Sunday, September 29, 2013

Braves and Red Sox Ready for the Playoffs

The Braves enter the playoffs as the #2 seed after posting a 13-14 September.  This is not how you want to play going into the playoffs.  The offense is inconsistent at best and while the pitching has been good they lack an identity.  There is no true ace on this staff and anytime 36 year-old Freddy Garcia has a chance to make your postseason rotation there could be trouble.  Still we have two very good starters at the top of the rotation in Mike Minor and Kris Medlen.  In a postseason series having two very good pitchers can get you to the next round.  Julio Teheran should be the third starter.  Then it would be Garcia or Paul Maholm.  The big question in the bullpen is whether or not Jordan Walden would be available while battling a groin injury. 50 save stud Craig Kimbrel anchors the bullpen and should keep any lead that gets to him safe.  Still the pitching staff with the best ERA should keep them in every game.  Just have to hope the offense puts something up on the board...

The offense is as inconsistent as ever.  MVP candidate Freddie Freeman and Chris Johnson are the steadying force of the lineup.  Everyone else has been nothing but streaky.  I'm really hoping they can put some hits together against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers in games one and two of the first round.  It won't be easy but that is how they'll have to win games.  I just don't know if they can do it.  No real secret to the Brave's key to winning.  The offense must step up and do better.  Playing against high caliber teams each night they can't wait for the next game.  I think Atlanta can beat the Dodgers but it seems like it will take a brawl that goes seven games. 

#1 seed Boston comes in with the league's best offense and 13th best pitching staff.  I think Boston has what it takes to win it all.  They are a very balanced team.  Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Bucholz anchor the starting staff which can also throw Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy at you.  The bullpen has holes and the closer role has been unsettled all year.  Boston must have that settled in the first series against the yet to be determined wild card team or it could be a rough postseason.  Koji Euhara seems to have the role for now but we'll see how he does in the postseason in his somewhat new role.

The offense has lots of weapons anchored by David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia but also gets support from the rest of the lineup.  This team should score no matter who they go up against.  Doesn't mean they can't be shut down but they should always feel like they can score and make a comeback if need be. 

Three Major League Stars Play Their Final Season

 Maybe this happens more than I remember but this year we say goodbye to three outstanding major leaguers who retire today.  You have to start with Mariano Rivera.  The all-time leader in saves and a career 2.21 ERA, Rivera is truly one of the all-time greats.  He also retires with 42 postseason saves not to mention a .70 ERA in 141 innings over 96 games.  I'm a self proclaimed Yankee hater but Mariano Rivera is the real deal.  I hated facing him but he is a stud of a player and by all accounts a good guy.  I think all the gifts and accolades he has received are a tribute to that.  Look here to see some of his retirement gifts.  I'll miss Rivera but am very happy to have seen his career no matter how hard it was to watch when he played Boston or Atlanta. 

Todd Helton retires after 17 years with the Colorado Rockies.  Many will say his stats are skewed due to the altitude of Denver but you can't discount the fact that he was the proud face of this team for almost two decades and played up to a high level the majority of his career.  His DUI earlier this year will obviously diminish his reputation some but it shouldn't wipe out what he has done over his career as a player and how he carried himself as a individual.  On the field he will retire with over 2500 hits, 369 homeruns, 1400 RBI's and an outstanding .414 on base percentage (good for 26th all-time).  Helton also had a hand in taking the Rockies to their only World Series appearance after their great regular series run in 2007.

Andy Pettitte will also retire this year after an 18 season career.  Known as a postseason force with 19 wins he was also money in the regular season with 256 wins and 3.85 career while never having a losing season (thanks to yesterday's complete game win over Houston).  His nice guy image has helped him overcome his admitting to taking PED's but it will probably forever come up in conversation with his name.  Still he was a pitcher every team in the league would have loved to have at the top of their rotation year in and year out. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Michigan Wolverines Win Close Gave Over Connecticut

This was not a pretty game for Michigan.  Again.  After coming back late to beat Akron last week the Wolverines had to do the same this week to beat Connecticut.  Michigan was losing this game 21-7 late in the third quarter before rallying for a 24-21 win. Not at all what anyone, a fan or those associated with the team, want to see.

The running game is horrible.  The stats will say the Wolverines averaged 3.7 yards per carry and that running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had 120 carries on 24 yards.  But if not for some long runs in the second half neither of these stats would have been near as pretty.  Devin Gardner didn't shine at quarterback.  13 of 25 for 111 yards and two interceptions.  He also ran 19 times for 59 yards and a touchdown.  The defense was actually pretty good but had to deal with some short field due to turnovers by the offense.

Really nothing was working until the second half.  UCONN finally came back down to earth, the Michigan defense remembered they are bigger and better than the UCONN offense and the offense put up sustained drives which gained points.  I can't say I really though Michigan would win this game until UCONN's last desperate drive to try and recapture the lead before the end of the game.  Michigan now has an off week before playing Minnesota October 5th.  The schedule still favors the Wolverines but if they keep playing teams like this I don't think Big 10 teams will let them come back to win games.  This team has a long way to go to be a very good team no matter their national ranking.  I'm hoping coach Brady Hoke can get this team back on track.  That is a sports cliché but that is what needs to be done.  This is a talented team.  Probably not a top 10 team in the country but they shouldn't be duking it out to the last second in games against teams they should be winning comfortably against. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

4th and Inches...Bills and Falcons Win Their First Game of the Year

Buffalo beat Carolina 24-23 for their first win of the year.  Solid win which they can hopefully build on.  EJ Manuel had a good day throwing for 296 yards while completing 27 of 39 passes.  He added 1 touchdown (last second game winner) and had 1 interception.  The running game averaged 4.5 yards per carry led by CJ Spiller's 6.4 average (103 total).  Stevie Johnson caught 8 balls for 111 yards and that winning touchdown.  And that is what you want to see.  Your stars playing well.  Speaking of, Mario Williams had 4.5 sacks (Bills single game record) to help the defense which had 6 total sacks and 1 interception.  I really wish I could have watched this game.  Watching the score it started slow and then ping ponged back and forth between the teams.  From what I've read it seems the offense and defense played well.  I'm not saying they're playoff ready but it is definitely a game where the team and fans can be happy about the positives.  Buffalo gets the Jets this week in a game they can win.  A victory would really keep the good vibes flowing.  A loss to a bad Jets team will really make us wonder how good we really are. 

Atlanta cruised to a big lead early but, as has been a bad habit, let the Rams come back to make it close.  Injuries were big in this game.  Five starters were out of the lineup by halftime including Stephen Jackson, LB Sean Wetherspoon, and CB Asante Samuel.  DE Jonathan Massaquoi tore his achilles and is now out for the year.  Jackson won't play this week against Miami.  There were positives including the play of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones who had to pick up the slack with Roddey White being nicked up and was a non-factor.  Jones is a stud who I think is definitely the top receiver on this team.  With Jackson going out after scoring his first touchdown as a Falcon the running game fell apart.  Atlanta ran the ball for a total of 36 yards with an average under 3 yards per carry. Again the offense couldn't put the Rams away until late.  Injuries probably hurt but this offense is good enough and the defense didn't help allowing 21 second half points.  Miami is undefeated and this should be a good test for both teams.  Players get hurt and the really good teams find ways to keep winning.  I'm afraid this will be a let down game.  Still it was good to get that first victory and Atlanta is still poised to be one of the best teams in the league.

I'm not saying the Bears or Jay Cutler are for real but they are winning and that is what matters.  They could throw a monkey wrench in someone's playoff hopes if they continue to play well...The Redskins look done.  Their offense has been average at best and the defense didn't show up against the Packers.  After last year this is a huge step back.  They can still get it together but I'm think any realistic thoughts of making the playoffs are done....Saw quite a bit of the Chargers game and was very happy to see them pull off the upset.  The offense did well and the defense held when they had to.  It was a fun game and showed the Eagles they aren't all that quite yet...There was no excuse for the play of the 49ers.  It was horrible.  They've given Seattle the mental edge at the moment and now must play from behind in the division.  Missed opportunity to send a message that they are the team to beat in the division and the NFC. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

4th and Inches...Week 1 Falcons and Bills Lose Close Games

I know many have bemoaned how week one was full of sloppy play but I thought it was a good week.  Maybe not for my teams but it was still a good week and I just loved having football back!

Atlanta took a tough loss to the Saints.  The Falcons were in it until the end.  As good as Stephen Jackson looked his dropped touchdown catch was a negative ending to his day.  In fact he was removed for the next play of the game which was the last offensive play of the game for Atlanta.  Not that he was the only one with a key miscue.  Julio Jones fumbled a pass early in the second quarter leading to a Saints touchdown.   The offense wasn't bad but just didn't put enough points on the board while not converting key third downs.  The Saints' defense looked much better than the league worse effort they put on the field last year.  I wouldn't have believed Atlanta would only put up 17 points in this game.  The defense surprised me too. In a good way.  Considering the lack of upgrades in the off season and the Saints offense, specifically the 35 minutes of time of possession, I thought the Saints would put up more points.  Maybe game two against St. Louis will yield more positive results but overall it was just disappointing. 

Buffalo was also in the game until the end losing to the Patriots on a last minute field goal.  Yes New England isn't the New England of years past but Brady didn't look great against the Bills defense.  Always reason to cheer.  The Buffalo offense, led by rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel was good.  Specifically he ended up with a quarterback rating of 105.5 while throwing no interceptions and the running game averaged four yards per carry.  I still don't think the Bills have the very good receiver they need opposite Stevie Johnson to really make the receiving corps dangerous.  Overall a good game for Buffalo but very, very disappointing to lose this game when they had their chances to win.  Buffalo is at home against Carolina this week and I think they can win this game.  Here's to hoping for the first win of the year. 

I live in the St. Louis area so I hear quite about the Rams on the radio and always like to comment on them.  I must admit they looked good this week in their win over Arizona who also looked good with Carson Palmer at QB.  I was very skeptical going into week 1 but they really did play well.  The game against Atlanta this week in Atlanta should be a better test for them.  If Sam Bradford and his receivers can have more days close to what we saw Sunday then there is no reason to believe St. Louis can't have an above .500 record this year in a very tough NFC West. 

Peyton Manning looked awesome and I think he was still smarting from the loss to the Ravens in last year's playoffs.  And I sure wish I had him on my fantasy team - oh wait I DID!...I keep believing Phillip Rivers will be the Rivers of old but like everyone else I'm left disappointed.  I know he might not have the best weapons around him but his fourth quarter against the Houston Texans just makes you shake your head...Can the Steelers feel much worse after that horrible week one performance?...Reggie Bush really could be "The Man" in Detroit.  He just seems a good fit there...Speaking of, Philly's offense seems to fit Chip Kelly's new scheme really well.  I do wish folks would get off the whole "revolutionary" thing.  It is just a hurry up offense.  Don't get me wrong.  I like it and picked them to win their division but if Washington doesn't turn over the ball three straight times to start the game I'm not sure their offense looks quite as good...The Bears were a pleasant surprise in their win against Cincy.  The Bengals on the other hand have to wonder what happened.  Picked by many to win their division this was a huge loss since everyone else in the division also lost week one. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

2013 NFL Season Preview

Wanted to weigh in on the upcoming season before it kicks off Thursday with Baltimore and Denver.  Speaking of - I'd be irritated too if the NFL put up a banner on my stadium of the opposing team's quarterback.  Now is it the worst thing the NFL will do this season?  No.  But it doesn't seem like the right thing to do.  Nothing too deep tonight but I love doing predictions and this is my chance to show off.  Well at least I looked pretty good last year which was a first.  See my 2012 predictions here.

Philadelphia winning the division is my big surprise as I take them to win the East.  I like the idea of their new offensive scheme and it seems Vick and the weapons he has are a perfect fit.  That means I think the rest of the East has to underperform or take a step back which is what I'm expecting.  Green Bay should win their division assuming they don't have any major setbacks.  I don't have the Vikings in the playoffs.  Peterson won't be able to carry them like he did last year.  Atlanta and New Orleans will make the playoffs from the South with Falcons winning the division in a close battle.   49ers and Seattle go from the West.  San Fran is stacked having talent all over the place.  The 49ers should return to the Super Bowl assuming Kaepernick doesn't have a major fall off in performance from last year. 

I like Flacco and the Ravens but I'm expecting them to drop to the wild card after losing many of their key players to include the iffy trade of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a 6th round pick.  I know this was a salary dump but you can't tell me no other team in the NFL would give Baltimore a 5th round pick for a receiver of his caliber.  Shady.  So I see Cincy taking the division but it will be close.  I just like that team and think their defense will carry them to the title.  New England will be its powerful self but I think they'll falter again in the playoffs as it is doubtful their defense will be much if any better.  I love Indy and Andrew Luck but I think they'll have a drop from last years total of 11 wins but I really don't see anyone challenging them for the final playoff spot.  KC?  Too much to ask for.  Pittsburgh?  Don't think they have the defense to make it.  Denver should win their division though with the suspensions they've had on their defense means they probably won't reach 13 wins.  Still they are the team to beat in the AFC and I don't think anyone will come playoff time. 

I really want to put Atlanta in the Super Bowl but I'm afraid their defense just won't hold up against the best teams and showed major issues against the young mobile quarterbacks.  I also want to jump on the Kansas City bandwagon but a nine or even eight game turnaround seems like way too much to ask for.  I could see them getting to .500 this year but no more.  Denver is too much and I expect a better year from San Diego. 

Bottom line: Denver wins the Super Bowl.  They were one bonehead play away from advancing to the AFC Championship last year and the addition of Wes Welker will only make them better.  They did lose their starting center for the year.  This could be much more of an issue than I want to believe.  We'll see.  The defense needs to be as good as last year and things should be theory. 

Division Winners:  Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, San Francisco
Wild Cards:  New Orleans, Seattle

Division Winners:  New England, Cincinnati, Houston, Denver
Wild Cards:  Baltimore, Indy

Super Bowl:  Denver over San Francisco