Thursday, August 29, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC East and NFC North

     Now that I've already covered the AFC, I will take a look at what awaits for the NFC starting with the NFC East and the NFC North.

     NFC East
  1. New York Giants: In a weakened division that is pretty much up for grabs, the NFC East could come down to the Week 17 match-up between Washington and the New York Giants. Victor Cruz (86 receptions, 1,092 receiving yards, ten touchdowns) will carry a majority of the offense for the Giants along with Eli Manning (59.9% passes completed, 3,946 passing yards, 26 TDs). Also keep an eye out for RB David Wilson; he could have a breakout season this year. The G-Men must avoid falling into the usual 2nd-half swoon if they're in playoff contention by mid-November, especially with that diminished defensive line.
  2. Washington Redskins: This team will go as far as RGIII will take them. The 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft (3,200 passing yards, 65.6% passes completed, 20 passing touchdowns) had 12 fumbles last year (9 of those were rushing), so that will be something to work on. He also has knee problems that originated in the postseason, so it'll be interesting to see how his knee holds up. One thing that RGIII can also do is run the ball; he ran the ball 120 times and gained 815 yards and scored 7 TDs. Griffin and Alfred Morris (1,613 rushing yards on 335 carries, 13 TDs) will head the rushing attack for Washington. 
  3. Dallas Cowboys: Rob Ryan is out as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, but the base 4-3 defense will be in. This means that Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware will move to defensive ends. However, the secondary will be tested on deep passes; the Cowboys were the only team last year without an interception on a pass of 20 yards or more. They also ranked 29th in completion percentage allowed on downfield passes of 20 yards or more with 46.2. Another interesting storyline will be how well Tony Romo will do with his new contract. In 2012, Romo completed 65.6% of his passes for 4,903 yards and 28 TDs. However, he threw 19 INTs. Will Romo breakthrough in the big moment or will he wither away? Lots of question marks with this Cowboys team.
  4. Philadelphia Eagles: The new blur offense that head coach Chip Kelly will be showcasing this season will be perfect for Michael Vick. It's a zone read offense that was popularized at the University of Oregon and is very fast-paced. The defense will be a big question mark for the Eagles, but Philadelphia should be a fun team to watch on the offensive side of the ball.
     NFC North
  1. Green Bay Packers: Will Aaron Rodgers be hurt by losing Bryan Bulaga for the year? Well, Rodgers was sacked less often with Bulaga off of the field last year. He also had more time in the pocket, had a better total QBR, and averaged more yards per attempt without Bulaga. Also, losing Bulaga for the season isn't the Packers' biggest concern; there seems to be a lack of a running game (the Pack ranked 20th in rushing yards per game last year with 106.4). There are also issues with the secondary and certain parts of the special teams.
  2. Chicago Bears: Gone is Lovie Smith as head coach of the Bears after another 2nd-half collapse last season. Also gone is Brian Urlacher, who retired after negotiations with the Bears over a new contract fell apart. So this will be a new look team in the Windy City with new coach Marc Trestman. I like the fact that the Bears finally addressed the issue concerning their offensive line by drafting offensive guard Kyle Long and signing offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod.
  3. Detroit Lions: Reggie Bush will be a great addition to the Lions, but for a completely different reason. Bush is a Larry Centers-type who had 986 rushing yards and 292 receiving yards last year with the Dolphins. In addition to giving the Lions a bit of a running game, he provides Matthew Stafford with another throwing option. The rest of the running game will be hinged upon how well the O-Line does for Detroit this year. Another question to think about is can Calvin Johnson have a season like he did last year (122 receptions, 1,964 yards, five TDs).
  4. Minnesota Vikings: Now I'm not guaranteeing that Adrian Peterson (2,097 rushing yards and 12 TDs on 348 carries) will do better than last year. But Peterson has proven to be a legitimate threat in the backfield and should have another great season. However, he will likely be the Vikings' only means of offense; Minnesota ranked 31st in passing yards per game last year with 171.9. The Vikes drafted Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th pick and acquired Greg Jennings in the offseason. Patterson is a project and Jennings is an injury risk, so Christian Ponder will have his hands full with the passing game this year. Still, this is a team that should finish no worse than 8-8 this year with the defensive line holding down the fort. Everson Griffen (8.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and Jared Allen (45 tackles, 12.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble) will be forces to be reckoned with.


Monday, August 26, 2013

NFL Preview: AFC South and AFC West

     Here is part two of my NFL Preview. Last week, I covered the AFC East and the AFC North. This week, I'll be looking at the AFC South and the AFC West.
     AFC South
  1. Houston Texans: Getting Ed Reed was a big move for the Texans. The defensive line was already lethal with the likes of defensive ends J.J. Watt (81 tackles, four forced fumbles, 20.5 sacks) and Antonio Smith (7.0 sacks, two forced fumbles). But now Reed will bolster the secondary on the Texans team if he manages to stay healthy. As a matter of fact, health will be a major key in determining how far Houston goes this year. Andre Johnson had two straight injury-riddled campaigns before playing all 16 games in 2012. Matt Schaub had a lisfranc injury to his right foot in 2011. Hell, Arian Foster's been dealing with back problems throughout the entire offseason. But if the Texans can stay healthy, watch out.
  2. *Indianapolis Colts: Can Andrew Luck (54.1 comp. %, 4,374 passing yards, 23 TDs, 18 INTs, 10 fumbles) improve from last year and lead Indy back to the playoffs? One positive for the Colts is that Indianapolis was 4th in the NFL in converting 1st downs with 360. However, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft will have to cut back heavily on turning the ball over. Fortunately, he'll have some help with the additions of OT Gosder Cherilus and RB Ahmad Bradshaw. Receivers Reggie Wayne (106 receptions, 1,355 receiving yards, five touchdowns) and T.Y. Hilton (50 receptions, 861 receiving yards, seven TDs) will also help Luck. Still, it will all hinge on what kind of season Luck will turn out for the Colts.
  3. Tennessee Titans: I don't know what to make of Chris Johnson (276 carries, 1,243 rushing yards, six TDs). He claims that he's coming into this season leaner and more fit. But does he still have the passion that he had in 2009 when he ran for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns? He's not the only Titan with question marks, though. Can Jake Locker (56.4 comp. %, ten TDs, eleven INTs last year) improve his accuracy? Who will step up and take pressure off of Kenny Britt being Locker's only target? This is a jekyll-and-hyde team that could be pretty good or extremely disappointing.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars: If you're looking for a good fantasy sleeper, take WR Cecil Shorts. In spite of only having 55 receptions and 979 receiving yards in 14 games and having past concussion problems, he also had 7 TDs. If Justin Blackmon can get his act together, then Blackmon and Shorts will be a receiving tandem to be reckoned with. Jacksonville also added veteran help on their D-Line by acquiring DE Jason Babin (7.0 sacks, four forced fumbles).
     AFC West
  1. Denver Broncos: After being out for the entire 2011 season, Peyton Manning made his return... in a Denver Broncos uniform. But that was the only difference last year as the 4-time NFL MVP threw for 4,659 yards and 37 TDs. Both Demaryius Thomas (94 receptions, 1,434 receiving yards, ten TDs) and Eric Decker (85 receptions, 1,064 receiving yards, 13 TDs) benefited from having Manning as quarterback (or helped him, whatever way you want to look at it). But now, Manning has another weapon in his arsenal; former New England Patriot (also former primary target of Tom Brady) Wes Welker has joined the team. Last year with the Pats, he had 118 receptions for 1,354 receiving yards and six touchdowns. However, there is one concern for Denver. The secondary isn't getting any younger; Champ Bailey is in his 15th season and Quentin Jammer's in his 12th. Luckily, the Broncos got Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (16 career INTs in six seasons) who'll provide some depth in the battered and aging secondary. Also, keep an eye on rookie running back Montee Ball.
  2. Kansas City Chiefs: This team is my AFC pick as the "Pleasant Surprise" team. The Chiefs got a great head coach in Andy Reid and have a great running back in Jamaal Charles (285 carries, 1,509 rushing yards, five TDs). Don't forget that the Chiefs' secondary was 9th in the NFL in fewest total receiving yards allowed on defense with 3,694. But there are question marks that persist. One can Alex Smith avoid getting hurt and show that he's able to put up good stats. Another issue is there any way that the Chiefs can improve their pass rush; they ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 135.7. If everything turns out for the better, then KC will surprise a lot of people.
  3. San Diego Chargers: The window of opportunity for the Chargers to reach the Super Bowl is nearly shut. San Diego has a lot of wide receivers out and that includes Malcolm Floyd (knee) and Danario Alexander (out for the entire 2013 season with a torn right ACL). Their defense should be fun to watch, though. Dwight Freeney should be a good mentor for the young players on the D-Line and said that he's excited that the Chargers "will let him do what he does". Another interesting factor to watch will be how much of an impact Manti T'eo will have as a linebacker.
  4. Oakland Raiders: A giveaway/takeaway of -7. Carson Palmer, the quarterback who led the 8th-best passing attack in the NFL last year (255.3 passing yards per game), leaving for Arizona. One of the most penalized teams in the NFL (108 penalties for 939 yards). There's a lot of things that aren't going the way of the Raiders this year. One thing that isn't bad about Oakland is the defense. Being ranked 18th in total yards allowed in 2012 (5,672 yards) might not be something to brag about, but this defense is developing. With the likes of DE Andre Carter and CB Charles Woodson providing mentorship for their respective positions, the Raiders' defense will continue to develop.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

NFL Preview: AFC East and AFC North

     The NFL regular season is coming up quickly, so get your beer and reserve Sunday as a day exclusively for you and your buddies. That also means that the NFL previews and predictions are coming as well. Let's start off with two divisions in the AFC, which includes the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.

     AFC East:
  1. New England Patriots: The Patriots have had a eventful offseason, which includes signing ESPN's eye candy Tim Tebow, Wes Welker defecting to the Denver Broncos, Rob Gronkowski having back surgery, and the arrest of former tight end Aaron Hernandez for murder. In fact, Tom Brady suffered a scare when he hurt his knee during practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 14. But keep an eye on rookie receiver Kendrell Thompkins, who has looked great this preseason and has shown some chemistry with Brady.
  2. *Miami Dolphins: The Fins gave their quarterback Ryan Tannehill a new toy by getting wide receiver Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is good news for Miami especially considering that their main divisional competition, New England, was ranked 29th in passing yards allowed per game last year. Wallace and Brian Hartline will be a sleeper receiving tandem in the NFL this year. But losing Dustin Keller for the season to a knee injury does hurt. OLB and 1st-round draft pick Dion Jordan will join DE Cameron Wake on the pass rush.
  3. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller has the makings to become the next Barry Sanders: An elusive back who can gain lots of yards in spite of not having much of an offensive line. In fact, he might do better than the 1,244 yards and six touchdowns he had last year. But that will be the only reason for Bills fans to get excited aside from the special teams since there's not much else going on. 
  4. New York Jets: There's a lot of talk about Rex Ryan being on the hot seat, so don't be surprised if Mr. Foot Fetish gets canned next offseason. Also, don't be surprised if the Jets do something about Mark Sanchez in case he continues to disappoint. Darrelle Revis will be missed, but the Jets will have a deep secondary with Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson. The Jets' secondary allowed the 2nd-fewest yards in the NFL last year with 189.8 YPG in spite of only getting eleven interceptions.
     AFC North
  1. Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton has quietly led the Bengals to two straight playoff appearances, throwing for 3,669 yards and 27 TDs. This included three 300-yard passing games in his first six starts of last season. WR A.J. Green (97 receptions, 1,350 yards receiving, 11 TDs), TE Jermaine Gresham (64 receptions, 737 receiving yards, five TDs), and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (278 carries, 1,094 rushing yards, six TDs) are also keys to the Bengals' offense. Signing James Harrison to bolster a defense that's already stingy helps.
  2. Baltimore Ravens: The defending Super Bowl champs will look A LOT different compared to last season. Ray Lewis and Rolando McClain retired. Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans. Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers. But in return, they refueled by getting defensive ends Elvis Dumervil and Marcus Spears along with signing Joe Flacco to a new six-year deal worth $120.6 million. Flacco (3,817 passing yards, 22 TDs, ten INTs last year) has shown that he can be an elite QB, having a career completion rate of 60.5%. He also tied Joe Montana's postseason record for most touchdown passes without an interception with 11 last year. He also has a playoff record of 9-4.
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers: In spite of the Steelers being the best in total defense last season (4,413 yards allowed), their defense have garnered only 35 takeaways in the last two seasons combined. Their defense is also getting older and Ben Roethlisberger will miss having Mike Wallace to throw to. Roethlisberger must also stay healthy; Pittsburgh was 6-3and scoring 23 points a game before Big Ben went down with a rib injury and 2-5 with an average of 18.4 points per game after it. Draft pick Le'Veon Bell being out with a mid-foot sprain doesn't help either.
  4. Cleveland Browns: Watch for Trent Richardson to have a big season; he had 950 rushing yards on 267 carries and 11 TDs. The Browns are also taking baby steps forward with their linebackers, signing Paul Kruger and drafting Barkevious Mingo. Notably absent from the Browns' roster is return man and highlight reel Josh Cribbs, who has signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Watch This: Saving Face (Literally)

     Alex Rodriguez was beaned on Sunday by a pitch from Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster. A-Rod retaliated by hitting a home run. So what does this have to do with what I'm about to show you? To be honest, not much. But the following clip will show what kind of ninja-like instincts a pitcher can have. Take for example, Daniel Norris of the Lansing Lugnuts.
     On August 15th, Norris made an amazing catch in a game against the West Michigan Whitecaps. It was off of a line drive that nearly took Norris's head off.

     This video might be 14 seconds, but it could be some of the most amazing 14 seconds of your life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

College Football Games to Watch This Year

     College football is almost here and that means that for many sports fans, Saturdays are going to be spent on the sofa. There's nothing like sitting at home with your buddies watching a college football game and having a beer. So what games should you be marking on your calenders aside from the Ohio State/Michigan games and Oklahoma/Texas games? Here's a laundry list of games to keep an eye on for every week:

  • North Carolina vs. South Carolina, August 29th: Battle of the Cackalackys.
  • Clemson vs. Georgia, August 31st: This game is being played at the Georgia Dome. Good primetime game to watch.
  • LSU vs. TCU, August 31st: This is the annual Cowboys Classic game. Also a primetime matchup.
  • Florida State vs. Pittsburgh, September 2nd 
  • Texas vs. Brigham Young, September 7th
  • Houston vs. Temple, September 7th: The premiere of the American Athletic Conference divisional play kicks off with the Cougars and the Owls. Houston had the 11th-most passing yards in NCAA FBS Football with 328.4 yards per game, while the Owls will miss Montel Harris.
  • Notre Dame vs. Michigan, September 7th: Both schools will go into this season without the likes of Manti T'eo and Denard Robinson. Still is always a good game to watch; the last four games between these two have been decided by a touchdown or less.
  • Air Force vs. Boise State, September 13th
  • Alabama vs. Texas A&M, September 14th: Johnny Football will miss the presence of Luke Joeckel as he takes on the stingy defense of the Crimson Tide.
  • Arizona State vs. Stanford, September 21st
  • Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech, September 26th
  • Wisconsin vs. Ohio State, September 28th: Should be a low scoring game. Urban Meyer has really brought along some talented linebackers to the Horseshoe in his first couple of years at Ohio State. The Buckeyes should also have a better D-Line with the likes of juniors Joel Hale and Michael Bennet taking over the inside.
  • Nevada vs. San Diego State, October 4th
  • West Virginia vs. Baylor, October 5th 
  • Arizona vs. USC, October 10th 
  • Rutgers vs. Louisville, October 10th
  • Michigan vs. Penn State, October 12th: Penn State rebounded nicely from the Sandusky scandal last year and could be the spoiler in the Big Ten.
  • Miami (FL) vs. North Carolina, October 17th
  • UCLA vs. Stanford, October 19th: The Bruins could play spoiler to the Cardinal's chances of getting to the BCS.
  • Nebraska vs. Minnesota, October 26th
  • Louisiana-Monroe vs. Troy, October 31st
  • Georgia vs. Florida, November 2nd
  • Oregon vs. Stanford, November 7th: This game could determine who could possibly be going to the Pac-12 Championship game. The Cardinal allowed the 11th-fewest points in the FBS last year, allowing only 17.2 per game. Meanwhile, Oregon will miss Kenjon Barner, who spearheaded the 2nd-best offense in the FBS (49.6 points per game) and the 3rd-best rushing attack (315.2 yards per game). QB Marcus Mariota will be the key to the Ducks offense, though.
  • LSU vs. Alabama, November 9th: Always a big game. Whoever can make the most off of turnovers will win this game.
  • Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh, November 9th
  • Ball State vs. Northern Illinois, November 13th
  • Oklahoma State vs. Texas, November 16th
  • Michigan State vs. Northwestern, November 23rd
  • Oklahoma vs. Kansas State, November 23rd
  • Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, November 28th
  • Oregon State vs. Oregon, November 29th: The Civil War battle.
  • Louisville vs. Cincinnati, December 5th: In their last game in their only season in the American Athletic Conference, Terry Bridgewater and the Cardinals will have a tough road test on this day.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Geek Out Stat: Shivering Their Timbers

     For 20 straight years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a losing season. For a score of years, the Bucs have gone through what has seemed like an eternal rebuilding process. For two decades, Pittsburgh has gone through failed prospects like Bryan Bullington and Zach Duke. But the best team is baseball currently is none other than the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates. Yes, those Pittsburgh Pirates. The same Pirates who've endured twenty years of losing and mediocrity. They're not only on pace to break that trend this year, but they also appear to make their first postseason appearance since 1992 barring a complete collapse. So what has been the cause of the Pirates' good fortune and will Pittsburgh raise the World Series Champion flag in place of the Jolly Roger at the end of the postseason?
     It's a travesty that the Pirates' home park, PNC Park, hasn't hosted a single postseason game. It's often lauded and revered as being one of the nicest and most well-kept ballparks in the MLB. But this year will most likely be different with the current Pirates team thanks to the leadership of manager Clint Hurdle. His managerial record with the Pirates is 221-217 in three years, but he did finish 6th for the 2011 Manager of the Year award. In the past three years, Pittsburgh has managed to start off hot, often being in the playoff race by midseason. However, they've faded the previous two seasons below .500. However, it appears that the third time will be the charm thanks to outstanding pitching that will hold up come October.
     The Bucs lead the majors in team ERA (3.07) and opponents' batting average (.229). Jeff Locke (9-3, 2.47 ERA), Francisco Liriano (12-4, 106 SO, 2.02 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), and A.J. Burnett (2.73 ERA, 141 SO, 1.20 WHIP, .223 Opp. BA) have all been phenomenal starters for the Pirates, making for what is the best starting pitcher ERA in baseball (3.22). Here's an interesting statistic to accompany those numbers: Pittsburgh is 22nd in quality starts with 56. How is this the case? Look no further than the bullpen, which has been anchored by closer Jason Grilli, who has an ERA of 2.34, 30 saves, and 66 SO in 42.1 IP. The former Tiger might be currently out with a forearm injury, but he has been crucial for the Bucs' bullpen and should be returning soon. Other great arms in the pen for Pittsburgh have been Mark Melancon (26 holds, 0.83 ERA, 0.79 WHIP), Justin Wilson (10 holds, 2.14 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), and Tony Watson (15 holds, 3.21 ERA, 0.96 WHIP).
      It's strange how I've gone this far into the post just to mention how great Andrew McCutchen has been for the Bucs, which is a testament to how much better this Pittsburgh team is than years past. McCutchen is batting .313 with 16 HR, 65 RBI, and 24 stolen bases this season. He also has an OPS of .898, has only struck out 70 times this year, and has an offensive WAR of 5.3. Other productive members of the Pirates' lineup have been Starling Marte (10 HR, 30 RBI, 33 SB, 9 triples), Pedro Alvarez (27 HR, 74 RBI), and Russell Martin (10 HR, 42 RBI).
     It'll be fun watching this young Bucs' team compete in October. There's something to be said about how good pitching will win you titles and that could certainly be the case for Pittsburgh. Raise the Jolly Roger!!!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why Las Vegas Isn't Ready for a Sports Team

     Capital of Second Chances. The Entertainment Capital of the World. The Marriage Capital of the World. The Gambling Capital of the World. Sin City. These are some of the names that most people would associate with the city that has a metropolitan population of 1,951,269. But one of the names that Las Vegas also garners is "The Major City Without a Professional Sports Team". Why is this the case? The reason is not just because of the gambling culture and adult entertainment.
     It's obvious that the concerns about illegal sports betting dampers the chances of a professional sports team in Las Vegas. However, that isn't the main reason for why there's an absence of a team in the area. The competition for the entertainment dollar in Las Vegas is congested. According to the American Gaming Association, the Vegas Strip generated the most annual casino revenue in 2012 at $6.207 billion. That's twice the revenue of the second-best casino market in the U.S., Atlantic City. A Vegas sports team will not only be competing with businesses in the Las Vegas Strip, but will also have to compete with the big names that are at the Strip. Shows like the Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil, and Celine Dion are a few of the big names that perform on the Strip.
     Another issue with having a sports team in Vegas is the television market. Las Vegas is the 42nd-largest TV market in the United States. This ranks behind the likes of Hartford/New Haven (#30), Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville/Anderson (#36), West Palm Beach/Ft. Pierce (#38), Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek (#39), Birmingham (#40), and Harrisburg/Lancaster/Lebanon/York (#41), all of which don't have professional sports teams like Vegas. Of course, there are markets like Buffalo (#51) and New Orleans (#53) that have multiple sports teams and have a smaller market than Vegas. But those are only two of the six markets have a sports team if you consider Green Bay to be separate from Milwaukee.
     One other problem that Las Vegas has is the lack of a suitable venue. The Thomas & Mack Center, which has hosted the 2007 NBA All-Star Game and is the main venue for WWE events in Las Vegas, is thirty years old. The MGM Grand Garden Arena (Built in 1993) isn't much younger, not to mention the fact that it's located right in the MGM Grand Las Vegas. Building a new arena is no easy task, either. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, the region's powerhouse marketing organization, has been sidelined from proposing a new NBA/NHL arena because of the corporate competition that the arena issue presents. Even Palms owner George Maloof has stated that they can't build an arena in Vegas without taxpayer assistance. He also added that the state's financial crisis proves that now isn't the best time to build one.
     Overall, the problem with Las Vegas having a professional sports team doesn't just stem from the gambling culture. There's also the competition for the entertainment dollar, the television market, and a lack of a suitable venue. It might seem odd that Sin City doesn't have a local team to look for. But Las Vegans are hoping that that thought will be wiped away in the near future.