Saturday, September 18, 2010

NFL Picks Week 2

JOCKpost has officially dubbed me their NFL picks guy, so my NFL picks articles will now be posted there. Here's the link.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brady or Manning? Kobe or LeBron?

The first week of the NFL season usually recreates the same stories.

1) Random player x has a huge Week 1, prompting premature talk of a breakout player - Arian Foster

2) Random player x suffers a season ending injury, severely hurting his team's chances of making a Super Bowl run - Kris Jenkins

3) Random team x defeats favored team y, validating the idiot who picked them. And his only reason was to seem smart when the unlikely scenario occurred - Washington Redskins over Dallas Cowboys, Gregg Easterbrook.

4) Bob Sanders gets hurt.

It's funny how the injuries of one man maim the perception of another. As is human nature, we always attempt to rank the best QBs. Yet in a team sport, this desire will always be in vain. Bill Belichick has stamped his defensive genius on Tom Brady and his career. We can praise Brady as much as we want for his quarterbacking ability, but its almost impossible to separate Bill from Tom. Meanwhile, Peyton sits on his lonely perch guiding the Colts offense to greatness while his defense sucks the life out of the "greatest QB of all time" argument.

When I started writing this article, I was planning to make some mildly entertaining observations about Week 1. But upon realizing that the entire world has already written/texted/tweeted/facebooked/emailed/said everything I had to offer, I stumbled upon an old episode of Around The Horn which lead me to the following question:

Why does the Brady/Manning argument exist?

It's the same as the Kobe/LeBron plight that everyone attempts to definitively resolve, even down to the nitty gritty details. We love Kobe's championship pedigree and winning mentality on the basis that he's won 5 rings. Ignoring the possibility that Phil Jackson, Shaq and Pau Gasol all equally contributed to the championships, we praise Kobe. If Kobe's Bill Belichick is Phil Jackson, then his Teddy Bruschi and Deon Branch are his Shaq and Pau.

Unfortunately for LeBron and Peyton, they've never had that worthy sidekick. For Peyton, defense has continually derailed him. For LeBron, it's that secondary offensive player. Only Peyton sniffed what could have been when his defense miraculously came together during his one Super Bowl season. But ultimately Manning and the Colts will never win more than 1 or 2 more rings because they will always lack every quarterback's trusty sidekick: defense. Yes, Peyton has offensive talent surrounding him and LeBron had a defense in Cleveland. But both lacked the final piece to complete their respective championship puzzles: a defense and an offensive sidekick.

To settle the most interesting and unsolvable question in basketball, Dwyane Wade will have to suffer a career ending injury. The new LeBron/Bosh Miami Heat will finally resemble a team that Kobe has been lucky to enjoy for the majority of his career. Give that new duo a 5 year reign together and the argument can have a resolution. But until then, the argument remains incomplete because the scenarios do no match. We can only judge what we see, and Kobe will always look more impressive, thanks to the Laker's superior front office.

The same goes for Peyton: Until his defense is up to snuff for multiple seasons, we cannot judge him against Tom Brady. Ironically, Brady can now fully understand his fellow QB's plight these last 13 years. Although New England's offense is loaded, their defense is not. While it may seem that a potentially valid comparison could emerge, we need a larger sample size for this new look Patriot team before any Brady/Manning comparison becomes legitimate.

So until these unlikely scenario's happen, let's lay off the Manning/Brady and LeBron/Kobe debates. It's unfair to both players to compare what cannot be compared.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

NFL Picks Week 1

Preseason has fallen from view, and the 18 game schedule discussion has officially lost its absurdly large head of steam. So let's move on to what matters.

Game picks (picks in bold).

Minnesota Vikings (+5) at New Orleans Saints

We've already seen this game. Same players, same location (well, take away Sidney Rice and Scott Fujita). Even though New Orleans won it on the scoreboard, Minnesota won it everywhere else. I'll go out on a limb and predict that Peterson and Favre will be able to control their inner turnover beasts for 60 minutes. If Peterson can control the clock on the ground (which shouldn't be a problem considering New Orleans' run defense reminds me of We Are Marshall at the beginning of the movie), Minnesota will win. One more important note about this game: Drew Brees is on the cover of Madden. Beware.

Carolina Panthers (+7) at New York Giants

We will discount last year's matchup considering the Giants were in a Ryan Leaf-like tailspin. As much as I like the Giants to win this game, I refuse to fall into the Vegas trap. On paper, this is a one-sided game. But 7 points puts a little more than a healthy dose of faith in the Giants, and not enough in John Fox. Especially when the "coach with his job on the line" factor looms over this game. It's important to note that this differs from the "I know I'm going to be fired regardless" factor which applies to Lovie Smith. The first is highly motivating, while the second is completely destructive. Lucky for Carolina, Fox has yet to move into Lovie Smith territory.

Miami Dolphins (-3) at Buffalo Bills

A 3 point spread for such an obviously lopsided matchup worries me. But not enough to side with Trent Edwards. Buffalo has quietly managed to avoid improving their team for at least 5 seasons in a row. Miami has followed the opposite trend, adding Brandon Marshall in the offseason. Meanwhile, Lee Evans wastes his career and fantasy potential in the freezing cold with no QB. What a shame. Even more of a shame since he's on one of my fantasy teams.

Atlanta Falcons (-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Unfortunately for Dennis Dixon, this team can no longer employ the "rally around the new QB" tactic because Big Ben's absence is nothing new. A healthy Michael Turner and a functioning Atlanta offense will spell trouble for the quietly aging Pittsburgh defense. And I did pick the Steelers to go 6-10. To avoid hypocrisy, I cannot change course and have faith in any team lead by Dennis Dixon.

Detroit Lions (+6.5) at Chicago Bears

If there were ever a sign that a rookie was destined for greatness, it was Ndamukong Suh's malicious and blatantly intentional hurling of Jake Delhomme. If there's anything that characterizes great defensive players, it's a nasty edge that instills fear in opponents. As much as coaches want to teach technique and footwork on the defensive line, a nasty attitude is 90% of the battle. And Suh has more of it than he knows what to do with. Anyway, about the game. A Mike Martz/Jay Cutler offense is asking for disaster. A timing based offense lead by a quarterback who has a penchant for interceptions is almost as bad as locking Big Ben in a bathroom with another 20 year-old-girl. At the end of the season, I'll be the one waiving goodbye to Lovie Smith saying, "I told you so."

New England Patriots (-4.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The Patriots are stronger than they appear. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo headline a young linebacking crew and defense. But if there's anything we've learned in the Bill Belichick era, it's that we should ignore any perceived personnel issues on defense. And now that Wes Welker is seemingly playing at full strength (which, by the way, is absolutely absurd. Another note: I hate the people who call Welker a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. He missed 1 1/2 games total last season), this offense could easily regain its record setting form. Match that with the hype machine that defines the Cincinnati Bengals and we have a recipe for a blowout.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2) vs. Cleveland Browns

I can't decide if Jake Delhomme over Derek Anderson is an improvement. Regardless, the Browns still lack, well, everything. At least Tampa Bay has some semblance of a running game and QB who has shown some promise. Can't say that much for the Browns.

Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5) vs. Denver Broncos

Similar to the Browns/Bucs, this is a matchup of who do I hate less. David Garrard isn't a total disaster and MJD's career appears alarmingly similar to that of Barry Sanders. Plus it's hard to pick against a guy whose motivation comes not only from winning, but also from padding his own fantasy stats. On the other side of the field there's one simple equation that adequately sums up the future of that team:

Beginning of the Tim Tebow Era + Elvis Dumervil Injury = End of the Josh McDaniels Era

Indianapolis Colts (-2.5) at Houston Texans

Every part of me wants to pick the Texans. Almost as much as any movie fan wants Hickory to win the state championship in Hoosiers. Even though the Texans have Hickory-like support, they can't and won't put it together on the field. Chemistry overcomes talent in movies, but not in the NFL. And the Texans have once again done nothing to improve their team. Flashy offense, poor defense, 8-8 record, and 0-1 to start.

Tennessee Titans (-6) vs. Oakland Raiders

I'm in love with Tennessee this year. To the point that I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the NFC championship game. Add in the possibility of Albert Haynesworth rejoining the team and rejuvenating his career and we're looking at an extremely strong team. I'm aware Vince Young throws the ball like John McCain if he played QB. But the threat of Chris Johnson is almost as deadly as CJ himself. And Kenny Britt isn't too bad either.

Green Bay Packers (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles

It's hard to hate on Aaron Rodgers, and even harder to like the Eagles. Rookie QB plus relatively inexperienced running back equals disaster. On the flip side, look for Brent Celek's statistics to improve from his already big year in '09. Kevin Kolb will look to him with no other possession receiver/big target to throw the ball towards when he's in trouble. But back to the Packers. Even though I do like their chances in the NFC, they've swiftly moved into the well documented overrated-underrated category. Hype always scares me, and they seem to have a little too much of it.

San Francisco 49ers (-3) at Seattle Seahawks

In a matchup featuring the most boring division in football, I actually support the direction both teams are headed. Seattle continues to disassemble its aging core and SF finally has a potent offense with some trace of continuity. John Clayton asserted that Alex Smith had no potential to improve because of his perceived lack of accuracy. Unfortunately for Mr. Clayton, he's looking at way too small a sample size. Smith has played a full season once in his career (and there was no one to throw to at the time).

Saint Louis Rams (+4) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Ken Wisenhunt made the wrong choice. Any time the better QB loses the starting job for unforeseen reasons, it's the coach's ego that is at fault. I'm not saying that Matt Leinart is great by any means, but he's better than Derek Anderson. Wisenhunt has coasted these last few seasons, with his coaching deficiencies hiding behind Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Time for some real exposure.

Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) at Washington Redskins

The Redskins have gone through an interesting evolution over the last few months. Donovan McNabb comes on board and the Redskins stock rises. The Albert Haynesworth fiasco erupts and the stock falls. People start to believe in the new era Redskins rallying together to have a comeback year. Too many people pick the Redskins as sleepers, and we're back to hating them. And now on the eve of the season, Redskins' fervor is heating up, again. I'm not ready to jump on board.

New York Jets (-2.5) at Baltimore Ravens

The injury bug has ripped apart the Ravens secondary worse than T.O.'s dismantling of the Eagles in his short time there. Yes, Indianapolis and New Orleans proved that offense wins championships too, but their defenses stepped it up in the playoffs. During the first Indy Super Bowl run, the run defense managed to resurrect itself faster than Wes Welker's ACL. Meanwhile New Orleans' ability to create turnovers hid the rest of its defensive deficiencies. Baltimore has no secondary and an aging Ray Lewis. Be cautious.

San Diego Chargers (-4.5) at Kansas City Chiefs

You know San Diego is preparing for one "eff you Vincent Jackson, we don't need you" game where the offenses blows up and scores 35 points. Ryan Matthews seems as if he can't not succeed (Yes, the double negative was necessary). Kansas City will be better with Eric Berry roaming around the secondary and Charlie Weis on the sidelines. Things are looking better, without a doubt. But Phillip Rivers is too good a regular season QB, and 4.5 points is a week 1 line. Give it a few weeks and Kansas City will become much bigger underdogs.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

16 Sounds Better Than 18

I know I'm a little late on the 18 game schedule train, but I seem to be in the minority and must defend my position.

The 18 game schedule is a terrible idea. For argument's sake, let's ignore the financial ramifications that will clearly play a large role in whichever way this unfolds. From a pure what-is-better-for-an-NFL-fan standpoint, this should be a clear cut issue.

16 games is better.

I know 16 games subject us to more preseason misery. So before you write scathing comments which attack my views (which I encourage, by the way. There's nothing like some healthy banter), hear me out for a second.

1. Week 18/19/20 - Most fans want to eliminate the preseason because the games are meaningless. Well, let's flash back to Week 17, '09-'10 season. Here is the slate of games from that week:

Indianapolis (14-1) at Buffalo (5-10)
New Orleans (13-2) at Carolina (7-8)
Atlanta (8-7) at Tampa Bay (3-12)
San Francisco (7-8) at Saint Louis (1-14)
New York Giants (8-7) at Minnesota (11-4)*
Pittsburgh (8-7) at Miami (7-8)*
New England (10-5) at Houston (8-7)*
Chicago (6-9) at Detroit (2-13)
Jacksonville (7-8) at Cleveland (4-11)
Philadelphia (11-4) at Dallas (10-5)*
Kansas City (3-12) at Denver (8-7)*
Washington (4-11) at San Diego (12-3)
Tennessee (7-8) at Seattle (5-10)
Green Bay (10-5) at Arizona (9-6)*
Cincinnati (10-5) at New York Jets (8-7)*
Baltimore (8-7) at Oakland (5-10)*

Games with a "*" impacted playoff contenders and seeding.

In total, 8 games were meaningful. Of those 8 games, 9 of 16 teams cared about the result. So while these 9 teams fought for playoff position or a playoff birth, the gods had already determined the exact fate of the other 23 NFL teams. 72% of the NFL was already waiting for next season by Week 17.

Assuming another bye week is added to an 18 game season, weeks 18, 19 and 20 become an extension of week 17. On the one hand, some division and wild card races will continue because of an extended schedule. Teams 2 or 3 games behind will cease to be mathematically eliminated prior to week 17. On the other hand, races that are already over will linger for 4, maybe 5 weeks. Do we really want to watch Curtis Painter start for 4 weeks?

Of those 8 meaningful games, 4 solely impacted playoff position. While it's moderately satisfying to watch teams battle for seeding, coaches will ultimately opt in favor of health over seeding. Jim Caldwell has proven that health prevails over everything, even an undefeated season. The Arizona Cardinals and Ken Wisenhunt have tanked at the end of the last two seasons to ensure an injury-free roster. So while 8 games might be meaningful on the surface, only half of those games have true importance.

Now we're down to 4 of 16 games, and 5 of 32 NFL teams that care about games after week 16. Maybe I'm alone, but this leaves me less than thrilled.

2. Shorter Careers - We won't feel this effect immediately. But for future NFL players, an 18 game pounding will lead to more hits, and eventually, more injuries. Most running backs barely make it past 30. Add two more games and that age drops to 28/29. In only 8 NFL seasons, a player will have an extra 16 games under his belt. If the NFL is so apt to cut down on concussions and ensure the long term health of NFL players, a longer schedule is not the answer.

3. Less Is More - The clamor for an 18 game schedule has erupted with the shadow of the NFL season looming. Any real football fan struggles through the summer in anticipation of football. And now we want to add games not because we want more football, but simply because we cannot stand that preseason delays our satisfaction for a mere two weeks. This 16 game formula has worked well for 30 years. We have to rid ourselves of preseason, not add more games.

With that in mind, there's an easy solution to this entire issue: Add two more bye weeks to the regular season. Owners increase profit since TV contracts will extend for two more weeks. Players will have more time to recuperate and injuries will play a reduced role in the final standings. While it's mildly frustrating for fans since their football teams will have more byes, there will be 19 weeks of football. Meaningful football.