ESPN's Bottom Line - Version 2.0

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Playoff Preview: Ravens vs. Steelers and Packers vs. Falcons

Today's first game at 4:30 PM is a rematch of AFC North rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  These are two of the most hard hitting and ferocious teams in the NFL.  Their serious dislike for each other means that this is going to be a very fun football game to watch with both defenses getting after it.  

This battle is going to come down to pressure, can either team get pressure on the QBs before they can find an outlet?  Pittsburgh probably has the advantage in this regard if Troy Polamalu is healthy.  He is going to be playing but how effective is he going to be?  If Polamalu is even a step slow it gives Baltimore QB, Joe Flacco more time to get the ball to Running back, Ray Rice.  Rice is my key to the game for Baltimore.  They are going to have to get him going if they hope to beat the Steelers tenacious D.

The Baltimore pass rush got to Big Ben last time they played

Last week Baltimore blew out the Chiefs by forcing lots of turnovers and consistently hitting short yardage targets in the passing game.  Flacco was able to find Tight End Todd Heap over the middle for a 10-20 yard gain just about whenever he wanted to.  That's going to be a lot tougher to do against Pittsburgh who has an entire 53 man roster full of athletic Outside Linebackers that can cover TEs just as well as they can rush the passer.  Expect lots of screens to the aforementioned Rice who is going to have a tough day but he's going to have to make those OLBs miss if the Ravens hope to win this one.

The Steelers offense is facing a very tough Ravens run defense.  Middle Linebacker, Ray Lewis infamously broke Steelers Running back, Rashard Mendenhall's shoulder on a run up the middle after the two teams were talking trash in the week leading up to the game during Mendenhall's rookie year.  Actually according to ESPN neither team has allowed a 100 yard rusher in their last 28 combined playoff games.  Which means that  Big Ben is going to be looking for Wide Receivers, Mike Wallace and Hines Ward today.  Wallace is one of the fastest WRs in the NFL and he will be hoping to exploit Baltimore's weaker group of Cornerbacks.

At the end of the day, I don't think Baltimore is going to be able to get around all those great defenders in Pittsburgh.  Roethlisberger will be able to stand up to the Baltimore rush a little better than Flacco will and to me, Mike Wallace is the playmaker that really separates these teams.  Pittsburgh takes this one 20-17.

Tonight's game will feature the Green Bay Packers traveling to take on the NFC's top seeded Atlanta Falcons.  The Falcons QB, Matt Ryan, has only lost 2 home games in his three years playing in the NFL so the Packers are going to have a tough time beating Matty Ice at home tonight.  The Packers are coming off of a tough win against everyone's favorite, Philadelphia Eagles where they were able to shut down Mike Vick's scrambling while blanketing Desean Jackson and essentially taking him out of the game.  

The Packers are going to face another tough offense with play makers at every level, from QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, TE Tony Gonzalez, and WR Roddy White.  Turner has been a good Running Back in Atlanta but he is one of the most hot and cold performers in the league.  There are games where he'll just completely disappear.  Atlanta has to be hoping that he will show up tonight because their Wide Receiver, Roddy White is going to be facing off against one of the best cover corner's of all time in Charles Woodson.  The difference maker for Atlanta today is going to be Tony Gonzalez.  He will be matched up against the Packers 18th string Linebacker due to injuries to everyone but Clay Matthews in that position group.  Watch for Matthews to be chasing Ryan all day long in hopes of creating turnovers and preventing those deep passes to White.

Aaron Rodgers has been playing great this year and although the Falcons have some good cover corners, I still think the Packers will be able to take advantage of these matchups.  Atlanta Cornerbacks, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes will be facing a tall task today as they are asked to stop Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Donald Driver.  The Falcons typically like to rush with only their front 4 which includes studs Kroy Biermann and John Abraham.  If they are able to get pressure on Rodgers, this is going to be a very good game.  Although Green Bay had been without a running game almost all season, their rookie, James Starks exploded last week against the Eagles.  He'll have a tougher matchup today because the Atlanta Linebackers just get to sit back and key on opposing Running Backs.  

Despite Atlanta's fantastic record at home and their offensive threats, I don't see them hanging with Green Bay today.  The Packers are just playing great football on offense and defense right now.  Their improved offensive line should do a good job keeping Rodgers upright which will give him time to find all those great Wide Receivers.  The Packers pressure defense and Woodson's coverage on White should also help Green Bay win the turnover battle.  Packers win today 30-24.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Gallery of Blake Griffin Dunks

SI just posted a gallery of Blake Griffin dunks and if you've enjoyed my posts about that you should definitely check it out over there.

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Your Favorite Team Will Draft Cam Newton

Cam Newton has officially declared for the NFL Draft.  Everyone saw this coming.  But everyone has no idea where he is going to play next year so let's talk about it.  Over the next few months Cam is going to have to prove to scouts that he can be an accurate passer and is smart enough to learn a pro style offense, read WR progressions, and decipher NFL defenses.  The physical part should be fine considering it was his size, at 6'6" 250 lbs., and physical tools that allowed him to completely dominate College Football with no experience at all.  

Assuming that he doesn't completely bomb all the testing over the next three months, it's a pretty safe bet that he'll be a 1st Round pick in April's Draft.  So what team's could be willing to take a shot on Cam Newton?  Here are the teams drafting in the first round that I think could legitimately take a QB.

3. Buffalo (4-12)
4. Cincinnati (4-12)
5. Arizona (5-11)
7. San Francisco (6-10)
8. Tennessee (6-10)
10. Washington (6-10)
12. Minnesota (6-10)
15. Miami (7-9)
16. Jacksonville (8-8)
21. Kansas City (10-6)

Due to Cam's relative inexperience, he is most likely going to need some time to learn and adjust to the pro game. Any team that drafts him will likely have to have a veteran in place who they are phasing out or they'll have to completely overhaul the position by bringing in both Cam and a Veteran who will eventually become the backup.  The teams that fit into that first column are Buffalo, Cincinnati, Miami, Jacksonville, and Kansas City.  All of those teams have decent QBs who are capable but certainly not Pro-Bowlers.  A capable QB is okay if you have a very dominant defense and a solid running game, but you don't get a Top 15 pick with both of those, so it's pretty clear that most of these teams could use an upgrade at QB.  The other teams Arizona, San Francisco, Tennessee, Washington, and Minnesota need to just start over at the QB position by getting a young QB to start or groom and some veteran help by way of free agency.  

The CBA negotiations are going to make this year much different than any off-season we've seen before.  If there is no CBA, teams technically can't make any trades because that agreement defines the terms in which teams are allowed to make trades.  It's also going to hold up any sort of free agency.  There are a few different forms that free agency could take this off-season but because they all depend on the CBA there isn't really any way to know what's going to happen until serious negotiations start to take place instead of all this posturing.  Free agency might actually not take place until after the Draft this year which would make things very interesting and could make teams look for players who they think will be able to help their team immediately rather than guys who would need to be taught a whole new system but with more upside.

All of this uncertainty is going to make for a very action packed off-season.  Maybe it's all part of Roger Goodell's master plan to keep fans interested all year long rather than just during the 4 month season?  But no matter what happens there will be a draft and unless something really crazy happens, we can expect Cam Newton to be taken in the 1st round by one of those teams.  Unless of course one of those crazy smart drafting teams like the Eagles or Patriots decides to hoard 1st round QBs and they take Newton in order to trade him for a bounty when Free Agency does eventually open up.  But don't count on that.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

College Basketball Started Too!

The end of College Football also hearkens the beginning of College Basketball's relevance.  As you might have guessed, the #1 team in the country is Duke.  That was until last night when they were beaten by an unranked Florida State team that has made a habit of upsetting Duke's #1 ranked teams.  The picture above crystallizes perfectly why so many people don't like Duke.  Even the little kid fans, whose parent's have obviously indoctrinated them into the Duke way of thinking, cry when they lose.  This kid might as well personify every Duke starting Point Guard from the early 90's to infinity.  Which if you couldn't tell means that I'll be routing for the underdogs here.  Let's go SDSU!

What's happening in College Basketball this year.
  • 4 teams are still undefeated Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and San Diego State.
  • The Big East is VERY talented with 7 teams in the Top 20.
  • The top scorer in the country is a guy named Jimmer Fredette from BYU.
  • The Marcus brothers are a very good tandem for Kansas.
  • Oregon is set to unveil the new quarter billion dollar Matthew Knight Arena tonight.
  • NBA draft notables; Kyrie Irving PG Duke, Harrison Barnes G UNC, Terrence Jones F Kentucky, Perry Jones PF Baylor, Jared Sullinger PF Ohio State, Enes Kanter PF Kentucky.
There is obviously a lot more going on and a lot more time to play before March Madness but this should be a pretty good top line to start with.  Of course I'm just getting into it so if I missed anything that is a huge glaring omission please let me know in the comments.

Jimmer driving hard!

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Book Championship Series: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Well I've finished the fantastic "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon.  Pynchon is one of my favorite writers because he is one of the most colorful and creative wordsmiths I've ever read.  Although I enjoyed the story in this book, I think I just really like how Pynchon describes situations, his style is truly unique.  Inherent Vice is about a cannabis fueled private detective working on a case to uncover the mystery behind a missing real estate mogul that involves international drug cartels, ex-lovers, corrupt police officials, and the seedy underworld of the LA beach communities in the 1970's.

Next up for the acclaimed Book Championship Series is a book I've had my eye on for a few years but just kept putting off for some reason.  Today marks the day that I finally get around to Michael Lewis's claim to fame, "Moneyball."  For those unfamiliar, Moneyball is about how then GM of the Oakland Athletics changed the baseball landscape by finding great value in generally undesirable players and turned his low budget team into a serious contender.  Lewis is a big fan of value discrepancies and I'm really looking forward to learning all about this story.  As a football fan, I love the NFL Draft for the same reason.  Teams place sometimes extremely different values on different players and different attributes but it's the understanding the difference between your team's value and all the others that makes a successful draft.  Anyway, I'm really excited to dig into this one to see if there is anything that applies to other sports.

  As always, let me know if you guys have read either book or if you have future recommendations for me.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Basketball Season has Begun

Yes I realize that basketball started a few months ago but now College Football season is over and there is nothing but basketball on TV during the week.  So this is really about the time that basketball season starts for me.  In an effort to get people (myself) up to speed, I asked some of my more basketball savvy friends to fill me in on the top stories in the NBA this year and here is what I found out.
  1. Boston playing great right now.  The Celtics have been on fire lately and although they are missing Kevin Garnett with a strained calf at the moment, they have a 6 game lead in their division.
  2. Professional basketball matters again in New York at MSG.  The combination of Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton have brought relevance back to basketball's Mecca.  Could they possibly bring Carmelo Anthony into the fold and become a serious competitor?
  3. Derrick Rose taking the next step.  As you can see above Derrick Rose is an athlete.  But he is hitting shots this year too.  Rose is .377 from behind the 3-point line this season.
  4. Cavs were better with Lebron. At 8-30, Cleveland is the worst team in the league.  They were almost doubled up by the Lakers last night 112-57 and lose by an average of more than 10 points per game.  Yeah I guess you could say LeBron was good for them.
  5. Heat are better with LeBron. Despite a 9-8 start to the year the Heat are currently at 30-9, meaning they've only lost 1 game in their last 22.  Those three guys are playing good basketball.
  6. Blockbuster deal for Orlando to get more explosive but smaller. Orlando gave up just about everyone on their team but Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson.  They picked up Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas.  They have won their last 9 games after a sputtering start to the year.
  7. John Wall. Yup, he's legit.  Wall is averaging about 16 points and 9 assists per game and already has a triple-double.  He is about the only reason to watch the Wizards now.
  8. Thunder's Russell Westbrook throws down over Lakers Lamar Odom
  9. The Thunder's rise to elite status. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had their coming out party this Summer for team USA but fortunately for Oklahoma City, they are both on the Thunder and boy are they fun to watch.  Those two average only .1 ppg less than the combination of Dwayne Wade and LeBron James
  10. Laker 3-peat? The Lakers have looked good this year but you can start to see things coming apart at the seams (as long as you don't look at last night's blowout).  The only thing holding them back in my mind is their age which they are beginning to show.  Unless of course they are just playing easy to get into the post-season healthy and rested.
  11. Blake Griffin is man-child. Please see this post and the picture below.
  12. Spurs are the best team in the league right now. Their 32-6 record is clearly tops in the NBA right now.  Nobody plays better team basketball.
  13. Poor Yao Ming and Greg Oden.  I think there might be a limit to the pounding that bodies as big as theirs can take and hopefully they haven't reached it yet, but you have to think they're close as both big guys have already had season ending surgery.  Again.
Well there you have it, the top 12 stories going on in the NBA right now.  I'll continue to discuss the bigger events going on in the league throughout the season.  The allegedly impending Carmelo Anthony trade a New York team will probably be the next NBA article.  We might even get some guest writers to come on and chat about some more in depth stuff over the course of the season.

Blake Griffin obliterating physical boundaries

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What's Next for Cam Newton?

Last night Cam Newton capped off one of the best singular seasons in College Football history with a National Championship victory.  Just about a month ago Cam won the Heisman award for the best player in College Football.  In total, he passed for 31 TDs and rushed for 20 more.  He became only the 2nd player in NCAA history to pass for 20 TDs and run for 20 TDs after Tim Tebow did it in 2008.  Most people think he is a lock to enter the NFL after accomplishing just about everything there is to do in College Football along with all the pay for play allegations swirling over him, however Cam is only a Junior so he could return to Auburn.

I happen to be one of those people who think Newton is definitely bound for the NFL though.  He has already won everything and if he stayed and continued to dominate there would be a lot more scrutiny on whether his Father ever paid for Cam's commitment to Auburn.  The only upside in staying is another year of incredible fun on a beautiful campus where he dominates lesser competition.  Yeah, that does sound pretty nice actually.  But he won't.  If Cam's Father was trying to score $180,000 last year imagine how excited he'll be when Cam has the opportunity to get $20 million.  Most Mock Draft projections have Cam going in the Top 10 and that qualifies for a good chunk of change.
From a physical standpoint Newton is just about everything an NFL scout could want in a QB.  He is 6'6" and weighs 250 lbs which is JaMarcus Russel-esque but I don't think there is any question that Newton is more of a work-out freak than Russel ever was.  Although I was hoping to end the Russel comparisons with the size thing, they do happen to share rocket arm strength too and that enamored Al Davis enough to take Russel with the first pick in the draft. Unfortunately for Cam, the Raiders traded their pick to New England.  

If Cam does come out he'll have to work through a few negatives.  He has only played one season of major college football, he played in a spread option run first offense, and his accuracy is questionable.  The accuracy thing can be answered to some degree in Pro-Day workouts and his knowledge of reading defenses can be rested by good interviews at the combine.  However, he needs to play through the experience thing and that  could mean that teams drafting him will take him with the expectation that he'll sit for a year or two.

Ultimately, I think Newton will declare for the draft in the next day or two.  Then he'll have to really focus on clearing up some of those doubts about his ability over the next few months.  However, based on his pure physical talent and play-making ability I don't see him dropping past the Minnesota Vikings with the 12th pick in April's NFL Draft.

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Auburn Wins the BCS National Championship

Michael Dyer levitates out of a tackle for a huge gain in Auburn's go-ahead drive. Thx to @bubbaprog for the pic
Michael Dyer's non-tackled wrist helped propel Auburn to a game winning drive as time expired.  Right now that is the most enduring image from a fantastic football game.  Sure it wasn't the 48-42 offensive extravaganza that some of us expected but both teams hustled all over the field and made countless "big plays" on both offense and defense.  

There will be a lot more to talk about tomorrow but it's safe to say that Auburn had the most dominant offensive and defensive players on the field with Cam Newton and Nick Fairley.  Both guys came up big time after time tonight and without either of them, this would have been a very different game.  At this point I don't think it's hyperbole to say that there is a very good chance that we could see both of them drafted within the first ten selections in this year's NFL Draft but it might be when I suggest that it's possible they go 1-2.

Great game by both squads.  I feel bad for Oregon because they seem like they were really the under-dog team all year despite playing at an incredibly high level all season long.  QB Darron Thomas had his ups and downs tonight but looked very solid for the most part.  The unheralded star of tonight's game is absolutely Jeff Maehl.  He made highlight catches all night long, all over the field, and the in toughest situations like 3rd and long and even 2 point conversions.  How good is Auburn's Freshman Running Back Michael Dyer going to be?  I remember him tearing up the HS All-American game last year but what a coming out party for that guy!

I know that there is a post-season ranking coming out and sometimes the losing squad in the National Championship game falls in those rankings but I don't see any way that it happens here.  The Ducks are very deserving of a #2 ranking.  In fact if they played again, I don't see how anyone could claim that the Ducks don't have an equal shot of winning that game.  Both teams will be restocking talent from incoming recruiting classes but I think we'll see Oregon in the Top 3 when the Preseason rankings come out later this Summer because they really aren't losing too many guys.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

The National Championship, Oregon vs. Auburn

It's National Championship day!  Say all you want about the need for a playoff, but the BCS got it right this year.   This is the game that we've all wanted to see and you couldn't find two more deserving teams to meet in the BCS National Championship than Oregon and Auburn.  It's been over a month since these teams solidified their position in this game and the wait is just about over.  

The storylines for tonight's game are all about the offense.  Both schools run the infamous "spread, but even a casual fan can tell that there is a big difference between the two styles.  Oregon has more speed at every position and their Coach Chip Kelly has revolutionized play-calling.  Auburn has the most dominant player in college football since at least last year, but seriously he plays like Superman.  Both schools averaged over 40 points a game this season and rank in the Top 5 nationally in rushing offense! The question becomes can either defense stop either offense?  

Fortunately both schools featured top defenses to go along with their glitzy offenses.  Auburn's D is led by dominating Defensive Tackle Nick Fairley who has flat out owned the line of scrimmage this season.  Every game that I've seen him play, he's spent a majority of the time in the offensive backfield disrupting everything.  The question for today's game might is he in good enough shape to do that roughly 100 times?  Which is the number of plays that Oregon usually shoots for in a game.  Fairley and the rest of the Tigers will have to get pressure on QB Darron Thomas early and often in order to break up their rhythm and momentum.  Running Back, LaMichael James is a special player but if Auburn can take away the threat of the deep ball to Jeff Maehl, their Linebackers will be able to tee-off on the undersized speedster.

The Ducks defense has been tasked with stopping the most unstoppable player in College Football this season.  Fortunately they've got 12th best Defense in the country in terms of points allowed.  Their defense is led by All-American Cornerback Cliff Harris and Linebacker Casey Matthews.  Both will have to have great games for the Ducks to contain Auburn.  Cliff Harris will likely be paired off against Wide Receiver Darvin Adams, who has been Newton's top target this season.  If Harris can negate Adams' impact, their Linebackers Matthews, Spencer Paysinger, and Eddie Pleasant can key on the Tigers running threats Newton, Michael Dyer, and Onterrio McCalebb.  

Everything about this game points to an offensive explosion and the over/under right now is at 74 points.  Although I don't gamble I could see these teams putting up over 80 points after all the fine tuning they've been able to get in over the last month.  Both teams have made something of a habit of getting off to slow starts, and because of that long lay-off we could see more of that.  However, once these offenses start to get going, this is going to be a very fun game to watch. At the end of the night,Oregon's defense is going to have more success stopping Cam Newton and I think the Ducks are going to play too fast on offense for those big bodies up front for the Tigers to catch their breath, the Duck's will prevail 48-42.  

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Playoff preview: Ravens vs. Chiefs and Packers vs. Eagles.

Mike Vick outruns Clay Matthews in the Eagles and Packers Week 1 meeting.
After two fantastic games last night we are treated to another great doubleheader today when the Ravens travel to Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium this afternoon and the Packers will bring their hot streak into the City of Brotherly Love in the late game.

The Ravens are going to have to get their offense on track today against the Chiefs in what has been a very up and down season for Flacco and Company.  Ray Rice wasn't nearly the fantasy star this season that many people believed that he would be this season but he turned it on towards the end of the regular season.  The Ravens will be facing a very young Chiefs defense today with budding stars at nearly every position.  

The Chiefs offense is is led by Jamaal Charles who's 6.39 yards per rush of  was #1 in the league and only .01 yards behind the 47 year old NFL record held by Jim Brown.  The Chiefs also have the top WR in the league this year in breakout star Dwayne Bowe who led the NFL with 15 receiving Touchdowns.  Unfortunately for the Cheifs, they are playing against one of the toughest defenses in the league lead by 15 year NFL veteran and 12 time Pro Bowler Ray Lewis.  Other notables on the Ravens D include maybe the best Safety of all time, Ed Reed and one of the best Defensive Tackles in the game Haloti Ngata.

In the late game today it's all about Mike Vick.  More to the point, can the Eagles keep the pressure off of Vick so he has some time to throw?  The Packers will certainly bring the heat all day with their phenomenal pass rushing tandem of  Outside Linebacker Clay Matthews and Cornerback Charles Woodson.  If Green Bay is getting too much pressure on Vick, look for Eagles' Running Back Lesean McCoy to see a lot more touches than normal as the Packers defense has been vulnerable up the middle.

The Packers offense is led by Aaron Rodgers in what has become almost entirely a passing offense.  They lost their top Running Back Ryan Grant to a torn ACL in their Week 1 game against the Eagles and their replacements haven't exactly filled that gap.  Fortunately the Packers will be facing a very inexperienced Eagles defense who will feature first year starters at nearly every level (DT Antonio Dixon, LB, Jamar Chaney, CB Dmitri Patterson, and Safety Kurt Coleman).  Despite their youth this squad has been playing very well lately.  Although Jamar Chaney is a rookie picked in this year's 7th round, he has filled in for Middle Linebacker Stewart Bradley remarkably well.  Bradley is a game time decision today with a separated elbow suffered a few weeks ago.  The real match up to keep an eye on today will be Aaron Rogers against the Eagles banged up Secondary which consists of Pro Bowler Asante Samuel, rookie 7th rounder Kurt Coleman, and first year starter Dmitri Patterson.  The Eagles are going to have to get pressure on Rodgers if they hope to allow the Secondary any chance of staying with the Packers big and fast WRs Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Donald Driver.

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