Sunday, January 23, 2011

Conference Championship Weekend: 11 Things I Know I Know

1. I know this is about as crushing a defeat as I have ever suffered in my sports-watching career. The Jets had huge hopes entering the season, got off to a great start, and then struggled towards the end of the year before rolling off four victories in their last five games, including two in the playoffs. They got my hopes up coming into the AFC title game only to throw a stink bomb of a first half before trying to fight back late. Just brutal.
Now, in my conscious life (since I was five years old in 1988), my teams have never won a championship. The Jets, Mets, Nets, and Islanders are now a combined 0-for-89. Awesome.
2. I know Caleb Hanie must be regretting his decision to rock a mustache during his 15 minutes of fame. Really, Caleb, a moustache? We all know you had no plans to be seen or heard today, but anything can happen in the NFL playoffs. This should be a lesson. By the way, I'm giving Jay Cutler the benefit of the doubt with regard to his injuries. I trust if he was able, he would have been on the field.
3. I know that both Green Bay and Pittsburgh set the tone for the day with dominating opening drives. The Packers went down the field for a touchdown in five minutes while establishing the pass. It took the Steelers nine minutes to do the same while establishing the run.  Both of their respective opponents made valiant comeback efforts but could not recover after falling behind early.
4. I know it's not a good sign when your defense has a better shot of making an explosive, field position-changing play than your offense does. Unfortunately for Chicago, this was the exact case. While we are on the subject, Aaron Rodgers' tackle of Brian Urlacher on the interception was the key play of the game.
5. I know the Jets did not score an offensive opening quarter touchdown since Week Four. You can only come from behind so many times.
6. I know conference championship Sunday featured an incredible display of linebacking talent. Chicago had Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Green Bay countered with Clay Mathews, Desmond Bishop, and AJ Hawk. Pittsburgh had Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and James Harrison. New York offered Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and David Harris. Wow.
7. I know the sack/fumble of Mark Sanchez at the end of the first half was the biggest play of the game, but it could have and should have been avoided. With the Jets facing 2nd-and-17, they should have let the half expire. Instead, they rushed their second down play (an incompletion) setting up the sack/fumble and the game. It amazes me how often coaches botch end of half play-calling.
8. I know Todd Collins should not be in the NFL. Clearly Lovie Smith knows this too as he benched his backup quarterback after only two series. I just don't understand what those two drives told us that everyone in the organization didn't already know.
9. I know Jason Taylor should follow Collins out the door. It was an impressive 14-year run, but it's time to hang them up. Taylor failed to make any impact whatsoever in weeks.
10. I know Peyton Manning is a commercial whore. How else can he justify agreeing to dress up in bubble wrap shoulder pads while giving an interview into a bubble wrap microphone. Learn to say no.
11. I know the Packers will defeat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Green Bay's offense is nearly unstoppable (imagine if they had a solid running back), and their defense can shut down the passing attack of Pittsburgh. I'm taking the Pack and laying any number of points Vegas asks of me.
"11 Things I Know I Know" is my feeble attempt to trump the untrumpable's Peter King and his "10 Things I Think I Think" which happens to be my favorite article each week.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

2011: Hobby Tracker (1/22)

Three-team parlay: Phoenix (NBA) ML w/ Illinois (CBB) +3.5 w/ Villanova (CBB) +5.5. 25 to win 150.

Bankroll: 1022

At risk: 225 (wager above + fantasy basketball)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ranking the Offseasons: AL

These rankings - which are scaled to the league - are based on what has happened to each team since the final out of the World Series was recorded, including free agent signings, releases, non-tenders, trades, and retirements.
1) Boston Red Sox
Retained: RP Andrew Miller, DH David Ortiz, C Jason Varitek
Added: RP Bobby Jenks, RP Dan Wheeler, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford
Lost: SP Casey Kelly, C Victor Martinez, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Felipe Lopez, 3B Adrian Beltre, OF Reymond Fuentes
Recap: Boston signed the premier outfielder on the market and acquired one of the game's best hitters without having to sacrifice anything from their Major League roster. They did lose Beltre to the Rangers but after acquiring Gonzalez had no place to start him without having to move Kevin Youkilis to the bench.
Grade for 2011: A+. AGonz and Crawford should be worth five wins each, and the Sox should be disappointed with anything less than 98 wins in '11.
Grade Beyond 2011: B+. Although they dealt highly-rated prospects (read: not sure things) for him, AGonz will only be 28 on Opening Day. Crawford will be 29. They could easily form the nucleus in Beantown for the next seven years. They are docked points for having to surrender their first rounder in 2011.
2) Chicago White Sox:
Retained: RP Matt Thornton, C AJ Pierzynski, C Ramon Castro, 1B Paul Konerko, 3B Omar Vizquel
Added: RP Jesse Crain, RP Will Ohman, DH Adam Dunn
Lost: SP Freddy Garcia, RP JJ Putz, RP Bobby Jenks, OF Andruw Jones
Recap: The South Siders solidified the bullpen (addition by subtraction with Jenks) and added a run-producing DH that routinely crushes 40 homers per season.  
Grade for 2011: A-. This is my sleeper team in '11. If the pitching staff can hold up over the course of the season, they are the best value on the board to win the World Series (30:1).
Grade Beyond 2011: C. Giving Konerko a three-year deal (he'll be 35 on Opening Day) was a major risk despite his career year in 2010. They are docked points for having to surrender their first rounder in 2011.
3) Oakland A's:
Retained: 2B Mark Ellis, OF Coco Crisp
Added: SP Rich Harden, SP Brandon McCarthy, RP Brian Fuentes, RP Grant Belfour, OF Josh Willingham, DH Hideki Matsui
Lost: SP Justin Duchscherer, SP Ben Sheets, 3B Eric Chavez, OF Travis Buck, DH Jack Cust
Recap: The underrated Willingham goes to his third team (Marlins, Nats) that plays in a pitcher's park. Despite this, he still mashes to the tune of a 265 BA / .267 OBP / .475 Slg triple-slash. However, injuries have been his nemesis as he has never played in more than 144 games and hasn't been healthy for a full season since 2007. Oakland also strengthened the 'pen with Balfour and Fuentes. The gambler in me loves the pair of lottery tickets they bought in Harden and McCarthy.
Grade for 2011: B+. Cust was the only player they lost that contributed positively in 2010.
Grade Beyond 2011: B. The A's did not lock themselves into any foolish long-term deals. They went to two-years on Balfour and Fuentes, but I much prefer them to the three-year Rafael Soriano deal. They are docked points for having to surrender their first rounder in 2011.
4) Detroit Tigers:
Retained: DH Magglio Ordonez, 3B Brandon Inge, 3B Jhonny Peralta
Added: SP Brad Penny, RP Joaquin Benoit, C Victor Martinez
Lost: SP Jeremy Bonderman, SP Armando Galarraga, C Gerald Laird, OF Johnny Damon
Recap:  VMart will provide stability and switch-hitability in the middle of the lineup between Miguel Cabrera and Magglio. Benoit will be the bridge to closer Jose Valverde. Penny is a risk worth taking as a fifth starter.
Grade for 2011: B. In 2010, the Tigers' catchers triple-slashed an abysmal .223 / .294 / .330. Martinez's career numbers: .302 / .351 / .493.
Grade Beyond 2011: C. Giving Victor Martinez four years was risky since the catcher will be 32 on Opening Day - meaning a transition to DH will likely be in his near future. Not crazy about the three-year deal for Benoit, either. They are also docked points for having to surrender their first rounder in 2011.
5) Baltimore Orioles
Retained: RP Koji Uehara, SS Cesar Izturis
Added: RP Kevin Gregg, RP Jeremy Accardo, 1B Derrek Lee, 2B Brendan Harris, SS JJ Hardy, 3B Mark Reynolds
Lost: SP Kevin Millwood, RP Mark Hendrickson, 3B Miguel Tejada, 3B Ty Wigginton
Recap: Put simply, the O's got better. Unfortunately, they reside in a division home to the league's two biggest spenders and the league's smartest spenders.
Grade for 2011: B-. Reynolds will strike out a ton, but he'll also provide a power threat.
Grade Beyond 2011: B. Baltimore didn't rock the boat. The deal for Lee is only for one year, and they resisted whatever urge they might have had to overpay an aging veteran with "name" value (see Atkins, Garrett or Tejada, Miguel).
6) Texas Rangers:
Retained: C Matt Treanor
Added: SP Brandon Webb, RP Arthur Rhodes, C Yorvit Torrealba, 3B Adrian Beltre
Lost: SP Cliff Lee, SP Rich Harden, C Bengie Molina, OF Jeff Francouer, OF Vlad Guerrero
Recap: A really interesting winter for the American League champs. They basically swapped out Cliff Lee for Adrian Beltre, a reasonable move considering the money involved. I like the risk they took on Brandon Webb although the chances of it failing are at least eight times (very scientific) the chances that he returns to his Cy Young form.
Grade for 2011: B-. Lee is a workhorse and the responsibility of replacing him will need to be spread among either inexperienced arms (think Derek Holland) or aging vets (Webb). replacing Vlad won't be so simple either as he OPS+'d 122.
Grade Beyond 2011: B. If given the choice, I like the idea of giving huge money to a position player rather than a pitcher.
7) Seattle Mariners:
Retained: SP Erik Bedard
Added: DH Jack Cust, C Miguel Olivo, 2B Adam Kennedy
Lost: SP Ryan Rowland-Smith, 1B Casey Kotchmann, 2B Jose Lopez, DH Russell Branyan
Recap: A pretty ho hum offseason in the Pacific Northwest. They improve slightly at DH. They could also catch a huge break if Milton Bradley's arrest qualifies as a breach of contract.
Grade for 2011: C+. Status quo.
Grade Beyond 2011: C+. They didn't do anything dumb (like signing Chone Figgins) or anything really dumb (like trading Kng Felix).
8) Minnesota Twins:
Retained: DH Jim Thome, OF Jason Kubel (SP Carl Pavano: Pending)
Added: 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka, one first rounder, and five supplemental first rounders as a result of losing free agents
Lost: RP Jesse Crain, RP Brian Fuentes, RP Matt Guerrier, RP Jon Rauch, 2B Orlando Hudson
Recap: Losing four key performers out of the bullpen will hurt, but remember they get Joe Nathan back (hopefully). Nishioka will be a younger, cheaper, better version of Hudson.
Grade for 2011: C. This grade is based on Carl Pavano re-signing.
Grade Beyond 2011: B. The draft picks really soften the blow of losing some key performers out of the 'pen. Take this down a notch if they give Pavano anything longer than two years.
9) New York Yankees
Retained: RP Mariano Rivera, SS Derek Jeter
Added: RP Rafael Soriano, RP Pedro Feliciano, C Russell Martin
Lost: SP Andy Pettitte, SP Javier Vazquez, SP Dustin Moseley, RP Kerry Wood, RP Alfredo Aceves, 1B Lance Berkman, 1B Nick Johnson, OF Marcus Thames
Recap: The Yankees' offseason will be best known for what they didn't do: sign Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford. After missing on the big fish(es), GM Brian Cashman focused on solidifying a bullpen that was actually very good last season (3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.7 K/9) especially considering they played half their games in a bandbox. However, it cost them dearly - $30m for Rivera and $35m plus their first rounder for Soriano.
The Yanks also added Martin with the hope he could revive his career; he's only two years removed from a .280 BA / .385 OBP season, but it's rare to see a catcher bounce back once the inevitable decline begins.
Overall, there's not much to get excited about. They lost more talent than they acquired and both Jeter and Rivera are on the downswings of storied careers. With this roster they have right now and the lack of starting pitching depth, winning 95 games again this season will be a challenge
Grade for 2011: C-. Focus should have been on starting, not relief pitching.
Grade Beyond 2011: D. Despite talk of not wanting to sign a free agent that would require them to give up their first rounder, the Yanks signed Soriano and did just that.
10) Los Angeles Angels:
Retained: N/A
Added: RP Scott Downs, RP Hisanori Takahashi
Lost: DH Hideki Matsui
Recap: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. The story of every offseason in recent memory for the Angels. I detailed all of their "near" misses and still haven't been able to explain the lack of success in obtaining talent.
Grade for 2011: D+. Are Downs and Takahashi difference makers? At least they didn't lose any big names this year.
Grade Beyond 2011: C-. Giving Takahashi a two year deal when he will be 36 on Opening Day makes little sense. Giving Downs a three-year deal when he will be 35 on Opening Day makes even less.
11) Cleveland Indians:
Retained: N/A
Added: SS Adam Everett, OF Austin Kearns, OF Travis Buck
Lost: N/A
Recap: Being a fan in Cleveland right now is not enviable. I actually have no idea how the Indians plan to improve this season or beyond. Their three "moves" are all short-term fixes with very limited upside. A really bad offseason for the Tribe considering they won 69 games last year. In my mind, they have three players to build around: Grady Sizemore, Carlos Santana, and Shin-Soo Choo (two missed a large chunk of the year with injury). They need help.
Grade for 2011: D. A head-scratching offseason. It's almost like they aren't trying. Do something, anything. Buy out Hafner. Sign an international free agent. Come on.
Grade Beyond 2011: D. No discernable effort was made to improve the team leng-term either. Santana can't turn this ship around by himself.
12) Toronto Blue Jays
Retained: RP Jason Frasor, C Jose Molina, 3B Edwin Encarnacion
Added: RP Octavio Dotel, RP Carlos Villanueva, 2B Brett Lawrie, OF Rajai Davis, OF Corey Patterson, four supplemental first rounders, one second rounder as a result of losing free agents
Lost: SP Shaun Marcum, RP Jeremy Accardo, RP Scott Downs, RP Kevin Gregg, C John Buck, C Miguel Olivo, 1B Lyle Overbay
Recap: Toronto's moves this offseason were made with 2012 in mind. If you need proof, look no further than the brilliant move to trade for Miguel Olivo and offer him arbitration knowing he would decline, giving them a supplemental first rounder when he signed with the Mariners (he was a Type B free agent). Unfortunately, that won't help at all this year.
Grade for 2011: D. They lost their catcher, their entire bullpen, and their number two starter. Not a winning combo.
Grade Beyond 2011: B+. Lawrie plus picks should help immensely long-term.
13) Kansas City Royals:
Retained: 3B Wilson Betemit
Added: SP Jeff Francis, SP Jake Odorizzi, RP Jeremy Jeffress, SS Alcides Escobar, OF Melky Cabrera, OF Jeff Francouer, OF Lorenzo Cain
Lost: SP Zack Greinke, SP Gil Meche, SP Bruce Chen, SS Yuniesky Betancourt
Recap: They traded an established ace for four prospects (none of whom is considered "can't miss") and added two terrible outfielders. Hey, at least they brought back Wilson Betemit. Oh that's right, it's not 2002 (that whole list is pretty laughable right now).
Grade for 2011: D-. Talk about waving the white flag before the season starts. This team has about as much hope of contending as their pitching staff does of keeping their ERA below 5: none. A wasted season.
Grade Beyond 2011: C-. Greinke is only 27 years old and under team control for a reasonable price through 2012. Are they really better off trading him than they would be trying to convince him to stick around with all the talent they have coming up through the system? I still am unclear what the rush to trade him was all about unless he demanded it.
14) Tampa Bay Rays
Retained: RP JP Howell
Added: RP Joel Peralta, RP Chris Archer, C Robinson Chirinos, SS Hak Ju-Lee, OF Brandon Gruyer, three first rounders, seven supplemental first rounders as a result of losing free agents
Lost: SP Matt Garza, RP Rafael Soriano, RP Randy Choate, RP Chad Qualls, RP Grant Balfour, RP Joaquin Benoit, 1B Carlos Pena, SS Jason Bartlett, OF Carl Crawford, OF Brad Hawpe, OF Fernando Perez
Recap: This offseason will be known as the exodus. They lost their best player (and outfielder), their first baseman, their shortstop, their number two starter, their closer, and half the bullpen. I will venture to guess that no team in history lost more talent (Florida's firesales of the 90's notwithstanding).
Grade for 2011: F. Way too much talent lost.
Grade Beyond 2011: A-. The Garza trade netted them four decent prospects, and they will dominate the early part of the 2011 Draft.
The National League rankings will follow next week.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Illustrious Recent History of Denver Bronco RBs

With Laurence Maroney's arrest for weapons possession, my unofficial count of recent Denver Bronco running backs that have run afoul of the law hits 10: Maroney, Henry, Droughns, Bell, Pittman, Davis, Cobbs, Buckhalter, White, and Moreno.
Yup. Double digits. Ten running backs associated with the Denver franchise since 2000. That's incredible. Not quite the Bengals of the Rockies but they are creeping.
By know, we all know the sad Travis Henry story: 11 children by 10 different women (had it not been for unexpected twins in 2009, he would have been a "perfect" 10-for-10). He was released one year into a 5-year, $22.5m contract with the Broncos, subsequently failed some more drug tests, and then was nabbed as part of a drug-trafficking ring. He is currently serving a three-year sentence in federal prison.
Reuben Droughns was arrested in 2005 for DUI. He was also suspected of growing pot in his house, although I found no proof any charges were filed. 

Maurice Clarrett, Denver's third round draft pick in 2005, has made news recently with a semi-successful comeback. Of course, he was arrested for "aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon in connection with a holdup outside a Columbus bar" in 2006, but I guess we need to give credit were due.
Tatum Bell was accused of stealing former teammate Rudi Johnson's bags after Bell was cut from the Lions.
Michael Pittman was charged with aggravated battery after allegedly ramming his car into his wife's car while she was inside. His wife also claims he abused her physically at least 30 times.
According to his Wikipedia page, Terrell Davis "was named in the Atlanta's Gold Club federal prostitution, fraud and racketeering trial... Davis was never charged with any criminal wrongdoing. However, Campbell's Soups dropped him from their advertising shortly thereafter."
Cedric Cobbs was arrested for marijuana possession - among other charges - while a student at the University of Arkansas.
Correll Buckhalter was accused of being a client of a drug dealer by that drug dealer.  
LenDale White was cited by police for interference and resisting by police in Denver.
Knowshon Moreno was involved in a bar fight in Athens, GA, although no chargers were filed.
Enough is enough, John Elway. The onus is now on you to clean up this mess.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 NFL Mock Draft: Take One

1. Panthers: WR AJ Green, Georgia - Carolina picked a bad year to have the #1 overall pick because there is no consensus top selection. Jimmy Clausen cannot be the long-term solution, but is there a quarterback available that's without question marks? No, and franchises cannot afford to miss with the top pick at the position (see: Tim Couch, 1999; David Carr, 2002; Alex Smith, 2005; JaMarcus Russell, 2007).
To compound their problems, the team dealt this year's second round pick to New England meaning they won't select again until pick 65. They need an infusion of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and Green would provide just that. For my money, he's the best player available and would single-handedly change the look of the offense.
Crazy stat: In 2010, the Panthers averaged almost 40 passing yards less per game than the next worst offense.
2. Broncos: DE Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson - Julius Peppers 2.0? John Fox sure hopes so. Denver registered the fewest sacks in the NFL last season. They need to develop some type of pass rush. Bowers can and will help immediately in this area. They'll sprint to the podium to make this pick.
Crazy stat I: Bowers rushed for 1,200 yards as a senior in high school.
Crazy stat II: Bowers would be the first player born in the 1990's to ever be drafted.
3. Bills: DT Nick Fairley, Auburn - Fairley basically came out of nowhere - like the rest of the Auburn team. In 2009, he had 29 tackles (only 3.5 for loss). This season, he dominated college football. Despite being consistently double-teamed, Fairley racked up 60 tackles, 11 sacks, and 24 tackles for loss. His presence would only help a depleted Bills' defensive line which was shredded for a league-worst 170 yards per game. Another pick that should take about 15 seconds to make unless Buffalo is worried about these comments.
4. Bengals: DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina - Death, taxes, and the Bengals employing players with character issues. Life's only certainties. Quinn's off-the-field issues aren't as worrisome as some others have been (he accepted money from an agent and was forced to sit out the 2010 season), but is it a preview of things to come? Cincy better hope not because he has difference-making potential along the defensive front, and they had the league's fourth-fewest sacks.  
5. Cardinals: QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri - After the Derek Anderson-Max Hall-John Skelton fiasco, Arizona clearly needs to hand the reigns to a capable signal-caller. The team struggled mightily getting the ball to their best player, Larry Fitzgerald (and all other players for that matter). An average passing game would open things up in the running game. Truthfully, I am not convinced Gabbert can be a top tier quarterback in the league, but he would certainly be an improvement over the Holy "Crap I Can't Believe He's This Bad" Trinity.

6. Browns: DT Marcel Dareus, Alabama - Cleveland has to answer one question: is Colt McCoy the quarterback of the future? I would think new head coach Pat Shurmur thinks so or he wouldn't have jumped ship on Sam Bradford. So, the Browns can address the defensive side of the ball after giving up 129 yards per game on the ground last season. Dareus would look great next to Shaun Rogers...especially if you are into the 700lbs defensive tackle combo kind of thing.  
7. 49ers: QB Jake Locker, Washington - If anyone in the NFL knows Jake Locker's strengths and weaknesses, it's Jim Harbaugh who had to prepare for Locker in each of the his four seasons at Stanford. San Fran is desperate for a face of the franchise, and Locker seems like the ticket. he was a front-runner for the top pick of last year's draft before deciding to return to Washington. Can one year make that big of a difference?
8. Titans: QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas - If the statue known as Kerry Collins can have success in Tennessee, I think Mallett can too. He's lead-footed and struggles when flushed out of the pocket, but cannon arms like his don't come along very often. He will, however, be able to lean heavily on the league's best running back, Chris Johnson. The more I think about this, the more I like the fit.

9. Cowboys: CB Patrick Peterson, LSU - A dream scenario for Dallas would have either of the draft's top two cornerbacks slipping to them. In this case, they have the option to take either. Peterson has shutdown-corner potential and can immediately contribute in the return game, possibly taking some of the burden off Dez Bryant. The Cowboys have gotten progressively worse over the last three years against the pass (188 yards/game in 2008, 225 in '09, and 243 in '10). Peterson would help reverse the trend.   
10. Redskins: WR Julio Jones, Alabama - Yes, Cam Newton would be available in this scenario. No, the Skins will not take him. He's a younger - and better - version of Donovan McNabb, but we all know how that experiment turned out in DC. If they nab Newton, I'll run a marathon. And, unlike my boy Peter King, I'll actually do it if I'm wrong. Now, about Jones. He was All-Everything in high school, started from Day One at Alabama, and offers the downfield threat missing in Washington.   
11. Texans: CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska - At one point this year, Houston's secondary was called "the worst ever." I'm not sure if I would go that far, but they did allow the most passing yards per game by any team since 2005. In my mind, they should make a run at newly-minted free agent CB Nnamdi Asomugha and take Amukamara (and not only to drive the Texans' beat writers crazy trying to type these names every day). The two of them wouldn't cure all of Houston's ills, but it would help.
12. Vikings: QB Cam Newton, Auburn - Minnesota fans are fooling themselves if they think Joe Webb is the answer at the quarterback position. Newton, fresh off a Heisman Trophy, has lost two games in the past three years (one at Florida in 2008, one at Blinn College in '09).
13. Lions: OT Tyron Smith, USC - Priority #1 in Detroit has to be keeping QB Matthew Stafford healthy. Protecting him would be a good idea.
14. Rams: OG Mike Pouncey, Florida - Priority #1 in St. Louis has to be keeping QB Sam Bradford healthy. Protecting him would be a good idea.
15. Dolphins: RB Mark Ingram, Alabama - Far and away the best running back in this class, Ingram would seamlessly take over for the Ricky Williams-Ronnie Brown combo and help whomever lines up under center next season. It would not surprise me if Ingram ends up being popped in the top 10 picks. For my money, he's the best running back available in the draft since Adrian Peterson in 2007.
16. Jaguars: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa - The injury to DE Aaron Kampman was devastating as the Jags tied for the second-fewest sacks in the NFL last year. Clayborn, who had a bit of a down year, can invigorate the group.
17. Patriots (via Oakland): LB Von Miller, Texas A&M - New England had one of the league's youngest defenses this season, and it showed as they struggled on that side of the ball, especially against the pass. The easiest way to improve pass defense: get pressure on the quarterback. If Miller can do one thing, it's that.
18. Chargers: DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State - Heyward was the most dominant defensive end at Ohio State since Vernon Gholston. Let's hope he can have more professional success than his predecessor. San Diego registered the second most sacks in the league last season, but you can never have too many pass rushers (just ask the next team on the board).
19. Giants: LB Akeem Ayers, UCLA - Upgrading from Keith Bulluck to Ayers would boost the GMen defense into the league's top three squads. They already have the league's best defensive end combo, and their safeties are great. Ayers would allow defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (assuming he doesn't get hired away) to get even more creative with his schemes.
20. Bucs: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue - Last year, the Bucs solidified the DT position by taking Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their first two picks. Adding another piece along the defensive line will go a long way towards the Bucs improving a dismal sack total. 
21. Chiefs: OT Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin - Carimi would slide right into the starting right tackle position on Day One and help an already stellar Kansas City rushing attack. A perfect late first round pick.
22. Colts: OT Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State - Indy was forced to start three backup offensive linemen during their playoff game against the Jets. Sherrod can be the long-term solution for Peyton's blind side.
23. Eagles: OT Nate Solder, Colorado - Michael Vick took way too many hits this year. Many of them came when Vick scrambled, but if he had better protection in the pocket, he wouldn't have to scramble so often.
24. Saints: S Rahim Moore, UCLA - New Orleans' defense was torched against Seattle in the playoffs for 41 points. This was a Seattle team that averaged 19 points during the regular season. The main culprit: S Roman Harper. The safety position is in need of an upgrade and Moore is the best one in the class.
Crazy Stat: In 2009, Darren Sharper had nine interceptions. In 2010, the whole Saints team had nine interceptions.
25. Seahawks: DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State - At this point in the first round, Paea is simply too good to pass up. The Seahawks have offensive issues, but a run-stopping defensive lineman is invaluable.
26. Ravens: DE JJ Watt, Wisconsin - Surprisingly, the Ravens struggled to get to the quarterback this season. They recorded only 27 sacks, tied for fourth-worst in the league. Watt, possessor of the never-ceasing motor, would be a great fit.
27. Falcons: TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame - Tony Gonzalez's career cannot last forever. It's time to start grooming a replacement.
28. Patriots: WR Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh - After the despicable showing by New England's wide receiver corps yesterday, it's time to prioritize the position and land a true #1.
29. Bears:  DT Drake Nevis, LSU - Chicago fans should love the idea of Nevis and Tommie Harris stuffing the middle and shutting down the opponent's running game every week.
30. Steelers: DE Aldon Smith, Missouri - The Steelers love hybrid DE/LBs (see: Woodley, LaMarr and Timmons, Lawrence and Harrison, James). It makes sense since the hybrids have led the Steelers defense to three consecutive top-three finishes in sacks.
31. Packers: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College - Notice a trend here? Teams with franchise quarterbacks need to find the muscle to protect them. Every dollar spent keeping QB Aaron Rodgers clean is money well spent.
32. Jets: OG Ben Ijalana, Villanova - Damien Woody has had a great career, but his time is done and the Jets need to start grooming some linemen to take over. As they proved last year with their selection of Vladimir Ducasse, New York will not shy away from taking talented guards from smaller schools. Not a sexy pick, but a necessary one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Divisional Weekend: 11 Things I Know I Know

1. I know the two wide receivers - Anquan Boldin and TJ Houshmandzadeh - Baltimore acquired in the offseason to help get them over the hump were the two players that cost them when it mattered most. With under four minutes remaining, Boldin dropped an easy touchdown which would have given the Ravens a four-point lead. Instead, they settled for a field goal which tied the game at 24. With very little pressure on them (the game was tied and they had already battled back from 14 down), the Steelers came right back down the field and scored a touchdown.
After a big kickoff return, the Ravens faced a fourth-and-18 on their own 44 yard line with just over a minute to play. Joe Flacco threw a perfect pass to TJH only to see it slip right through his hands. Game over. Season over.
2. I know fans in Pittsburgh sitting at the 50-yard line hung a huge banner that read: "Zero (Steelers logo) Tolerance." Call me crazy, but didn't your franchise quarterback get suspended for the first four games of the season for allegedly sexually abusing a 20-year old college student? Yes, in fact he did. How quickly they forget.
3. I know Tramon Williams has ended two consecutive playoff games with huge interceptions. Williams intercepted Michael Vick in the end zone last week to seal Green Bay's victory over Philadelphia. This week, he intercepted the uber-underwhelming Falcons' QB Matt Ryan and returned it for a score as the first half concluded putting the Packers up by 14, completely demoralizing the Falcons.
Earlier in the second quarter, Williams intercepted Ryan in the end zone keeping the score tied at 14. For my money, he has been the postseason MVP so far.
4. I know that if there were a leaguewide redistribution draft today, Aaron Rodgers would be the first player selected. The 27-year old is in complete control - both of the offense and himself - at all times. He's working on back-to-back-to-back 3900+ yard seasons. He's durable (one game missed in the last three years), has a cannon, and he performs in the clutch. This postseason, he's 49-63 for 546 yards, six touchdowns, and no picks. Pretty decent, huh?
It wouldn't hurt having Erin Andrews around all the time, either.
Just for fun (or torture), here are some of the guys picked ahead of Rodgers - selected 24th overall in 2005: Alex Smith (first overall, San Fran); Adam Jones (sixth, Tennessee); Troy Williamson and Erasmus James (seventh and 18th, Minnesota); David Pollack (17th, Cincinnati); Matt Jones (21st, Jacksonville); and Fabian Washington (23rd). Whoops.
5. I know Saturday was a brutal night for Atlanta sports fans. The Falcons got walloped, 48-21 by Green Bay. The Hawks, 8.5-point favorites, lost at home against the Rockets, 112-106, and the Thrashers lost 6-1 at Dallas. I'm sure the Gold Club was busy, though, with all the athletes in town. So not everyone in the town lost after all.
Who else didn't lose? The Banter
6. I know Pete Carroll waved the white flag when his team was down 28-0 in the third quarter, and he attempted a field goal. Really, cutting a four-possession game to a...four-possession game is a good idea, how?
Let's play "what if." What if Seattle punches it into the end zone to make it 28-7 with 17 minutes to play. What if they cut it to a seven-point lead late in the fourth instead of an 11-point lead. What if.
7. I know the Jets backed up all of their trash talk, every single word spoken since August. Take a bow, Rex. Your boys did the impossible going into Foxboro and slaying the monster.
8. I know Tom Brady is 0-2 in his last two home playoff games. If everyone is going to give Peyton Manning a hard time, Brady deserves it too. Sure, he has the four Super Bowls to Manning's one, but Manning has never lost two consecutive home playoff games.
9. I know the Jets looked awful in only one facet of the game: fielding onside kicks. As a Jet fan, I will take that any day of the week because they looked incredible on defense, they looked competent enough on offense, and they are now a game away from Dallas.
10. I know Shonn Greene should have taken a knee at the one instead of scoring a touchdown with 1:41 remaining. By scoring, he gave the Patriots an opportunity to come back in the game. Had he taken a knee, the game would have been over.
11. I know the Jets and Packers will be playing in Dallas on February 6th, but if you read the Banter regularly, you would have known that since September 9th, 2010. J-E-T-S, Jets Jets Jets.
The Banter is seven-for-eight this postseason, missing only on New Orleans during Wildcard Weekend.
"11 Things I Know I Know" is my feeble attempt to trump the untrumpable's Peter King and his "10 Things I Think I Think" which happens to be my favorite article each week.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011: Hobby Tracker (1/15)

Two-team parlay: Rockets +8.5 w/ Packers ML. 25 to win 72.
Bankroll: $975
At risk: $225 (wager above + fantasy basketball)