet soap opera.   Gary Meyers of the Daily News talks out all the problems that can arise from having a specific player’s name tatooed on the arm.  Mark Cannizzaro of the Post lists several enticing candidates for the Jets GM job and lists Tom Gamble the Director of Player Personnel of the San Francisco 49ers as the guy the Jets and Korn/Ferry should target to lead the Jets.  Finally the Pro Football Writers of America are ok with the fact that the Jets will only meet with the media on January 8th as opposed to the usual schedule of 7 days after the season ends.

This morning’s commute was extra  hilarious because of this story and usually when silly things like this happen, it makes radio and sports personalities very happy because it gives them a chance to be silly and boy do Boomer and Carton love doing silly.  Look, there’s nothing left to say about this except that the Jets look to be targeted by the media and they give them every reason to be targets.  In what universe could Rex think getting a tattoo of his wife ONLY wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey was a good idea?  There’s not a good enough explanation that you can have and one that I hope that we will hear come that very anticipated January 8th press conference.  For those wondering, I think if you were to rank what the Jets brain trust should be questioned about, it goes:

1. Why Mike Tannenbaum was fired and not Rex?

2. What were they thinking about with Tim Tebow and why, in their minds, were they not successful with him?

3.  How confident are you that Mark Sanchez can be fixed?

4.  Rex are you brain dead?  Why would you get a tattoo of your wife in a Sanchez jersey?

Those should be the first four questions out of the media’s mouth come January 8th.  How its anything else is beyond me.  Anyway, I hope Korn/Ferry is a PR firm as well because the Jets could use some good advice. 

Meanwhile, not so far off Crazy Island, the Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was apparently walking around like a crazy man as he described in this interview with Mike Francesa.  Antrelle Rolle apologized for the Giant letdown of a stretch run this season.

Its always fun to see Tom Coughlin red in the face, screaming from the sideline but I totally understand his pain and frustration when having to answer questions about a team he has seen time and time again come through in big games, not be able to even offer a whimper when it truly mattered.  Like any Giant fan, I expected a win against the Ravens and I expected it to be competitive against the Falcons who I don’t think scare anyone in the NFC.  The Giants should have never been in this position and who knows if this collapse by the Giants means that Washington was just meant to win this year or if this is a seismic power shift in the NFC East and that the Redskins are coming of age so quickly under the guidance of the young padawan, RGIII.  Regardless, these are the kind of final weeks that make a team look deep into its soul.  Certainly there is the talent to win atleast 10 games a year but the up and down show of effort leaves you wondering sometimes about whether the players are either understanding the situation they are in or even motivated to play a football game late in December.  Its crazy to think that this team, this unit wouldn’t know how to handle themselves in those situations but it happened.  Which makes Tom Coughlin crazy.  Which makes Jerry Reese crazy.  Which should make every Giant hoping to return back to a championship core very very scared.  

Finally, what to watch for tonight:  Bulls at Heat on ESPN at 8, Nets at Wizards on YES at 8 (just kidding).

Later today, I’m posting my AFC/NFC Wild Card weekend Previews

For your viewing pleasure…

Enjoy everyone!

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Headlines 1/4/2012

With the Jets season in turmoil, and the media looking to get answers from somebody who may have any the Jets head coach Rex Ryan was found vacationing in the Bahamas with his wife.  Whether or not a vacation was proper or not, this soon after such a terrible season is not something I can judge.  I’m sure an island getaway was probably necessary after a season like this.  But don’t think that the media feels the same way.  Gary Meyers of the New York Daily News decided that he was going to take up the mantle of the Jet front offices and answer some questions that he would’ve like to see answered.  According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, the Jets organization debated having the press conference on Monday without owner Woody Johnson but felt it wouldn’t be fair for Rex to answer those questions about Mike Tannenbaum which is what led to the delayed press conference announced for January 8th, next Tuesday.  Then there’s Steve Serby of the Post giving his sarcastic take on how the Jets are waiting while every other team that has an opening is working hard to fill the vacancy while the lead men in the Jets organization are deciding that vacations are more important.

I’m not going to kill Rex Ryan here because the guy decided that he needed to get away like the Snickers commercial suggested.  This season must have felt like three.  But the Jets organization does have a duty to fulfill here to face the tough questions surrounding what was at times a very secret cult-ish way to run an organization.  Media members aren’t going to quickly forget the wall of players that kept them from watching the Tebow package that was so built up with speculation.  They aren’t going to just let the Jets get away with not speaking up while a major organizational retooling was happening.  They want to know why Rex wasn’t sent packing along with Mike Tannenbaum.  They want to hear the owner give reasons as to why he felt only one of the two had to go.  How is Woody going to hold Rex accountable next year?  What is he looking for in the next GM?  How are they going to handle the QB situation?  Is Tim Tebow really going to be sent packing to Jacksonville?  

With that being said, the Jets beat writers sound like a bunch of 15 year old girls who are being ignored.  They are using their space in New York City’s newspapers as one long Facebook status to air out their sour grapes at what is becoming an increasingly frustrating way to do their job.  The Jets organization has been a mess lately and the losing only invites harder questions to answer without wanting to punch someone in the mouth.  Maybe with a 9 day head start to cool off, Woody and Rex can show up calm, tanned and ready to answer some very difficult questions from a pack of wild dogs frothing at the mouth to hear their take on what the writers wrote.  

Amar’e Stoudemire made his return to a Knick uniform this past Tuesday in a loss to the Blazers on Tuesday.  He only scored six points to the media but went on the offensive Wednesday in front of a pack of reporters who wondered about the star power forward’s mental health.  Amar’e praised Mike Woodson while needling his former head coach in Phoenix and New York by insisting that this is the first time he’s ever been coached defense.  Kevin Kiernan of the Post said the best way to tell whether Amar’e is healthy is to see how he does on the defensive side of the ball with the way he rotates to defend.  Speaking of their defense, Nate Taylor of the New York Times says that the team has become flat defensively now falling to middle of the pack in categories they were leading the league in during their 18-5 start.  Meanwhile Al Iannazzone of Newsday offers this little nugget from Amar’e Stoudemire about being ok with coming off the bench if the team is winning.  The Knicks have been 5-5 in their last ten games.

The defensive lapses have been alarming but hallelujah!  We finally know why Amar’e sucks so badly on defense.  He just wasn’t ever taught how to defend OR box out and get positioning on rebounds.  Now it all makes sense.  Needless to say this didn’t sit well with me and it shouldn’t sit well with any Knick fan who has any aspirations of seeing their team do major things this year.  I knew Amare’s return would cause some kind of conflict within a peaceful ecosystem that existed but this caught me off guard.  This town loves their basketball teams having that defensive edge and for about the first 23 games the Knicks played with that kind of edge, but now with the Spurs and Celtics looming on the schedule, and the Knicks without Raymond Felton to cover the quick shifty point guards like Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker, it will fall upon the elder legs of Jason Kidd and Pablo Spaghetti to get it done. 

Am I going to fault Amare for wanting to start?  No.  He’s a starter in the NBA regardless of his allergic reaction to playing defense.  He has the kind of freak athleticism that very few players have and the Knicks are lucky to have that on their roster.  They need Amar’e to begin to “get it” on defense.  The rotations, the assignments, everything.  They need him to understand all the phases of the game and I need Mike Woodson to hold him accountable.  That he won’t just automatically get his starting job back because he has one of the most expensive contracts in the NBA.  If Amare isn’t on board with that then he doesn’t deserve to play and no matter how much bitching he does he can sit.  Or the Knicks can do what they do with Ronnie Brewer.  Play him at starting forward just so they put Carmelo at the 4, and then once JR Smith comes in have him firmly parked on the bench for the rest of the game.  A starter by name only.  By the way, ever seen Ronnie Brewer during a game when the first sub starts?  Its like Pavlov’s dogs with him, he hears the siren and he immediately reports to the bench without even looking at who’s coming in.  Poor guy.

That other basketball team in NY had a pretty good beginning to their 2013 campaign.  The Brooklyn JayZ’s went to OKC and stunned the Thunder by having, as Tim Bontemps of the New York Post describes, as one of those nights that Mikhail Prokhorov envisioned after a few vodkatinis.  The big three of D. Will Get Another Coach Fired, Need a Cup of Joe Johnson, and Laying down by a Brook Lopez  combined for 77 of the team’s 110 points in their convincing rout of the Western Conference powerhouse.  Howard Beck of the New York Times writes that this was a new year and a new look Nets.  Roderick Boone of Newsday used the word shocking to describe the team’s win.  Considering their lack of effort in their past few blowout losses, maybe shocking wasn’t too strong of a term.    Howard Beck wrote about what is ailing Gilbert Grape…i mean Deron Williams.

All kidding aside, this was the kind of performance from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez that those in cushy luxury suites had come to expect from the expensive trio of superstars asked to build up the brand.  No matter what you may think of Deron Williams, he still has the ability to play like one of the elite point guards in the game and with his night of 19 points and 13 assists he put everyone back on notice.  His shooting has been off and he’s been moody playing in Avery Johnson’s iso offense that seemed to not suit the superstar’s tastebuds but last night’s performance reminded everyone that when Deron is good, the Nets can be a very tough team no matter what.  I continue to be impressed by Brook Lopez’ night in and night out performance.  I wasn’t convinced the guy could stay healthy long enough to show that he could play but out of that trio of centers of him, Dwight Howard, and Andrew Bynum you can certainly make the case that if you were dropped on to this planet today, you would take Brook without even hesitating.  His offense has improved and he’s been doing a good job as a big securing tough rebounds and going on the offensive glass.  He’s not a complete product but the fact is, he’s atleast earning his pay unlike the other guys who have either been questionable night in and night out or just been out.  

Ray Lewis is retiring and most if not all newspapers had a small blurb about the retirement of one of the greats at the linebacker position.  Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun writes that Ray Lewis will go down as the greatest middle linebacker in the history of the NFL.  Peter Schmuck (and I’m sure Ravens fans after reading this will be thinking how appropriate a last name) of the Sun wonders why Ray chose to make his announcement now?

I chose just the Baltimore papers to give a feel about what the local area is feeling today as Ray Lewis’ announcement has hit every medium and every Baltimore fan or Ray Lewis Fan has had time to digest the news.  The only surprising news that Ray Lewis is retiring is the fact that he announced it in a team meeting after talking about how the players should play for each other.  To drop this kind of news on the players after such an emotional and uplifting meeting has to be weighing on the team emotionally.  The timing is the only issue I had with this, but perhaps this is Ray Lewis’ last great motivational speech as a teammate and player in the league.  Maybe this is what it will take to inspire the players to go out and play for the face of the franchise.  I think a majority of people have moved on from Lewis’ stabbing rap, but this morning while dropping my mom off to work, there was Boomer and Carton joking around that Lewis hasn’t stabbed anyone lately.  Its a complicated legacy, one that Ray has done much to fix.  He’s been out there preaching his sermons of togetherness and helping each other that have resonated with so many people.  Its hard for people to let go of the fact that he was involved in a murder that answers have not been given to.  

The fact is, Ray Lewis paid his pennance (according to a court ruling) and has forged a career based on intelligence and sheer will that nobody could have expected.  Remember, three linebackers were taken ahead of him and a reality altering 100 plus middle linebackers have played in the league since his arrival to today.  Its a model of consistency and a source of strength for both Lewis and the Ravens that he has come to play and take ownership of the franchise the way he has.  He will surely be a part of the fabric of the Baltimore community for years and years just like he is in the Miami-Dade County area where he makes his offseason home.  Yes, he’s probably the greatest middle linebacker ever to play the game and will go down as a first ballot hall of famer for sure.  I still can’t help but think that not a day goes by that this man has ultimate regret that he was even in the same zip code as that tragedy.  Whether he had something to do with it or not, that’s not for me to say.  He was judged to be not guilty of murder.  He was however convicted with lying about details relating to that night’s shooting.  There is some twinge of doubt with which his detractors will always hold over him.

This weekend, a speaker by the name of Gian Paul Gonzalez came to speak at an event at the St Peter’s Church in Teaneck, NJ.  My wife was there, I was bed ridden with the flu.  She came and told me a story that Mr. Gonzalez (he of the All-In speech that inspired the Giants to their Super Bowl run last year), told to those who were there that night.  A kid came home to see his mother with marks on her face.  The son asked what happened and got no answer.  He asked his mother for a deck of cards.  His mother refused to give him a deck of cards thinking he was going to gamble to get him and his mother out of the situation they were in.  They lived in a poor neighborhood.  Her son told her that he wasn’t going to gamble with it, but promised that those cards would get them out.  He had decided that every time he would flip a card, he would do the number of push ups written on the card.  Face cards were 10, Aces were 11.  He started doing it nightly and by his senior year of college he could finish a full deck of cards without getting tired.  He did finally get his mother out of that neighborhood and away from people that could put marks on her face.  Which is why he chose the number 52, for the 52 cards in a deck.  That boy, was Ray Lewis.

That’s the sheer will to both survive and excel that people talk about when they talk about Ray Lewis.

Here’s what to watch tonight:  The Knicks vs. Spurs live from MSG tonight at 7:30.  If you’re an NFL fan gearing up for playoff weekend there’s the replay of the Green Bay vs. Minny game on NFL Network starting at 8.  The Fiesta Bowl is on ESPN from 8:30 on.

ENJOY

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Headlines 1/3/2012

Yesterday’s biggest news story was the return of Amar’e Stoudemire.  But the story turned familiar.  The Knicks came out ice cold and couldn’t buy a lay up, while the other team was hitting every open shot they were given.  At one point the Knicks went down 19 and once again climbed to within one shot of tying, but could never find the defensive stop they needed.

“You can’t keep spotting teams 20-plus leads and think you’re going to win,” Mike Woodson said. “The last few games have been a disaster in terms of how we’re starting games.”

Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that Amar’e Stoudemire is in direct competition with Carmelo Anthony to get touches and therein lies the rub and the greater storyline as it relates to the rest of the 2012-2013 season.  In a more optimistic story, the New York Post’s Kevin Kiernan writes that if Carmelo and Amar’e learn how to work together, and the fans are patient, a bigger reward awaits the Knicks. Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times writes that Amar’e Stoudemire’s standing ovation was ripe with optimism but filled with caution.

Yesterday’s game was a pretty familiar storyline.  Fall down early, make a great comeback but ultimately fall short.  The added storyline of Amar’es return and Carmelo’s return from a two game sit out due to a hyper extended knee made this a must watch game.  Nothing about this game was pretty, despite 45 from Carmelo Anthony.  The Knicks continue to live and die by the three and yesterday they were slaughtered.  The Knicks were 10-37 from beyond the arc while the Blazers shot 11-33.  It seemed that every shot that Nicholas Batum took either went in or airballed and he didn’t airball much.  He was the high man, and also the one given the responsibility of trying to guard Carmelo.  When one on one defense didn’t work, the Blazers began double teaming Melo.  Credit Melo with finding his open teammates, but nobody ever found a rhythm that would make the Blazers go away from the strategy of doubling Melo.  

JR Smith continues to be a real Six Man of the Year candidate playing an all around game that everyone thought he could play but never lived up to, either due to immaturity or indifference.  Either way, the idea I would think, is to have Amar’e and JR come in to give the team an offensive lift when they can’t seem to score points.  At some point Steve Novak will start hitting the close to 50% that he can, and the Knicks will have a formidable 9 man rotation.  Of course, the odd man out in this rotation will be Ronnie Brewer who is known for his defense and is a starter by name only, but plays very few minutes thanks to his inability to hit the wide open corner three, once Iman Shumpert returns.  That return is still being speculated about, but expect in the next two weeks to hear an announcement from the usually tightlipped MSG office.  I found the rotations a bit weird, as this was kind of a throwaway game for the Knicks.  They were working with several line ups, but having a very quick hook with any line up that had Carmelo and Amar’e in it which was odd to me.  Its a chemistry issue they want to avoid for now until Amar’e gets fully healthy, or its something they have decided upon for the betterment of the team.  Stoudemire’s minutes were limited to 20 yesterday but while he only played 17, he seemed tentative and hesitant.  Too amped up on his first few attempts before settling down on his old familiar: the pick and roll drive to the hoop dunk.  Once he got that lead pass from Pablo Prigioni, and he dunked, there was that familiar spark in his eyes.  

On the other side, I was extremely impressed with Damian Lilliard.  I had heard he was a legit rookie of the year candidate (the lead dog IMO), but to see him in person was impressive.  He’s got that quickness and body control that makes him a poor man’s Derrick Rose.  That step back three was the kind of shot that you only see from more poised veteran guards and it tells you how much more mature beyond his years this kid really is.  A four year starter from Weber State, Lilliard is proving to be the team’s best draft selection since LaMarcus Aldridge.  Also, how in the hell does JJ Hickson dominate us EVERY FREAKING TIME?  He’s in the ALL-“ROLE PLAYERS WHO HAVE CAREER GAMES AGAINST THE KNICKS ALL THE TIME” Team.  

The Jets offseason unofficially started the day they couldn’t beat the Tennessee Titans, but their official offseason started Monday when they fired the GM, Mike Tannenbaum.  Many wrote about how Rex should have been given a pink slip with the GM.  Rich Cimini of ESPNNY writes why this plan of action, hiring a GM while keeping the incumbent coach, could be a death penalty for Rex. Ben Shpigel of the New York Times writes “No doubt the Jets’ position is appealing; only 32 of these jobs exist, after all. But whoever takes over for Tannenbaum will inherit a mess at quarterback, several bloated contracts and a roster in dire need of an overhaul, not to mention a coach he did not choose in Ryan, whose return in 2013 Johnson guaranteed.”  Mark Cannizaro of the Post writes that a curious decision was to let Tony Sparano hang on to his job as offensive coordinator, though he admits that the Jets lead the league in curious decision making.  Steve Serby of the Post writes that Rex needs to come out and talk about it.  His press conference was canceled by the team on the day that Mike Tannenbaum was let go.  The owner Woody Johnson had a five paragraph statement read.  In fact, the only member of the Jet hierarchy that did any talking, was the guy they let go: GM Mike Tannenbaum.  Finally, Manish Mehta of the Daily News, and Rex Ryan’s favorite scribe writes, “Rex Ryan, the king of transparency and accountability, isn’t talking.”

You can understand the frustration from the beat writing community as it relates to the Jets.  The team had a frustrating and disappointing season.  They aren’t in the mood to answer some difficult questions.  But the bigger dilemma becomes that the Jets organization wanted to dump everything on the lap of the GM while saving the coach who’s been at the head of much of this mess.  What I don’t know and what will apparently never be clear, is who was responsible for the Tim Tebow signing?  That was a decision made by an influential voice within the organization.  Was it Rex Ryan?  It didn’t look like it from the amount of playing time he got and the constant refusal to name him the starting QB especially in the meaningless week 17 contest against Buffalo.  Was it Mike Tannenbaum?  Maybe.  He did make the, now idiotic, decision to resign Mark Sanchez and guarantee him $20 million basically bolting him down to the Jets roster for the 2013 season.  But then why would he turn around the next day and go after Tim Tebow?  His decision to give Sanchez that contract extension was definitely influenced by the fact that he openly went after Peyton Manning and Mark found out and was upset by it, and yeah, this whole thing sounds soap opera-ish.  My guess is that it was owner Woody Johnson who has never really made a good decision since he’s taken over the team’s ownership.  

Woody has always been about the bottom line and winning the back page war with the Giants who never have had any desire to partake in that kind of thing.  This move was meant to distract everyone from the poor season they had.  Add to that, the whole building up a wall and the almost CIA Top Secret Tebow playbook and you had the makings of a ridiculous campaign that became bizarre.  Needless to say the Tebow situation was NOT the only reason the GM got fired, but the quarterbacking position was a major influence.  Add the contract, and the overall lack of depth to the roster and very few draft picks with which to fix the roster, Mike Tannenbaum leaves his successor very few avenues to go through in order to cure what ails this team.  

I know Jet fans won’t want to hear this and obviously they won’t consider this move, but the best way to get all of your draft picks back is to trade one of your best players.  Yes, if the Jets pay most of Mark Sanchez’s salary they may get a sixth round pick, but why do that deal in the first place?  My guess would be to bring in a strong QB’s coach to work with Mark.  The Jets should invest in a running game.  Steven Jackson will be a free agent soon, and he would like another chance at winning.  His price range may be too high for the Jets but they should consider knocking on that door.  They still have stars.  Maybe if they trade a guy like Muhammad Wilkerson OR Darelle Revis, they will get a bunch of draft picks back- maybe even a number one.  Remember, the Rams still have picks from their RGIII trade with Washington, and they are trying to find building blocks and Wilkerson would definitely be looked at as something they would want.  Would that be worth it? 

As it relates to media relations, this won’t get better unless the team gets better.  But even then, there are some feelings that need to be mended.  Its clear that several in the media are feeling ignored and not being given a story and don’t expect for them to continue to speculate, thereby giving the reader and the fanbase something to worry about.   Lately, the boastful and talkative Jets have gone into bunker mode.  What is the deal there?  The Jets will certainly have many questions to answer.  Once they find a new GM perhaps some of those answers will be given by an actual member of the Jets hierarchy.

While the Jets are majoring in confusion and outright non-commital, the Giants are in a different state of mind.  They were left with no answers as to why they no-showed their week 15 and week 16 contests against two playoff teams while demolishing the pathetic Eagles (there was no homer-ism in that description of the Eagles, just outright contempt.  Please note the difference).  Changes are coming for the Giants and one change that seemed imminent is now as close to official as can be: Osi Umeniyora announced on the Michael Kay show that he probably won’t be returning to the Giants and he will test the open market.  Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News writes that panic isn’t setting in on the Giants, a team who came within one game of making the playoffs.  Paul Schwartz of the Post writes that it won’t be easy identifying what exactly happened in those week 15 and week 16 games, but it won’t be tough to know what needs to be done.  Zach Shonbrun of the New York Times writes that remorse is the word around Giants camp.  Remorse that a quality team didn’t get to defend its Super Bowl title.  Finally Ohm Yungmisuk of ESPNNY writes the same thing only with hilarious quotes from Martellus Bennett.

I’m not going to try and figure out weeks 15 and 16.  The usual flat performance that we’ve come to expect was the immediate answer following each loss, but it never seemed to accurately describe what happened.  Losing 34-0 to a Falcons team that shouldn’t have soundly beat the Giants?  Losing 33-14 to a team and a QB who had issues galore?  It just didn’t seem right.  If it was lack of focus and intensity then doesn’t some of that fall on the coaching staff?  Just trusting that a team that has done it before will pick it up automatically won’t be an easy sell to a fanbase that went into the season and especially after blowout wins against the 49ers and the Packers.  Clearly the talent is there to compete and a returning core will be a good start, but with almost two dozen players becoming either restricted or unrestricted free agents (here is a list) there will certainly be a good amount of change at the Timex center come next season.  

IF I had to guess who is definitely coming back from that list, I would say that Stevie Brown, Victor Cruz, Andre Brown (all restricted free agents), Lawrence Tynes, Kevin Boothe, Will Beatty, Sean Locklear,  Bear Pascoe, Adrian Tracy aka YOsi (young Osi), and Domenik Hixon.  Guys I would like to be re-signed but are iffy because of either price or shaky health are, Kenny Phillips, Martellus Bennett, Rocky Bernard, Ramses Barden, Chase Blackburn, and Keith Rivers.  Every other guy on that list is a goner in my eyes.  The Giants had another good to great year on the offensive line but saw too much of their health depleted.  

If I were in charge of the draft, I would try to find an offensive lineman (you draft tackles because they are usually the best athletes), before they find a pass rusher.  I think the Giants just had a off season in terms of pass rushing and Perry Fewell made the mistake of trusting that his line would apply pressure without any stunts or blitzes.  That last game against the Eagles, the Giants used a lot of stunts and linebacker blitzes and created a ton of turnovers.  That may be a blueprint for how Fewell designs pressure in the upcoming season.  The Giants line were not winning their one on ones which they were used to winning, so perhaps mixing in some pressure from the LB’s and corners along with winning some one on one match ups will help but the team needs to begin to play with more fire.  Maybe next year they won’t enter week 16 and 17 having to win games just to make it into the playoffs.  This is still a team capable of winning a Super Bowl and the window is right now open. As Martellus Bennett hilariously put it, 

“It is a big a– window, we are not talking about apartment windows on the side. We are talking like mansions.  Like [Evander] Holyfield’s house in Atlanta where he had people working the grounds for you,” the tight end continued. “I don’t think the window is closing. I think there are other guys coming in to open up another window.”

That remains to be seen.

 

What do you guys think?

 

 

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Jets post game reacts vs. the Steelers

Did one for the Giants, and now here it is for the Jets.

The Jets (1-1) lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Heinz Field Sunday.  Here is the boxscore.

STORYLINES:

1. The Jets started off the game hot, but then, what had happened was…  We don’t know.  The first drive of the game seemed like it was a continuation of last week where the Jets ran off to a 21-0 start before Buffalo could tighten the laces on their shoes, and yet on Sunday, the Jets failed to gain any momentum after their first two drives that resulted in 10 points.  Why?  Having two completions to a WR after the first quarter sure won’t help, the first coming at the :22 second mark of the 4th quarter with the game over with.  Some poorly thrown passes by Mark Sanchez to relatively open players won’t help either.  The fact is, after the first two drives the Jets stalled and Sanchez was afraid to throw down the field when he had opportunities to do so.

The Jets were playing this game without Darrelle Revis but the Steelers were playing with Troy Polamalu.  Both teams were without significant players to their defense and yet it seemed like the Steelers, with each passing second, gained more and more momentum and strength.  The Jets, particularly Sanchez seemed confused by the varying blitz packages that Steelers’ legendary defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau threw at him.

There were times when the offense just didn’t seem to have a flow.  They ran the ball effectively and yet couldn’t take advantage of it with the play action pass which is where Sanchez is most effective.  Sanchez’ footwork is something I’ve always lauded.  He has excellent balance and has an ability to sell the fake very well and incorporating more trick plays into the game plan could help take advantage of one of his strengths.  I’m not saying that the Jets should turn into a gimmicky offense but, let’s be real, didn’t they do that by bringing in Tim Tebow?

2. They have Roethlisberger for a sack….no they don’t.  Sanchez’ opposite, Ben Roethlisberger, does a few things VERY well.  Two things in particular were on display on Sunday.  His ability to elude defenders is by now a staple in every team’s scouting report.  And yet, teams can’t help but try and tackle him like a normal QB who doesn’t possess the ability to slide away from danger or the kind of awareness that Ben has.  This has helped mask terrible offensive lines throughout the last 6 years that he has had to play behind.  He’s able to extend plays and any defense that has to cover receivers for an extended period of time become vulnerable and it allows the Steelers to pick up so many first downs.

Many would regard those plays broken plays but at this point, you have to consider re-naming that in Roethlisberger’s case because he becomes more comfortable when the pocket breaks down.  He always manages to shift his body around so defenders can’t get their arms around his body.  Its not that he has world class speed like Vick or even his elusiveness, its that he’s so big and weirdly configured that defenders end up wailing at his hips and no one is going to grab hold of him there to bring him down.  This affords Steeler receivers to not just break from their route, but sit in areas of the zone that is not being covered.  Mike Francesa said this Monday and I want to echo it, most people figure that the Steelers are a run first team, but they transitioned from that almost 4 years ago when Bruce Arians became the offensive coordinator and are now an excellent passing team.  It was only this year when they drafted two linemen early in the draft that they addressed the weakness of their offensive line.  They scored huge with Maurkice Pouncey but otherwise its a patchwork line that will be an area of concern moving forward.  The team relies on Ben’s ability to avoid pressure because he sees so much thanks to the line, and Ben routinely makes plays when in that kind of danger.  Its as if he loves the pressure and  his teammates never get frazzled when the play breaks down because at this point its becoming second nature to deal with it.

His other great trait is his ability to make it 3rd and manageable.  So many QB’s forget that and lose sight of game situations and managing the game.  Big Ben is NOT one of them.  When he has 2nd and 10 he goes to his check down which create 3rd and short.  Execution is simple when you’re asking your receiver to go up the field five yards and turn and get a pass.  Its also very tough to defend without being called for a penalty.  Here’s also why its important to Pittsburgh’s offense and any offense: when you have speedy recievers like Pittsburgh you could be vulnerable to the double move and no one recovers from that.

By putting the team in a manageable 3rd down situation, they can go with a short pass or a run play.  They sometimes go deep in that situation too thanks to the speed on the outside of their receivers.  But Ben gets them to those positions thanks to his shiftyness and his ability to manage the situation.  When you can get in a 3rd and short in any decent offense you will convert more often than not, and Ben is right to play the percentages and get his team in that position.  On Sunday he did that time and time again.

3. What exactly IS the Jets passing game?  The story coming out of preseason was that the Jet offense couldn’t score points.  Then they dropped 48 on the Bills and the team got a good laugh at the expense of all the critics that had given them a hard time.  But against a top flight defensive unit (and that’s more on reputation nowadays), the Jets were abysmal.  We can talk about Mark Sanchez’ numbers for the game but the fact is, his receivers weren’t doing him any favors.  After the first drive where he went 4/5 for 80 yards, Sanchez went 6 for 22.  That’s like the QB-who-shall-not-be-mentioned was playing.

Two plays crystallize what went wrong.  On the very next drive, during the 2nd quarter,  with 13:04 left on a 1st and 10- Stephen Hill was one on one vs. Ryan Clark.  Sanchez threw a good ball but Ryan Clark got his hand on Hill’s hand and Hill couldn’t open his hands to get the throw.  Yes, that technically isn’t Hill’s fault but its a case of anything that can go wrong, will.

Three running plays later, Sanchez rolls to this left, play actions, and then turns and runs to his right and tries to throw off balance to Santonio Holmes who is open in the end zone.  Naturally he throws it above his head.  Sanchez had enough time to stop, set his feet and make a confident throw into the end zone but he never did that probably figuring that he would not have that kind of time to make that throw.  Again, I love Sanchez’ foot work when he rolls out and his fake, they are above average, but basics like throwing on the run and knowing that to begin with, he isn’t the most accurate of quarterbacks increases the degree of difficulty on that play for no reason.  Stop and gain balance and throw OR, tuck it and run for another first down.  Just like Ben doesn’t try to make crazy plays, Sanchez has to learn that skill.  Its a very difficult talent to grasp and Sanchez is still finding it difficult to do so.

What the Jets need to do is get them running slant patters and quick out patterns.  When Ben Roethlisberger came out of college he wasn’t given this huge playbook to learn, and make reads from a complex offense.  He was put in positions to succeed and he was coached up well.  You can blame coaching but its also putting your players in a position to succeed and the Jets did Sanchez no favors by completely reversing the course of this team by going from ground and pound to the air show.  They seemingly have come back to a combination of both creating this weird hybrid that scored 1 TD this entire preseason and then scored a whole bunch in the first regular season.  In week 2, they looked like they were building momentum but the Jet offense went to sleep and made some critical errors.  Both self inflicted and those out of their control.  Those things happen but it happens to the Jets alot which would lead me to believe that maybe they aren’t good.

4. What offensive player needs to step up? Can Step up? In my preview I put Jeremy Kerley as the guy to watch for the Jets this year and I stand by that selection for two reasons.  One, I think he can be another security blanket for Mark Sanchez, just like Dustin Keller is.  He is the guy I’m looking at to do that for the Jets and I think he can this team’s Wes Welker.

The player that stuck out in that game was Bilal Powell who many had expected to separate himself.  The worst kept secret is that they want ANYONE to step up in that second RB slot other than Joe McKnight who has been a colossal disappointment.  McKnight was supposed to be the  change of pace back but he hasn’t performed the way that the Jets would like and so they would love Powell to step up in his stead.  Powell will be important.  Austin Howard is the final player that needs to step up.  His play in week 1 was great, limiting Mario Williams to “where the heck is he playing?” status.  But going against Lamar Woodley and co is a whole other challenge that he should not feel he flunked.  He did well at times and others he looked like a guy who only had one career start.  Howard is still a better option than Wayne Hunter was so there’s nothing to be dismissive over his performance on Sunday.  He will need a few more games to get his feet set in the right places but there’s enough tape there now to see that he will be fine which for the Jets is a huge relief.  If he stays healthy, Austin Howard will be effective as the season wears on and he gets more reps.

4. Missed Opportunities- Forget all the missed tackles on Roethlisberger, the missed opportunities on defense that they had were also huge.  Here’s a sequence that took place during the 3rd quarter:

3Q, 9:45

1st and 10- Roethlisberger tries to throw it to Jerricho Cotchery and David Harris turns and bats his pass, ALMOST intercepting it.  A second later with that throw, and it would’ve been picked off.

9:40

2nd and 10- The Jets tackle Jonathan Dwyer for a 6 yard loss thanks to Muhammad Wilkerson’s ability to get a great push against Max Starks.

8:53

3rd and 16,

Roethlisberger slips away from a would be sacker.  Steps into a heave and Mike Wallace stops on a dime and frees himself from Antonio Cromartie and catches the ball while putting both feet inbounds to complete the catch.

Two plays and the Jets seem to get great momentum and the very next they get beat for a touchdown.  It shows Roethlisberger’s strength and what makes him special and why the Jets can’t afford to take a single play off.  But plays like the David Harris ALMOST interception are plays that you HAVE to make against Ben because you will pay.

 

NOTES:

– The Jets schedule reads as such, @Miami vs the Dolphins and then home for the 49ers and Texans.  I know after week 5 is when you want to make conclusions about a team but it will be extra true for the Jets as they face, arguably, two of the best teams in the NFL .  The Niners and Texans coming to Metlife will help but let’s be realistic.  Heading into week 6 vs the Colts the Jets should probably be 2-3.  So is Sunday’s game a must win for the Jets?  Yes.  The Jets must win.  Starting the season 1-4 will be tough if the Jets have any aspirations to make the playoffs.

– Shonn Greene is one of my favorite runners because he reminds me of how Brandon Jacobs used to run when the Giants were a great running team.  Tough, physical and never afraid of contact.  But he has two or three runs in which he goes head first into a defensive player and winds up missing three or four plays in succession and make you wonder if that style of running won’t affect him in the long run.  Perhaps those are the conversations the Giants had with Jacobs that eventually made him soft at the line and had him start to dance and tippy toe around the line of scrimmage, but the Jets have to hope that he can keep his health and be smarter about how he finishes runs off.  There’s no problem with going down if you know you will get hit.  Trying to run through everything won’t work and Greene needs to be taught that if he wants any longevity in the NFL.

– Safety seems to be an area of concern for the Jets.  Last year, the Giants used Antrell Rolle as a nickel corner and Deon Grant as a linebacker to pick up the tight end closer to the line of scrimmage, and it seems like the Jets are employing that strategy with Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell who often times play in the line of scrimmage.  Bell is their best deep cover safety and that isn’t exactly a good thing for the Jets because last year Brodney Poole did a poor job for them and they still haven’t found a guy yet that gives them that back end support.  Perhaps Antonio Allen is that guy but the Jets had better hope he comes of age very quickly because the Patriots loom and there are plenty of big play threats coming up on their schedule.  Remember, they still have the Patriots twice.

– I know this is almost a “duhhh” statement but without Darelle Revis, the best defensive player in the NFL in my opinion, they were vulnerable in the passing game and it showed.  After the first quarter, the Steelers realized that Landry couldn’t cover anybody and he was in there more so to hit guys after the catch because it wasn’t like he could pass defend.  The Jets shouldn’t need Revis on Sunday to beat the Dolphins but it bears watching if they bring Revis back for this game because it will tell you how important the Jets view Sunday’s game at the Dolphins is.  Remember, the Jets destroyed Buffalo and they HAVE to win all the games that they are favored in because they face some difficult tests this season because it looks like the NFC West, at least in the early going, is a much improved division and no cake walk and if the Jets don’t get their offensive issues figured out, that schedule that many thought would help the Jets get to the playoffs may not be as easy as we all once thought.

GAME BALL

Goes to Ben Roethlisberger who continues to play effectively despite a terrible offensive line.  The Steelers were excellent defensively without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, and the offense keeps doing its thing whether it be running or having those excellent group of receivers.

 

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Daily Rounds 1/4/2012

And so it went in the NFL as more and more retentions and dismissals were announced.  Dean Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, announced that GM AJ Smith and head coach Norv Turner would be returning for the 2012 season but according to San Diego Union Tribune reporter Kevin Acee, both know that if they don’t make the playoffs in 2012, they will not get a similar vote of confidence from the owner Spanos.  Acee went on to write that much of this falls on AJ Smith, the GM and he knows it.  Meanwhile, Andy Reid was given a vote of confidence by the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.  Les Bowen of the Philly Daily News said that despite all the harsh tone and sentiment, Jeff Lurie expressed confidence in Andy Reid, albeit in a limited time frame.   Despite the defense’s inability to stop many people, Paul Domowitch of the Daily News says that Andy Reid put Juan Castillo in a pretty uncomfortable situation and so he shouldn’t be left out to dry by Reid whatever decision he makes on the defensive coordinator.  Dan Graziano of ESPN.com says that the Eagle owner used the word unacceptable so much that bringing back Reid made the word meaningless.  The Bears let go of GM Jerry Angelo and Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that it was thanks to an abysmal history of draft selecting that led to the former scout’s dismissal from the top job in all of Chi-town football land.  Dan Pompei of the Tribune writes that forcing Lovie Smith on the new GM is a recipe for disaster.  Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times writes that it was not enough talent as say a Green Bay or a Detroit that ultimately led to the dismissal of Jerry Angelo.  Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com says that the Bears made the right moves and threw out some names since the Bears are in the solution business.  Peter King of SI.com weighs in on all topics including how the dominoes may fall once the dust settles.  

Is that enough for you?  A day after the Rams fired Bill Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo and Raheem Morris was sent packing in Tampa, a few more jobs opened up in NFL offices and a few quite surprisingly stayed shut.  I want to focus on them specifically so let’s run them down one by one:

Chargers:  The biggest surprise of the day was that Norv Turner will wake up this morning as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers.  If you hear talent evaluators and scouts talk about the job that AJ Smith has done in building the Chargers from perennial doormats to one of the elite teams, you’d think this team won a few championships.  Yet that’s the chatter among folks in the know:  the talent is there to win it all.  And that would lead one to believe that its the coach’s fault.  Right?  Wrong.  Apparently Norv has earned ONE FINAL shot at winning a new contract and it doesn’t necessarily mean winning a championship.  The Chargers are a very good team and over the final month showed that by playing well.  The regular season finale showed everything you needed to about the Chargers: their offense was clicking and yet the Raiders still had a chance in the end to win it.  The biggest problem the Chargers have is their head coach.  I’ve always felt that Norv Turner running an offense and Norv running a team are two totally different people and one easily out paces the other.  Some guys just can’t do the head coaching thing and it doesn’t take anything away from the offensive genius that Norv has, I’m just saying that perhaps the man would be better served wearing just that one hat than say the coach’s hat too.

Eagles: As surprising as the Chargers retention of Smith and Norv was, I wasn’t surprised by Andy Reid being given one more chance.  The shortened training season and programs limited the ability of Juan Castillo to install his defense and for Jim Washburn to install his wide 9 scheme.  But look at the raw numbers and the final 6 weeks and a different Eagles team started to emerge.  A team more confident and a team capable of scoring and playing with anyone.  Yes, the competition wasn’t all that but a team sometimes just needs to build confidence and say the Giants lost to the Jets and then the Cowboys beat the Giants in week 17, the Eagles would be hosting a playoff game.  Yes, as awful as that team played throughout the first 2 months of the season the Eagles still had a glimmer of hope heading into the final two weeks.  But there was just too much “unacceptable”-ness that couldn’t be ignored.  Reid’s decision to make Castillo, a former offensive line coach into a defensive coordinator was a dubious one.  The organization built a championship caliber defense to go with its high octane offense but I kept telling people that the offensive line was going to be a problem and it led to Vick getting injured and spending a ton of time on the side line.  The Eagles were plagued by mental errors and that falls on the coach’s lap.  Most of his decisions back fired on him during this season where all the expectations were that he not only make it to the playoffs but have a deep run.  None of that materialized.  Even in a very mediocre year for the NFC East, the Eagles with all that talent couldn’t win the division which is an upset in it of itself.  The next order of business will be to figure out what to do with Juan.  Hist last few games have been impressive and perhaps giving him a full offseason to help his players understand the scheme and the coverages may be of use.  BUT, Steve Spagnuolo, the former Eagles defensive coach is out there and there’s a rumbling among Eagle fans to retain him as the defensive coordinator a post he wanted a few years ago but was apparently held back by Reid which led to some tense times in Eagle land and eventually led to his emergence in New York as a Giant and a Super Bowl trophy.  The Eagles have plenty of tough decisions to make but make no mistake, the real unacceptable part will be this time next year if the Eagles are again left out of the dance, and Reid is looking for a lifeline: do NOT expect it from Jeff Lurie.

Bears: I agree with Dan Pompei- its tough to assume that the new GM and Lovie Smith will get along but there’s no denying that had Matt Forte and Jay Cutler NOT gone down with injuries the Bears would’ve been in the thick of things.  They were 7-3 and then Cutler and Forte went down.  I see them winning at minimum two of the games they lost.  They definitely beat the Broncos and they definitely beat the Chiefs.  That’s a 10-6 season and a wild card berth.  There were certainly holes and as Peter King pointed at the offensive line as a mystery that Jerry Angelo could never solve.  His draft record was poor and aside from Matt Forte, he didn’t draft a game changing star since trading for Jay Cutler.  But the biggest black mark was that Sam Hurd signing.  I don’t agree with it but Hurd’s arrest and charges and the fact that Angelo was accused of not doing a thorough background check may have been his undoing.  Bringing too much negative publicity may have been the final straw and there are several personnel moves that make you scratch your head.  That coupled with the fact that the Lions and Packers are teams that have been built from within and have the ability to have sustained excellence the Bears HAD to make a move to get on the boat of doing the same and bringing in a person who can draft well and help to build the core of the Bears from within.  That I feel was the biggest dilemma for the Bears who, like the Colts have masked a lot of their problems through scheme (Mike Martz also got the door) and great QB play.  The Bears had a decent team and aside from those two injuries to their most prominent offensive pieces, the Bears had very little shot of having a run with Caleb Hanie.  Lovie’s refusal to sit Hanie though was kind of odd and could’ve been the catalyst for his own firing.  Donovan McNabb may have helped the Bears a bit though even he would’ve been a long shot to cure the Bears considering their offensive line was just NOT any good.

Then there’s the decision that will REALLY make this offseason interesting.  The Indianapolis Colts fired Bill and Chris Polian Monday and owner Jim Irsay is setting the tone for a rebuilding year.  If that’s the case the Indianapolis Star’s Bob Kravitz says that means Andrew Luck will be the Colts QB in 2012 and Peyton Manning will be elsewhere.  Alex Marvez of FoxSports says that the best case scenario for the Colts would be that Peyton Manning’s neck isn’t healthy and it makes it easy for the organization to cut ties with the future hall of famer.  If not, there’s a major decision in the hands of a new GM.  Judy Batista of the New York Times says that the change was more of a cultural change as the Polians seemed to be outshining even the head coach Jim Caldwell who was spared the axing.  The decision on Caldwell will rest with the new GM.  

The Peyton Manning decision will be the most interesting personnel decision made by any one team that I can remember.  Imagine a QB with two or three more years of elite level at the quarterback position hitting the open market for teams to take.  Let’s take a look at the 12 teams that made the playoffs this year.  Out of the 12, 6 of them could use an upgrade immediately.  Imagine the Ravens with Peyton at the helm.  Imagine the 49ers with Peyton under center.  The Broncos may have Tebow magic but Peyton Manning could deliver them victories.  The Texans with Manning passing to Andre Johnson?  That’s Super Bowl worthy.  Then you open him up to owners like Daniel Snyder who has already said he would hand Peyton a blank check and let’s be real, he would and give him anything he wants.

But what about his legacy as a Colt?  In my estimation it wouldn’t suffer.  Look, this is a part of the business of football.  Teams are better off running superstars out of town a year early than a year late because of the propensity of injury in this sport.  The QB position especially is difficult.  Unfortunately the Colts won’t even be able to take advantage of having Peyton in the line up.  The Colts have until March 1st to make a decision on Peyton.  That’s the day that he’s owed a huge roster bonus upwards of $20 million.  His salary cap number will be a ridiculous $28 million which would be at the very least 1/6th of the teams’ cap number making it impossible to make additional roster changes.  The decision with the head is to finally cut Peyton Manning though it sounds harsh.  Its the right move for the organization that needs to look to its future and by firing the Polians they did just that.  We dont know what the Polians would’ve done had they been in charge of making that decision but Jim Irsay paved the way for a change.  Its something that had to be done.

Let’s not think that by any measure this is an easy decision.  Yes, Peyton’s neck surgeries the last few years are a troubling trend.  Yes, he’s getting older.  But his absence showed you how absolutely top heavy this team is in terms of production and play.  Without Peyton they are a doormat, a 2-14 disaster.  Its a result of bad drafting that has left this team woefully thin at several positions.  The Colts need to move forward and regardless of where you are as a fan, the right move is to release Peyton Manning so the Colts can build this team up the right way and give Andrew Luck a chance in the coming years to lead a good team.  If he’s as advertised if you build a solid offensive line, and get some more weapons along side Pierre Garcon (Reggie Wayne is most likely leaving and hopefully Austin Collie stops being concussed) the Colts can rebuild this team back in a division with the Texans who always have one reason or another why they can’t run away with the division.  Then there’s the Jags who are in rebuilding mode and are years away without a franchise QB at all.  Then there’s the Titans who are the second or third best team in the division depending solely on Indy’s play.  Again, this decision WILL NOT be easy but its necessary that the Colts look to the future and NOT hold on to the past.

Meanwhile the local football team in the playoffs, the Giants are looking at their battle tested schedule and wondering if they could take the 49ers and the Packers to the brink, why can’t they make a run?  Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News gets the players pulse.  Tom Rock of Newsday says that Antrell Rolle after giving props to Tom Coughlin continued the respect train and it stopped at the doorstep of fellow safety Deon Grant who sat him down and got him to be himself.  Osi Umeniyora played Sunday but suffered a setback on the high ankle sprain.  While he’s expected to miss some practice time do not expect him to miss the first playoff game in Metlife Stadium.  Mike Vaccaro says that the Giants can turn the volume up and bring some life to Metlife Stadium.  Paul Schwartz of the New York Post says that Giant fans shouldn’t compare any run the Giants may have with the one in 2007.  

Its interesting that Mike Vaccaro brings that up because the Giants in 2007 relied on a road reliable team to cruise into the Super Bowl.  The Giants rallying cry was road warriors and its been over 10 years since the Giants had a home playoff win so the Giants are overdue.  Its also interesting that the similarities between eerie events happening that year and the events of this year.  The Giants would love this team to author a similar ending and surely there is no super duper team that has no weaknesses that it would be the height of improbability that the Giants walk into their home this season and win BUT the Giants have a few glaring differences.  That team’s offensive line and running game were stout, both of which are concerns heading into the playoffs.

The Giants would have a similar up hill climb with the Saints being a very difficult task since the Giants would likely have to face them in the SuperDome where they are 8-0 this season and they are 10-0 in domes overall.  The Giants however have a passing attack which features Victor Cruz.  My biggest key going into the Falcon game will be how Nicks handles it.  Nicks is the unquestioned number one regardless of the feel good story that Cruz is.  Nicks is the move the chains/Plaxico guy who can make big catches and having both of them going at the same time would do wonders for this team and afford HUGE holes for the offensive line to work with.

The Giants need the defensive line to play lights out over the next month in order to have any chance to move forward.  If they don’t play well the secondary will get lit up.  Not a maybe, it WILL get lit up.  The pressure is on the defensive line to cause pressure and force mistakes.  The Giants will need all the help they can get.

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times believes that the Yankees are saving their cash to spend big next winter when guys like Matt Cain and Cole Hamels may wind up as free agents.  

The name to keep in mind is Matt Cain.  Cole Hamels will be retained by the Phillies barring some major malfunction on the organization’s thinking.  The Phillies have a ton of money tied up in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay (two worthwile contracts even at THAT price), but not retaining your home grown under 30 ace like pitcher would be the height of stupidity and the antithesis of how the Phillies have operated under Ruben Amaro Jr.  Cain however remains with the Giants, a team who will have to pay HUGE bucks to Tim Lincecum and will try to tie up Buster Posey (if they are smart) and I dont know where they are willing to go payroll wise but they would have to crack the $100 million barrier to afford both and I dont know that the Giants want to sustain that kind of payroll for multiple seasons which will eventually be what they have to do in order to keep the nucleus together.  Look, the Yankees were smart NOT to invite CJ Wilson to their facility for a try out.  Its clear the Yankees do NOT want to be used to drive up his price EVEN if it benefits them by making a fellow contender spend more but the Yankees are only going to gain an ace by trade.  My guess is that the Yankees somehow pry Felix Hernandez loose from the Mariners UNLESS Prince Fielder decides to sign in Seattle.  Seattle CAN operate as a big market club but are being built through the minor leagues by Jeff Zdiruneck.

My guess is that the Nationals sign Prince Fielder.  The Mariners trade Felix to the Yankees  for multiple pieces (start with Jesus Montero AND Dellin Betances and perhaps Gaby Sanchez) which IS the right move for both teams and the Yankees STILL don’t win a world series.  Look, I’m no Mayan but I’d be lying if I told you I thought the Yankees can expect to find another Freddy Garcia AND Bartolo Colon to offset their lack of pitching depth.  You know what you got in CC Sabathia (workhorse ace) and in AJ Burnett (5.00 ERA) and at some point in time the Yankees can expect Mariano to drop off in production though I would NEVER bet against the greatest closer in the history of the position.  I expect a slightly down year from Curtis Granderson.  I expect Robinson Cano to have an MVP year next year.  I expect the slow regression of the captain and Alex Rodriguez to continue and for Manny Banuelos to have a decent rookie campaign.  I even predict he makes the team from the outset of the season.

Finally, before quitting the blog for the day, Lynn Zinser of the New York Times talks about the repercussions for Santonio Holmes quitting on his team.  Now that Rex Ryan has been shut up for good, everyone else is doing the talking and its not complementary.  Mike Lupica of the Daily News calls Rex and the Jets the joke.  Brian Costello of the Post says that Mark Sanchez during an interview with 1050 ESPN took full responsibility for trying to make things right with Santonio Holmes.  Roderick Boone of Newsday said that Rex vowed to spend more time with the offense.  

Lynn hit the nail right on the head.  Often times when players are making certain decisions during the heat of the battle they rarely think about its consequences.  They give in to their emotions and let them  take control.  Holmes wanted the football.  He didn’t get it.  He pouted.  But the setting for that was the problem.  The season was on the line and as it turns out, the Jets COULD HAVE made the playoffs had Holmes kept his head in the game and made plays to help the Jets win the game.  BUT, what can’t be ignored is that Holmes criticisms have some merit.  The offense has stunk for some time now but at least over the last two years when the Jets went on extended runs they had some sort of identity:  they were a run-oriented offense.  They went away from that slowly with Holmes’ acquisition and Plax this year but to do that in addition to cutting several veterans who would’ve provided leadership in the locker room was a recipe for disaster.  Add that to the fact that the training camps were cut short by the lockout and the team had very little time to get acclimated to the new system the Jets were setting themselves up.  By the time they tried to revert back it was too late.  They had squandered too many games and another year out of a great defense.  The Jets face a tough question but my choice would be to keep Santonio.  The Jets need to bring in a QB to really challenge Sanchez.  You want to see your franchise guy man up and win a QB competition straight up which is why throwing money at Matt Flynn is a good idea.  Of course if Peyton Manning comes into play you could make a run but with the Jets current cap situation he would have to take a lesser deal to come to the Jets though he may want to do that with how close the Jets are and the chance at playing Tom Brady twice a year.  But who knows, right now Mark Sanchez has to do what he can to reclaim that locker room because he’s NOT a leader that can voice his opinions.  Santonio had NO RESPECT for him and thus missed meetings that he tried to set up.  That kind of insubordination deserves a huge presence by Rex who needs to give up this idea and belief that he can coach anybody and focus on putting together a good team not necessarily the most talented one.

The Jets were once a team and I think most players would love to play for a coach like Rex Ryan who wears his emotions on his sleeve but Rex needs to take a step back and assess exactly what went wrong.  My opinion?  Get rid of Schotty if you are going in a different direction at the QB.  IF you get Peyton ax Schotty and get a decent offensive coordinator to take his place.  I would pray that Schottenheimer gets the Jaguars job which is apparently open.  The fact is, the Jets need help in the locker room which wasn’t the case until this year.  Either way, they want their players to quit the baby act and not quit on themselves.

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Daily Rounds 12/12/2011

First off let me apologize for yesterday’s second part not being put up.  Unfortunately technology let me down and erased my entire 2200 word post as I was finishing it up.   Not too proud of that but hey, in this business you move on to the next one and here we are.  More NBA.  More player movement.  More on the Ryan Braun positive test front.  But first we begin with football and boy is there a lot to talk about.

In a must win game that was essentially for the season and keeping their playoff hopes alive.  The Giants were down 34-22 with 5:41 left in the game.  The Giants scored two touchdowns and a two point conversion to go ahead 37-34 with :46 left.  Romo helped drive the Cowboys the length of the field setting up Dan Bailey for a game tying field goal.  He had hit two from 40+ deep already in the game.  He kicked it, and it went through….only, Tom Coughlin called the timeout prior to the kick and so the Boys had to kick it again.  Wouldn’t you know it, Jason Pierre Paul gets his long arms on the ball on the second kick and the Giants end up winning the game 37-34.  Mike Vacarro says JPP deserves a lot of the credit for this win.  Tom Rock of Newsday says its no wonder Brandon Jacobs had his best game of the season against the Cowboys: he hates them.  Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star Telegram found out that not even Tony Romo’s 4 TD 0 INT game could save the Cowboys from its porous defense.  

Forget arm chair analysis.  Forget Monday Morning QB.  The Cowboys AND the Giants defense were clueless and giving up yards in bunches.  Eli Manning threw for 400 yards.  Romo threw for 321.  Eli threw for 2 TD’s and 1 INT, and Romo threw 4 TD’s and 0 Int. The Giants rushing game had 110 yards, and the Cowboys had 139.  The Boys gave up 510 yards and the Giants gave up 444 yards.  This was not for defensive purists.  Two times you saw the Giants and Cowboys with defensive lapses leaving receivers wide, wide, wiiiiide open.  But when both defenses needed plays only ONE guy from either side stood out and he wore Giants blue Sunday.

Jason Pierre Paul was a man amongst boys yesterday in so many ways.  Let’s count how many game changing plays he had ok?  He had a safety on Tony Romo.  He had two sacks that forced the Cowboys to punt on both occasions.  Six tackles including a critical stop on second down on Felix Jones which forced the Cowboys into a critical third down.  His pressure on that next play made Romo throw a hurried pass that JUST, and I mean JUST miss Miles Austin.  When I tell you that the game is over if Austin catches that pass, I mean it, he was led perfectly, he had four yards on Aaron Ross and if he catches it, he’s gone.  Touchdown.  Game.  Season.

But the pass dropped two yards in front of Austin’s outstretched arm because of Romo being hurried.  Because of JPP’s pressure.  Then on the game tying field goal, after icing the kicker, JPP comes right through the middle and blocks the FG attempt.  What an amazing play.  What an amazing game.  What an amazing player.

On the same field with Justin Tuck, DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, the best player on the field was a young second year player who JUST started playing the game five years ago.  Not professionally, I mean started playing the game of football.  He’s doing this all from pure physical talent.  Once he learns scheme and the little tricks that all the greats know, this kid is going to be among the best in all of football, earning annual trips to Hawaii.  If he didn’t earn it with yesterdays game alone, I dont know what you have to do, to get it.

Most of the narrative this morning will be on Eli’s come from behind heroics as it should be.  The Giants have had little to no running game.  The Giants defense has given up points in bunches.  The stress on Eli to make plays and correct decisions has gone way up this year and he’s responded with the kind of game that you didn’t expect as a Giant fan.  Why?  Because you’ve seen the throws like the one that got intercepted by Sean Lee, the ones that leave you scratching your head and wondering WHAT Eli saw.  Some of the playcalling was questionable as well.  How many times did they run that draw play to little to NO success?  But Eli made some terrific throws including on a 3rd and1 in the fourth quarter, he lofts a pass off his back foot (traditionally a troublesome thing for ANY Giant fan and had me screaming NO ELI NOOOO) which make its way to Victor Cruz who somehow, someway knows where to be when Manning needs him to be there.  I love the trust that he has in his receivers.  He’s been working Cruz into the game plan.  He goes to Manningham, and trusts him even after what could’ve been a critical drop.  Anyone miss Kevin Boss?  No, because Eli has built up Jake Ballard in much the same way.  Then there’s Hakeem Nicks who the Giants know is an elite receiver.  Eli picks and chooses when he goes to Nicks and you can see if he’s got one on one matchups with Nicks the ball is going to be up there and will find his way to him.  There’s a built in trust there and that’s what elite quarterbacks do.  No need to get into that conversation right?  I mean we can put that one to bed can’t we?  Ok good.

Now comes the bad.  Aaron Ross is a liability on the secondary.  Romo knew exactly WHO to pick on when it came to crunch time.  Prince Amukamara is still a liability.  He has the speed to keep up with fast receivers but he doesn’t have the scheme down yet.  Antrell Rolle and Deon Grant are both better when they are in the box making plays.  The Giants were missing Kenny Phillips who by definition is their best coverage safety.  But he’s their ONLY coverage guy in that group and he’s lost a lot of his elite speed thanks to a chronic Knee arthritis which will always have him lacking that speed.  The Giants front line need to do a better job on the run.  The Cowboys lost DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones, who historically has played the Giants VERY WELL, ran the ball up and down the field on them with nothing stopping him.  The Giants were not playing the run well at all much of the game and that’s a weak area.  They are so focused on rushing the passer that they open up lanes for runners and that’s problematic for this team.  They aren’t disciplined in their gaps and constantly leave gaping holes.  Let’s not congratulate the running game yet.  We’ve yet to see Brandon Jacobs run with that kind of purpose, though to the offensive line’s credit, a much maligned group, they opened up HUGE holes and Jacobs obliged to run through those lanes, but it was no surprise it was against the Cowboys, whom he HATES.  If you need any evidence you can just watch that video of his celebration.

It was funny watching that game because the Cowboys and Giants have so many similar issues its like looking in the mirror.  Its no wonder that both have the same record and have the same question marks moving forward.  Victory masks alot of the bad as Trent Dilfer said in the post game and that’s true.  Romo converts that third down with 2:12 remaining in the game and its all over.  JPP doesn’t make the block then we’re headed to overtime and who knows what happens there?  Either way, the Giants AND Cowboys have much to improve upon if they have any dreams of making a run in the playoffs.

Knowing they have to win out, the Jets can rest a little bit easier this morning as they got some help and now control their own fate.  The Jets bludgeoned the Chiefs 37-10 yesterday in what was their most convincing win of the season, next to that Jags game in week 2.  Mark Cannizaro of the Post says that Rex’s message was loud and clear.  Manish Mehta though reported after the game that Jim Leonhard was lost for the season with a knee injury marking the second consecutive season in which the very important member of their defensive secondary goes down.  

The Jets were comfortably out in front by the fourth quarter and yet for some reason Mark Sanchez was still in the game.  These are the moments where Rex scares me.  You have to know to TAKE HIM OUT.   The Jets also, opened the game by having the wrong personnel grouping and had to call a very embarassing timeout, six seconds into the game.  Something I had never seen before.

Those were the TWO negative things I took from that game.  The Jets played unbelivably.  The Chiefs had 4 yards in the first half.  Total.  Yep, you read it right.  The crazyness of that statement can’t be overstated.  The Jets defense was confident they would have their way with the Chiefs and they played that way and were able to win the game in the first half scoring 28 points, the first time they’ve done that in about 5 years.

The best part of this game?  Shonn Greene rushed for 129yards.  The Jets are undefeated when he goes over 100 yards which tells you that when Greene is going, the Jets are rolling.  He looks stronger and healthier than I’ve seen him all season and he seems to be getting better as the season wears on which bodes well for the Jets.  They are going to rely heavily on that running game much like they did for the last two post seasons and will depend on Greene to get those hard fought yards.  In the playoffs the Jets face rush defenses of the Steelers and Ravens who don’t give you yards, they give up inches.  Those are the times when the offensive line has to man up and right now they are manning up for the Jets.  Wayne Hunter had his best game of the season in my opinion.  Looks like Mangold is fully healthy and the Jets seem to be getting more conservative in their playcalling and working their offense through the running game.  Everybody knows about their passing weapons, once the running game gets rolling, those receivers will look MUCH more open.

Yes, Tim Tebow did it again.  Down 10 with more than 6 minutes left in the game, he drove them  the length of the field and got a touchdown.  Then a huge running gaffe by Marion Barber to get out of bounds which conserved time for the Broncos set Tebow up and Matt Prater made a 59 yard field goal.  Woody Paige of the Denver Post says that God’s plan continues.  The magic of Tim Tebow continues to grow, and its in Denver’s locker room where they believe they can’t lose says Mark Kiszla.  Want debate?  Here’s Frank Bruni of the New York Times wondering if God can win games and Chuck Klosterman of Grantland.com takes a look at the people who hate Tim Tebow.  

We’d like to believe that sports statistics can tell you a reason for everything.  Every stat purist, which is the in thing now in sports, and new stat purist believes that the numbers don’t lie. In fact ESPN has a show everyday with that moniker and in 99 out of 100 cases that’s true.  Meet the 1 case in which it isn’t.

Tim Tebow is THE most polarizing athlete of our generation.  Why?  Because he challenges our perception of everything we know to be true.  A QB with his mechanics CAN NOT succeed.  That’s what we’ve been told as ardent football fans.  3-16 through three quarters?  Overthrowing receivers by five yards?  Running a college style offense because your coach doesn’t really believe in you?  The critics of Tebow are many and they are all based on reason.

We can’t find a reason to believe he’s going to be successful.  But how to explain those fourth quarters?  You can’t.  You can’t explain why Marion Barber steps out of bounds.  You can’t put into numbers how you absolutely knew heading into overtime that Chicago had absolutely NO CHANCE of winning that game.  You can’t put into words why you felt confident in Matt Prater hitting that 59 yard field goal.  You can’t tell people why you knew that Barber was going to fumble that ball when they were in field goal territory already.  If you saw that play, if Barber breaks free that tackle which he was close to doing, he’s going to the house.  Done.

But the Broncos believe in Tebow.  The world believes in Tim Tebow.  Somehow receivers get open in the flat and get to go out of bounds.  The Red Sea opens up and pushes these players to play harder than they ever have.  That catch by DeMayrius Thomas was unbelievable.  There are no numbers that do this man justice.  There’s only the result on the field.  7-1 record.  Six straight victories.  Another fourth quarter comeback.  Look at John Elway.  During the first five weeks of this he was firmly against the Tebow momentum that was building.  These last three he’s been firmly aboard.  He’s hi-fiving and smiling and wondering exactly what he did to deserve this fate.  You can’t explain to anyone exactly what is going on with Tim Tebow, but what you can do is say you’re having a great time doing it.

Will Carroll of SI.com and author of the book “Juiced” explains in wonderful detail why the Ryan Braun positive dope testing must be taken with a grain of salt. 

Sunday, when everyone found out the usual statement came out from the Braun/Brewer camp: be careful to judge.  As Will explains, the positive sampling could’ve just been a trigger as part of  the B testing.  We must know if the A testing had a positive test to make the report even true.  As he explains an “A” test positive would trigger further, deeper look at “B” testing which would then be unequivocal.  There were reports coming out that Braun’s tests were OFF THE CHARTS positive which would be damning to him.  Alarming for the reigning MVP.  Braun’s reputation is basically smoked if the aggressive appeal that his camp is preparing doesn’t go through.

But in the court of public opinion, its over.  They have decided.  Braun is guilty.  And no matter what comes out next, even a sliver of doubt will hover over his career.  Its sad that a mistake could’ve cost him this.  Putting supplements that even he had no idea what was inside of them, into his body was a bad idea and may have cost him his reputation.  Its sad, but unfortunately in today’s day and age, an initial positive is a HUGE permanent negative.

On the heels of this morning’s news that the Clippers have submitted a multiplayer deal to the league with the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN writes that fate is changing in Clipper land but it all depends on what the Clips can stomach in a deal and if Paul will opt in on an extension for one more season.  The Lakers meanwhile completed their deal to send Lamar Odom to the Mavs, but the compensation was interesting and something that made Kobe VERY unhappy according to Mike Breshnahan of the LA Times.    Kevin Ding is still wondering why they traded Lamar Odom, oh wait that’s right, its the money.  Meanwhile in Orlando, Dwight Howard appears to be pulling a power move and he isnt happy that his suggestions weren’t heard according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

I’ve held on to the belief that the Clippers HAD to make a move.  For either Dwight OR CP3.  For the sake of keeping Blake long term they had to prove they were serious.  They are.  Oh boy they are.  This deal that includes PG Eric Bledsoe, former All Star Center Chris Kaman, Al Farooq Aminu, and most importantly the unprotected first round pick of the Minny-Ha-Ha Timberwolves as Peter Vecsey lovingly calls them is a deal that NEEDS to be made.  Of course the caveat and catch here is that CP3 opts into his final year.  That’s the deal breaker and we’ll see how badly CP3 wants to leave and how much he’s in love with Southern California and the obviously talented young nucleus of the Clippers who on promise alone offer more than the Lakers ever did.  The Lakers offer a legacy, star power and tradition.  The Clippers meanwhile have a history of being morbid and terrible.  A history that this team can change and that has to be alluring for any competitive person.  Unless you’re Lebron James and you just decide to bolt your hometown who’s been sick for ANY kind of title since the Paul Brown days.  But I digress.

The Dwight Howard situation seems teneable.  He wants to go to New Jersey.  Go figure.  But the Lakers pulled a move to get a first round pick and a trade exception which would allow them to swallow a contract of say a Hedo Turkoglou.  Now its on Otis Smith’s lap.  The offer of Brook Lopez and two first rounders or Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and a first round pick for Dwight and Hedo’s bad contract.  I dont know that the Lakers automatically send both but its possible now that Gasol and Bynum know they are expendable in the Laker’s eyes.  IF the Lakers don’t do this trade and wind up with them on the court, trust me when I say this will come back to bite them in the ass.

Phil Jackson famously punched Gasol in the chest, openly questioning his heart without ever uttering a word.  Now Gasol is going to have to man up and realize that this is JUST a business.  An interesting option that was opened up by the Chicago Tribune yesterday is the chance that the Bulls tell the Magic to pick any grouping of players not named Derrick Rose.  Would Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and a first round pick be enticing enough?  Would they have to include Omer Asik?  Probably.  But if you’re the Bulls, don’t you do that trade?  There are rumblings that Dwight wouldn’t resign there so there is that problem.  Without any assurance of that happening how can the Bulls ever truly think they could keep him.

Also the problem with Howard’s request to move to Brooklyn via New Jersey, is that Deron Williams has openly stated he plans on opting out and testing free agency.  Suitors like his hometown Mavs will have cap space now to pursue him and that would be a very enticing option for Deron.  Why would Dwight go to New Jersey knowing that there’s a chance that they don’t resign Deron?  Which means that Dwight will be a free agent at the end of the year.

My prediction?  Dwight doesn’t get traded.  Lakers DO trade Pau Gasol for picks, young players and cap relief and try to win with Kobe and Bynum (no chance of that happening) and then reload next summer.  Dwight would love to come to LA as most predict but who knows what can happen.  What I do know is that the Clippers NEED to do something to combat their current legacy which stands as a major roadblock against them.

Its wait and see time.

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Sports Round up 12/05/2011

So many stories to begin with but to start it all off, a New York superstar is now leaving his nest for beachier pastures:

Rights Reserved to Metsblog.com

The Jose Reyes era in a Met uniform is (un)officially over.  According to reports that began popping up last night, the former Mets shortstop had apparently agreed to a 6 year $106 million contract.  And here are the opinions flowing in first from John Harper of the Daily News who says the Mets were justified somewhat in letting Reyes go.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post says now the job of Sandy Alderson will be to repair the image of the Mets.  Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald says move over Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes is here.  Finally the voice of Met fans, Matthew Cerrone of Metsblog.com gave his opinion about why this sucks.  

They say its always darkest before dawn.  Ok fine, so that was a line from the Dark Knight.  But it holds true.  Here are the facts:

1. The Mets knew him better than anyone else.
2. They were never going to guarantee that sixth year so the Marlins knew what it would take for them to absolutely score Jose Reyes.
3.  The Mets were virtually transparent throughout this whole process about their lack of immediacy to move on resigning their superstar.
4.  The Mets are broke and this was eventually going to happen and the Met front office played this perfectly to reflect on that.

Those are the indisputable facts of this.  I disagree with Harper who believes that Jose will NEVER be better than he was last year.  I think he has the potential to be the guy everyone was gushing over from 2006-2009 and then again last season.  He’s a speedster capable of stealing 60 bases a season.  He’s the prototypical top of the order bat.  He can hit for average and has shown flashes of power.

But that injury bug had to worry Met officials and no longer is Omar Minaya and staff involved in negotiations where they would’ve certainly pushed for a Reyes resigning.  But Joel Sherman is right, in baseball senses, this is absolutely the right move.  Could the Mets have gone to $100 million?  Not likely.  So the Marlins knew that he wanted a $100 million deal and a 6 year commitment something that everyone knew the Mets were never going to guarantee.  Stories are coming out that some officials within the Met organization were scared to even guarantee 5 which apparently would’ve been the Met offer.  Of course we don’t know that because the Mets never gave him an offer which I find is the only indefensible thing about this whole process.  The Mets were never involved.  They never got up to make an offer.  They practically pushed him out saying they didn’t want to set the market.  They told him to come back with the best offer and then the Mets would then tell him if they were willing to compete with it.  All the Marlins had to do was put a desperate deal together that fit the rumored parameters of what he wanted and they knew they had their man.  This was so easy that the Marlins couldn’t have botched such a thing and they didn’t.  You knew they were desperate to make a splash with their new stadium being built.  The Mets and the front office never had any intention of matching any crazy offer.  Even the first 6 year $90 million deal that was reported, was probably something the Mets would not have matched had Reyes come back to them with that offer but Reyes and his agent never did, knowing that if they got over $100 million from practically the only team that was offering him a contract he would take it.  Now Reyes joins his homie in South Florida, Hanley Ramirez, who will not be thrilled to be shifting positions though it is the right move in baseball senses.  Ramirez is way too big to be playing shortstop anyway and a corner infield position is probably best for a guy losing his lateral movement.  You put Reyes who has a cannon of an arm and the ability to make huge plays.

Its clear what the Marlins are doing.  They are building a Latino-emphasized team for a Latino fan base to embrace.  Their move to Miami was about the money but their success will be predicated on how much they can depend on that fan base to come out.  Latin countries love their baseball, so fielding a team that caters to that fan base ONLY makes sense and financially they will need to begin filling up that park to justify their spending spree.  Either way, the Marlins got an excellent corner stone player and now will have to win and sustain a winner for a long time for the first time EVER in their history.

As for the Mets, I think Sherman is way too judgemental on the Mets for my taste.  Rebuilding their image?  The Mets have an image problem yes but THIS is not something that would rebuild it.  Met fans have to be realistic about their owners current financial situation.  Sadly, the owners have to be realistic too.  When I first heard about Reyes signing with the Marlins I was upset and ready to just blast the Coupons but I woke up calmer and with more understanding.  I realized one thing about this whole mess: Alderson has to face all the blame and all the questions surrounding this mess.  But the Wilpons, as long as their buddy Bud Selig is commissioner, has an enabler that will allow them to pay back their loans on their time and so financially they will be solvent for the foreseeable future.  Alderson is also the right play at GM.  He is a former Marine who can face all the questions about credibility with a stone face and give the politically correct answers back to a media who will want him to admit two things: the Mets are broke and the Coupon family is no longer able to carry the burden of fielding a big market team.  Unfortunately the Coupons will stay in ownership for as long as they like.  That Madoff judgement doesn’t look like it will leave them broke (in terms of rich people, so if the Madoff ruling took them for a large sum of money or whatever they were rumored to be paying, they wouldn’t be rich enough to own a sports team but rich enough to still be hundred times richer than you or me….isn’t that rich?) so they will be around and will expect you to come to the stadium and fill the seats.

Unfortunately if history is any indicator and if last season and the season prior are any kind of model by which to go on, believe you me, the Mets are in trouble more financially than anything Madoff could ever do.  The saving grace?  The Mets field a winner.  But first they will have to build a team.  Want to prove that you aren’t broke and that the Reyes decision was strictly smart baseball business?  Fine.  Spend that money you would’ve spent on Reyes back into the team.  Lets see you do that.  I doubt they will.  Sigh, the life and times of a Met fan.

Speaking of disappointments the Giants ALMOST came away with the upset of the year when they took the defending Super Bowl champs and current undefeated team and current MVP of the season Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to the wire .  Unfortunately there was :51 left on the clock and Aaron Rodgers needing ONLY to get into field goal range to clinch it and that he did.  Gary Meyers says the Giants gave their best effort and it wasn’t enough.  Mike Lupica says, nice try Giants.  

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In the end, they were the defending champs and the Giants were a reeling team fighting in desperation and showing their true colors.  Lets face it, since losing their secondary and much of their depth throughout the season the Giants have fought and clawed and been the antithesis of the Philadelphia Eagles.  They were not supposed to beat them and were not even supposed to be in the same league with them yesterday unless the Giants summoned a fight and resolve that had gone missing the last two weeks.  Shows how important Michael Boley is to a linebacker unit that was pretty much decimated with injury and lack of experience.  Then losing Osi Umeniyora and JPP for period of the game had to be troubling but the Giants kept fighting.  I said it prior to the game, if the Giants could get stops they would win the game because their offense could put up points.  But a killer pick six early on in the game came back to haunt them and then a phantom hands to the face penalty also kept a drive going for the Packers who eventually scored.  Tom Coughlin used up challenges and the Giants were absolutely terrible with time management last night.  He challenged two plays that had no chance of being over turned which left him with none.  No play after that looked like it needed reviewing to over turn but the Giants were fortunate.  However, this idea that the Giants were right to throw it on the first two downs when they were at the Packer goal to go situation in under two minutes to go is absolutely insane.  You don’t leave QB’s like Aaron Rodgers time like that to go the length of the field to kick a chip shot field goal.  The Packer offense is SO explosive and we all know that and yet the Giants mindset was to make sure they scored.  Well, the Giants know that should they run would they have necessarily gotten it in on first down?  No.  Second down?  Probably but not a certainty.  Then on third down you throw it up for Nicks to make a play on it.  That Nicks play was in their back pocket the whole time and yet Gilbride, the Giants OC, refused to go to it.  Leaving Aaron Rodgers with the time to do what he does best.

Those are the many negatives I take back from this game.  The positives?  Lets count them shall we?  The Giants played toe to toe with the best team in football and almost won.  The Giants finally showed some heart.  They had a lot of calls go against them but they remained composed and kept fighting.  Michael Boley and Ahmad Bradshaw reportedly stayed healthy throughout this game but we’ll know once the week progresses as to how they feel.  This looks eerily similar to the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007?  They will have to win out from here to ensure they win the division.  Even though the Lions and Bears (who look like they will be without Matt Forte which should effectively end their season) are reeling, the Giants still have to handle business on their end beginning in Dallas which I can assure you is MOST realistic.  Look, this was statistically and hypothetically the toughest schedule in the NFL in terms of games and the Giants were 6-2 heading into it.  They beat the Patriots, hung in there with the 49ers and almost won that game.  Played poorly against the Eagles and Saints and then looked rejuvenated against the Packers.  If they take yesterday’s attitude into their remaining schedule, Antrel Rolle’s prediction that the Giants and Packers will meet again WILL come true.  The Giants have to handle their business moving forward.  The G-Men can do this and now is the time for the famous Jim Fassel speech. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ab2pnlWkd4

The Jets went into Washington in basically Giant territory of win-it all and came away with a commanding 34-19 victory over the Redskins who’ve lost 7 straight.  Filip Bondy says Sanchize commandeered the Jets to victory.  Mike Vaccaro believes this could be the start of something huge for Gang Green.  

I’m not going to pretend like I saw this game from beginning to end.  Unfortunately the rigors of married life throw a monkey wrench into those things.  But what I did see, I saw Mark Sanchez and a game plan centered around trying to protect him.  I saw a close game up until about 5 minutes left in the game when Sanchez led a drive that culminated in a TD pass to Santonio Holmes which was as beautiful a pass as you’ll see perfectly lobbed over the defender’s head who Holmes had beaten anyway.  I saw the defense force a turnover immediately on hapless Rex Grossman.  I saw the Jets punch it in for insurance.

But I also saw more miscues on special teams and an offense that somehow could NOT trust Sanchez with anything more than a quick slant pattern.  The Jets are a terribly conflicting team but they have the elements of a defense that can be great.  They have the elements of an offense that has weapons there to be great.  Their special teams has been sloppy at best these last 6 weeks but they have the elements of a team that can make another run but they have the elements of a team that can and will give Jet fans heartburn and asthma attacks on the way.  Do I think the Jets are a Super Bowl contender?  No.  Do I think they can beat the Patriots?  OH YEAH.  The Pats are NOT unbeatable.  For that matter, the Pack are not unbeatable.  The Jets HAVE to play on top of their game though.  Giving teams like the Patriots those kind of turnovers will cost them.  Be thankful they were ONLY playing the Redskins.

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And the Broncos just keep winning.  Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post writes more so than the Tebow-factor, John Fox has quietly pulled ALL the right strings.  

Look, I can’t begin to explain to you how this Tebow thing is going.  I just know that its bigger than you, me, Denver or the great sport of football.  Its in that grey area that nobody can quite put their finger on.  The Broncos have now won 5 in a row and it should be written in the rulebooks of the NFL that if the game is close against the Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow is playing in that game, the game should be called because Tebow is going to do something that makes this liberal country get into the silly conversation about religion that has me tired even thinking about it.  Tim Tebow is amazing.  Tim Tebow is fantastic.  He’s a great kid.  You can say till your blue that his style of quarterbacking won’t get it done but the Broncos aren’t winning solely on the left arm and legs of Tebow.  Or his heart.  Its the defense and a coach, John Fox, that was given a QB that if you gave him a polygraph today would admit he didn’t want.  Now the Broncos and Tim Tebow are linked and no matter what John Elways says or does, barring a collapse and Tebow completely blowing games down the stretch, John Elway will be hard pressed to find an immediate successor for the Broncos QB job which up until two weeks ago even was open for applicants.

I know that Elway believes that Tebow can’t be a conventional QB.  But credit John Fox for realizing that early on.  The job of the head coach is to put the team in the best position to win and he has done that.  Fox’s coaching staff has protected Tebow within the confines of a system that he can win in while teaching Tebow the finer points of throwing the football and the system they are running.  Some of the throws Tebow has made have been exceptional including that sideline throw to Demairiyus Thomas who had a huge day for the Broncos.  BUT, the fact is that more than Tim Tebow, the Broncos have been putting together wins as a team.  At some point all the detractors have to realize that and just give up this ill fated discussion UNTIL Tim Tebow gives us a reason to.

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