Friday, August 29, 2014

2014 Buffalo Bills Season Preview

After a 6-10 2013 regular season the Buffalo Bills traded up in the first round to pick highly touted receiver Sammy Watkins to help EJ Manuel and the offense get better in the hopes that this year they could not only hit the .500 mark but also make a run at the playoffs.  This seems a bit optimistic to me but I've heard this in a few media outlets and previews.  I'm all about optimism but last year didn't leave me with much. 

And why is that?  Rookie QB EJ Manuel hit 59% of his passes adding 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  He had some moments but I did see two Bills games and didn't get that he was very comfortable in the pocket yet.  He either isn't reading the defenses yet or doesn't have a grasp on the offense.  Watkins and Mike Williams who the Bills received via trade along with tight end Scott Chandler does give Manuel a good receiving corps.  Add to that CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson who combined for 1800 yards rushing and I should be thinking this could be a good year.  The offensive line was also tinkered with so it too could be better than last year.  But then you see what Buffalo has done in the preseason this year and Manuel has looked horrible and Watkins has had to leave two games with a rib injury.  This could be bad. 

When Buffalo moved up to take Manuel as the first quarterback in the draft two years ago it was a huge gamble.  Looks great it if works but if not they'll get roasted for not taking the more highly touted Geno Smith or addressing other needs.  It is still too early to say he won't work out, and I'm not going there, but this has to be a critical year for Manuel.  Buffalo had the 2nd best rushing attack in the league last year while the passing game (28th) and points scored (22nd) left a lot to be desired.  Manuel has to be a better passer this year or no matter what the Bills do elsewhere they'll be watching the playoffs from home...again.
The defense definitely a bright spot - 10th in total defense, 4th in passing defense, 2nd in sacks, 2nd in interceptions.  They did have issues with their rush defense (28th) and giving up points (20th).  Pro-bowler safety Jairus Byrd left for New Orleans because his price was too high.  Still this team has good defenders in the secondary (Stephen Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Aaron Williams).  A decent linebacking corps took a big hit with Kiko Alonso out for the year.  Takeo Spikes does come over from the Patriots but I don't see much improvement here and Buffalo gave up 19 runs of 20 yards or more.  The defensive line, while great at chasing the quarterback, must do better at stopping the run.  If new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz can't find an answer I'm not sure this defense will be able to control games on the ground.

I like coach Doug Marrone but this will be huge for him.  I'm sure the pressure by fans and the front office is huge.  Another 6-10 season will only bring bad things and with Buffalo trading away next year's first round pick there is no immediate superstar coming to save the day even if they get a top draft position.  There are some new coaches and hopefully between him and the new blood Buffalo can take a step ahead.  I think they 8 wins will be a stretch but it is doable.  If the running game stays true and Manuel can stay in there and hit his receivers this will be a good year.  I do think it is a bit much to expect the playoffs but with the drought reaching 14 years I too find myself getting pretty tired of watching other teams in the playoffs. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NCAA Board Votes To Allow Autonomy

Some time ago my buddy Yaj gave me the book Death to the BCS.  A great book that I really should have reviewed then.  At it's core the book blows away all the reasons the NCAA and schools have against a playoff to determine the college football national champion.  I consider myself a knowledgeable fan but this was a real eye opener.  If you haven't read it do so now.  Though we now have a playoff starting this season this book is not outdated.  For me I saw how the power conferences and colleges really rule the college football landscape while the NCAA has almost no power.  This has been so evident in the last decade as the conferences have added teams to create "super conferences" furthering the divide between the haves and have-nots while the NCAA has done nothing.  Bleacher report broke down the book by chapter which you can see here.

This month the NCAA basically gave the big five conferences carte blanch to do what they want at the expense of the all the other schools.  Yes, decisions can be overturned but I think this can only widen the division between small and big market teams.  I do understand that there is a difference between Alabama and teams like Georgia Southern and New Mexico State.  But if there isn't more oversight, with some power behind it, I think this will go down hill for the small institutions.  If the Ohio State's of the world can make up rules that allow them to provide benefits to players smaller schools are doomed.  They can't keep up and some players who may have gone to small school U. because they believed they might be able to star may now want to take the money if that means they are only the number three player at their position at a big name program. 

I know this is a simplistic view.  I just don't think an organization this big, that is so complicated can continue to thrive without major issues with no real power at the top.  I don't think we'll ever get to a point where there isn't a championship in some way, shape or form but again I can see one where the major conferences pretty much do as they please at the expense of others.  While any actions they put in place can be voted down there is nothing to stop them from just going out on their own if they choose.  This is way too much power and you don't see it anywhere else in sports.  The NCAA has virtually no power here.  How can it continue to succeed?  Only time will tell but I'm not real optimistic.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Flea Market & Antique Store Finds - Part 3

I don't remember ever having the '94 Skybox football so these are pretty new to me.  John Elway and Bret Favre were my big pulls in this pack.  I can never have enough Elway cards.  These are some pretty nice looking cards.  Not a ton of information on the front where'll you'll only see the player's name, position and the Skybox logo over a football.  Leaves plenty of room for the photos which are pretty nice.  The backgrounds are muted so the only detail is of the player.  This has been done on many different sets throughout the years and is a hit or miss thing for me.  These I like.  I would like to have seen the team's helmet, logo or at the very least their name somewhere on the front but I won't complain too much as again the front looks pretty good.  The back contains a small write-up, an additional photo, the 1993 and career total stats, and the team logo.  It isn't anything fancy but again I like it.  I'll call this a win.  Glad I picked this up and wouldn't mind seeing some more cards from this set.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Michigan Wolverines Football Preview

Michigan comes off a disappointing 2013 season where they went 7-6.  To improve on that they'll need the offensive line and running game to be better (102nd in the nation).  The running backs who'll take the lead in the backfield this year rushed for under 400 yards combined last year.  Hopefully someone can win the top spot and shine.  Devin Gardner is capable at quarterback and can also use better protection from the line.  He led the team in rushing but I'd like to see him with more time in the pocket.  I think Michigan has a decent receiving corps so if Gardner has time to throw he has options. 

The defense started out strong last year but faded down the stretch.  The team lost six of their last eight games and it could be said the defense was the reason in at least three of those losses.  Michigan has a good linebacking corps and returns a total of eight starters from last year on defense.  They also have one of their biggest recruits in years joining the defensive backfield in Jabrill Peppers.  Hopefully he can have an affect right off the bat. 

I think Michigan can be a nine win team but those areas I mentioned needing improvement must get better.  The Big 10 isn't what it used to be but it is still the toughest part of the Wolverine's schedule sans Notre Dame in week 2.  This still isn't up to Michigan standards but I think that nine wins and a bowl win would be a good year.  I really like head coach Brady Hoke and think Michigan can be a top 10 team but they just don't have the talent right now.  I hope the athletic department is patient enough with Hoke to let him and this team get there.  For now I expect this to be a season with many close games.  Hopefully some of them go Michigan's way. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Flea Market & Antique Store Finds - Part 2

One of my favorite brandings of the 90's was the Wild Card offerings so when I saw this pack I had to pick it up.  This was a pack of 1992 Wild Card football.   They had a really different colorful design that clicked with me.  The fronts also have the team helmets on them which is also a plus for me.  I thought the numbers on the front had something to do with a game associated with the cards.  I haven't' been able to confirm this and maybe I'm mixing it up with one of the other wild card sets.  Hard to tell. 

Pretty good pull in which I grabbed a Marcus Allen, John Elway, Bret Favre, Richard Dent, and Jackie Slater.  The rookie cards show players in their college uniforms.  The backs have basic stats you'd expect to find and contain a head photo of the player but are otherwise unremarkable.  I definitely wanted to share these as again they are some of my favorites. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Flea Market & Antique Store Finds - Part 1

In April, my daughters and I took a trip to Farmington, Mo.  A great time where we could hang out and have some father-daughter time. While there we took in a flea market and hit a good sized antique shop.  While the girls didn't want anything we still had fun and I ended up picking up some card packs from years past to include some I've never seen before.  Thought I'd share some of what I found here so everyone can enjoy.

First off were a pack of Upper Deck Holiday Inn Play Ball baseball cards from 2007.  There were four cards in the pack and it looks like Cal Ripken Jr. may have been paid to promote Holiday Inn.  I don't remember how much I paid but it was .50 cents or less. 
The four cards I pulled were Albert Pujols, Garrett Atkins, Paul Konerko, and Cal Ripken Jr. not in uniform holding a Holiday Inn Premier Club Rewards card.  The cards are nice looking with green borders which is completely different from the 2007 Upper Deck baseball standard set.  The Ripken card is part of a four card set of Ripken cards while the base set is 60 cards.  The backs contains player information, team logo, career stats and a short write-up on the player.  I always enjoy finding cards I've never seen before so this was fun and I liked my pull, especially the Pujols card.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kevin Love to the Cavaliers

I like this trade.  True it isn't 100% a done deal yet but it is very close to it.  Kevin Love will go to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected 2015 first-round draft pick.  First I have no issues with teams in any sport trading prospects and picks.  These have both proven nothing at the pro level yet and if you look at any draft stats you'll see even first round picks are a crap shoot.  Bottom line is you are trading a "maybe" for a proven player in a trade like this.  In this case both teams could end up "winning" but only time will tell.  

If Wiggins ends up being the player everyone thinks he can be Minnesota did well.  Bennett only has to be average considering the failure that was his first year in the league.  The future pick is bound to be a late round pick which to me is really a throw in.  To some extent I'm surprised this is the best deal the Timberwolves could get.  But again if Wiggins plays up to his draft status he'll be a future all-star they can hang their hat on.  To me the key is Bennett.  I think Wiggins will get his points but will Bennett rebound and actually be a plus for this team?  The Timberwolves haven't seen the playoffs in a long time and do hope this trade works out for them.  No matter what happens, Minnesota did well.  

Cleveland has to be the obvious winner here.  LeBron James is in his prime and with having Kyrie Irving  on this team Cleveland has to be the favorite to win the East.  Indiana has lost it's star, Miami no longer has LeBron but could still be the 2nd best team in the East though Chicago will challenge for that spot, and while I like Washington and Toronto I'm not sure either is ready to take the next step.  Being their first year together the new "Big 3" may struggle some but I expect as they are proven veterans they will weather the storm.  LeBron is the only one of the three with playoff experience so when they get to the playoffs they may again see some rough spots.  This was the move to make.  They can contend now and in years to come without having to wait on Wiggins to blossom, assuming he does.  I'm also making an assumption that Love will sign that long term contract extension.  I don't know why he wouldn't but we've seen weirder things in the NBA.      

Many are trying to say Kevin Love is overrated.  He is a guy who has played on bad teams with few options but I think he is the real deal and is one of the top 10 players in the league today.  Is it true he scores as much as he does because his teams haven't had other viable scoring options?  No doubt.  That doesn't mean he isn't the embodiment of a stretch four.  He is a career 36% three point shooter and averaged 13+ boards over six seasons.  He has average dover 20 points per game in three seasons while he scored 26 a game in two of those.  I think the bottom line is Kevin Love is a proven power forward who should be a great fit with LeBron James.  He is an adept passer and can hit the boards and spread the floor.  All these attributes should be a perfect fit.  See a good breakdown of the Kevin Love "is he overrated" discussion here.     

Again this is a good trade for both teams.  Cleveland has a player they can sell as the future of the franchise and LeBron and company should be able to compete for the Eastern Conference title as soon as this year and probably for years to come.  I'm excited to see what the Cavs can do and hope we'll see the Timberwolves make a playoff run in the near future.