Sunday, July 31, 2005

Jeremy: Gopher Football is in the air

I know that Jeff has already been jamming it up NFL-style on Midwest Sports Rubes, but can you feel it? Can you really feel it? Can you smell it? Oh, that sweet, sweet smell. Football is in the air. NFL training camps started last week. We are less than a week away from the first preseason NFL game. Just 5 weeks away from NFL week 1. 32 days away from the first NCAA football games. Fantasy football drafts will be kicking off all over the country in a matter of days. I said it last year and I'll say it again... "IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR!!!"
I'm starting to get out of my summer sports slump and looking forward to the next 10 months of sports packed days and nights.
So... with my sporting senses back in full-swing, it's time to drop my yearly breakdown of the upcoming Gopher football season.
For those of you who care about Gopher football as much as I do (which I realize might only be my uncle and my cousin) this is a very tense time of year. The excitement is undeniable, but the anxiety, the past failures, the feeling in the pit of your stomach just thinking about the Big Ten season collapses... it's an internal tug-of-war that is enough to keep a guy up at night. Add those things to the fact that Glen (Glendolyn) Mason is still the head coach of the team and you can see why I have bags under my eyes and heartburn just at hearing the words Gopher Football.
The Gophers have two things going for them this year. First, a buzzing excitement with a good crop of new young coaches primarily on the defensive side of the ball that look to bring an energy and an attitude that we haven't seen since.... well, we're talkin' defense here, so, at least as long as I can remember.
Attitude, and I mean real attitude, will be a very important cog for our team this year. I'm not talking about the kind of attitude that Mas brings to the media talking about how the team needs to keep it's head up, and relenting about how they got outplayed by a better team today, etc. etc. etc. I'm talking aboug real football attitude. I'm talking about some real piss-and-vinager here. A real "you are not going to get past me, I don't care what name is on your jersey or what mascot is on your sideline, we are the F'ing Gophers... MUNCH, MUNCH BABY!!!" kind of attitude. The kind Mason has been incapable of and hopefully some young fiery coaches can bring it to the team.
The second thing the Gophs have going for them, after yet another season ending collapse (starting again with (funny...) Michigan), is that the expectations for this team are typically low. But outside of losing Barber to the Dallas Cowboys, the Gophs won't be missing much in the way of talent from last year's team. The RB spot should be fine, Cupito's got no place to go but up, the receivers have a year of underachievers behind them, and if the defense can stop even one team, one time, on third and long, we'll all sleep a little easier at night, won't we? The line will again be the anchor of an offense that should primarily feature the running game again, but can also hopefully give Cupito enough confidence and time to throw some of those nice balls we saw that he was capable of early last season.
For two years I've been screaming for more blitzing, more stunting, more... well, more of anything really... on the defensive side of the ball. The passive prevent defense that the Gophers have run for so long does not fly in the Big Ten. Our lack of aggression on the defensive line is the prime suspect in why we have been so vulnerable on 3rd and long the past few years. Teams know exactly what we are going to do on every defensive series, they know exactly where we are weak, and they know right where to hit us. They see us send three down linemen on a 3rd and long time after time and as we are all in the stands moaning and screaming for a blitz, their eyes light up with excitement. I don't mind giving up a third and long every now and then, but if it's going to happen, let's go down swingin'. Is that too much to ask?
In any case, we lose Reid (DE) and Sims (LB) on defense. Two important pieces, but their absences should be more than made up for by Shevlin, Sherels (both LB's) and Lipka (DE).
Having said that... the Gophers also have one major thing against them: the soft Big Ten schedule that they had the luxury of playing the last two years is now long gone. Purdue and Ohio State are both back, replacing the spots that Illinois and Northwestern held the past couple of seasons. Not a favorable trade-off.
My beloved Gophs finished 7-5 last year (3-0 non-conference, 3-5 Big Ten). For a team with very high expectations, a team that Mason called his most talented as a coach, this was a very underachieving number.
The critics are again saying this is Mason's most talented bunch, but the new schedule looms as a huge obstacle. I want to believe all of the hype, but we've been let down so many times, and (I know this statement won't surprise you) I just do not trust this teams chances as long as Mason is steering the ship.
If they don't go undefeated through the non-conference schedule I might give up early, but (gulp!) that shouldn't be an issue. 5-3 through the Big Ten schedule is about what we should be allowed to expect from this team. We should expect (yes, I said EXPECT) to beat Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State at home, and Indiana and Penn State on the road, but again, the Mason factor scares me considerably. 4-4 is a more reasonable expectation, and 3-5 is probably even more realistic, with the swing games being Purdue and Wisconsin at home.
So, against my better judgment, and against everything the past years have taught me, I'm going to predict a 7-4 season (Purdue is a W, but Wisconsin will be a downer). This should put them at about 5th or 6th in the Big Ten (big GULP!). But that should be enough to get Mason another token bowl appearance for beating that magical 6-win mark. It will again, however, be a low-tier game, giving him yet another opportunity to remind us all that the important thing is that the kids get to practice for another month and play on a national (albeit small) stage. Nice going Mas! Not only are you a mediocre (at best) coach, but you are also boring and predictable.
No, the Gophers will not smell the roses this year, continuing the longest Rose Bowl draught in the Big Ten.
Will this finally be the year that proves Glen Mason does not belong at the helm of a major college football program? Is Joel Maturi the only one who doesn't see this? Can Bryan Cupito maintain the promise that he showed in glimpses last season? Will we show enough promise as a team this year to give Maroney a reason to stay through his Senior season? Will we ever beat Michigan again?
So many questions... so few answers, so much speculation.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Jeremy: Cheesecurd Unattended

If you decide to go to a ball game with Jeff, or really any other public event where food might be available for that matter, it is important that you do not leave him unattended. This is especially important if there is food around. Particularly if you paid for the food and Jeff didn't.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Jeff: NFC West

There needs to be a rule that when a division's this bad, they do not deserve a playoff team. Or at the very least don't give them home-field advantage in the first round. Like last year, somebody has to win the West (which means try and get to .500), and therefore somebody has to go the playoffs and get creamed by a much better team. Wouldn't you know it two teams from this division (Seattle and St Louis) met in the first round, prolonging the trouncing by one round (Atlanta destroyed the Rams 47-17). All four teams in the South are better this year than anybody out here. Just ugly. I'll try and make this as quick and painless as possible.

4. San Francisco 49ers (2-4 wins)
The good news: the Niners have a great chance of getting the #1 overall pick for the 2006 draft. The bad news: considering how they handled this year's #1 pick, who says they'd do any better with next year's? So new coach Mike Nolan didn't fair well with his first draft, but hey, if they match last year's win total of 4, he should be coach of the year. Or if they could find a way to sim their season like the Madden video game, that'd be even better. The other local football teams, Cal or Stanford, or even high-school powerhouse Matrei Dei, could give them a run.
The Niners could have Joe Montana in his prime playing QB this year and even he couldn't get much out of this offense because there is NO ONE to throw to. That's why taking Utah QB Alex Smith #1 instead of Michigan WR Braylon Edwards blows my mind. All Edwards did was dominate against the biggest and best schools in the country and be named the top receiver. Smith? Um, he looked pretty good against Wyoming. The man hasn't taken a snap from under center since high school. But hey he scored pretty well on the wonderlic test. Too bad the Niners don't give them to their front-office folks so they could avoid decisions like this. RB Kevin Barlow looked like a future star while sharing carries with medical miracle Garrison Hearst. What does he do with the backfield all to himself last year? Barely average three yards a carry. Roger Craig could come out of retirement and do as well. So San Fran brought in another back who's familiar with the operating table in 3rd round pick Frank Gore (not one not two but THREE knee surgeries!) to push him. The offensive line? They're "offensive" in deed. San Fran could be the first non-CFL team to start punting on 3rd down.
This is actually a pretty good group, especially if star LB Julian Peterson comes back anywhere near the player he was before that horrific achilies injury last year. DE Andre Carter provides a solid rush on the end, and the secondary is young at the corners but improving, and Tony Parrish is one of the league's best strong safeties. However, the D might as well put bunkbeds and a mess house at midfield because they'll be living on it all year. No matter how good your defense, if their offense keeps putting them back on the field, they're in trouble.

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-8 wins)
Mike Holmgren better have his resume in order. Coming off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances with the Green Bay Packers (if you reside near Wisconsin chances are you know this whether you wanted to or not), coach went to Seattle in '99 with the promise of finally bringing a winner to the Pacific Northwest. Well 6 years and zero playoff victories later, it still hasn't happened. There were few changes from the team that backed into the playoffs at 9-7. For Holmgren to keep his job, he needs to win a playoff game this year. Like I said, he better have his resume up to date.
Matt Hasselback took a step back last year after looking like he was finally going to be the leader Coach Holmgren told everybody he would be. Of course, not all of that is his fault. With a core of receivers that lead the league in dropped passes, Hasselback's chances of a successful season were about as good as trying to row across a lake with a hole in your boat. The Hawks top two talents, Darryl Jackson and Koren Robinson, both have plenty but are still grasping the whole "receiver" part of wide receiver. So Seattle's trying something new this year: receivers with basically no athletic ability (Joe Jurevicius and Jerome Pathon) but get this- they actually catch the ball when it's thrown to them!! Quite a concept, indeed. Plus they signed a guy named Taco Wallace. Gotta love that. Despite the woes of the aerial attack, the running game remains one of the league's best. Shaun Alexander did the smart thing by getting into camp on time, and will be an unrestricted free agent next year. If you've this sport, or any other, you know guys playing for contracts have huge years. Alexander, one of the league's best backs playing behind one of the league's best lines, will be no different, regardless of whether Hasselback can find somebody who'll actually catch a pass or two.
Things went downhill when big free agent-signee E Grant Wistrom got hurt. Without his pass rushing threat off the end, teams were much more comfortable going to the air. With Wistrom healthy and the Hawks signing former Titan standout Andre Dyson at corner, things should improve. The linebackers could use help, and the Hawks are hoping that a chance to play with his younger brother Michael (an improving safety), could convince former Baltimore Pro Bowler Peter Boulware to sign for less. Ken Hamlin is developing into one of the better safeties in the NFL.

2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9 wins)
So this is everybody's chic pick to have a breakout season. Two things bother me:
1) it's the Cardinals. Awhile back I wrote about how many other NFL franchises there are that would be worse to cheer for than the Vikings, and I believe Arizona was near the top, or bottom depending on your view, of bad teams. One playoff appearance, that's right ONE, since moving to Phoenix in the '80's. Nothing ever goes right for this franchise. And yes I realize that the Bucs won a Super Bowl and the Red Sox a World Series so anything's possible. Well neither were even close to the level of futility the Cards have maintained. As a matter of fact they're thinking of changing the word futility to just "cards". But hey at least they're consistent.
2) Dennis Green is coaching this team. The same Dennis Green who always prided himself on undefeated preseasons and winning regular seasons in his 10+ years with the Vikings. Oh he was also good at not preparing his teams for minor things like conference championships. But now he's the savior in the Desert and people are using "Denny" and "a good young defense" in the same sentence, which is much like saying "Canadians hate beer and hockey". It's just wrong. So forgive me if I'm not quite ready to gush about the Cardinals playoff chances. Of course he did actually spend a first round pick on a defensive player (this year's defensive rookie of the year, CB Antrell Rolle) which last happened...looks like never. Ok so maybe this is the new Denny-or they're not letting him make all the decisions.
3) oops forgot the 3rd thing--everybody likes them, which can be the kiss of death.
Sure Denny doesn't worry much about his defense, but he always seems to make the offense work. Kurt Warner may have enough gas left in the tank to run the offense. Personally, I wouldn't want him bagging my groceries let alone running my offense, but Denny IS the master of making crappy quarterbacks a little less crappy. JJ Arrington should be a very good back behind a very good line. Compact, shifty, with good wheels to the corner means a good shot at offensive rookie of the year. The Cards lack a true deep threat at WR, but have two very talented young receivers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Like every Denny team, the O-line is good, and moving monster pro-bowler Larry Davis from guard to tackle will only help.
There's talent and speed here. Can this REALLY be Denny's team? The ends need to step up, and should be helped by all the attention Wendell Bryant and last year's early round steal Darnell Dockett, will bring at d-tackle. The linebackers are all young, athletic and ridiculously fast, and the faster rookies Darryl Blackstock and Lance Mitchell learn, the better the D will be. Rolle will step in immediately as the team's #1 corner, and barring the Cards doing anything stupid (it's the Cards so maybe that should read "until" they do something stupid), will be the team's best corner since Aneas Williams left via free agency a few years back. S Bob Griffith, one of the few good defensive players Green had in Minnesota, reunites will the Sheriff and will try and mentor talented safety Adrian Wilson. You know, this IS a good young team. Maybe Arizona's futility and Denny's lack of playoff production will cancel each other out?

1. St Louis Rams (7-9 wins)
It sure wasn't pretty, but somehow a team that won 8 games last year, including just 2 on the road, made it to the 2nd round of the playoffs. They beat the Seahawks in Seattle twice in as many weeks; first to clinch a playoff spot, and then theu won the right to get throttled by Atlanta in the playoffs (which they did 47-17). Shades of the teams' Super Bowl caliber high octane offense remain, but a transition year should be in order to keep the team atop the division. BUt when has Mark Martz ever done the right thing? Super Bowl, you say? Remember, that was teary-eyed Dick Vermeil hoisting the Lombardi trophy. And it seems since taking the reigns the year after Martz has been hell-bent on doing things HIS way to escape Vermeil's shadow. Number of Super Bowl's doing things Martz' stubborn ways? Yeah, zero. And the number will be the same after this season. But they'll be in the playoffs again because somebody from this division has to be.
Yes I'm aware a good offensive line is the key to any good team. But it's the #1 issue for this offense, which has plenty of weapons to choose from, but needs the blocking to make it happen. Hopes of a high octane offense were dashed when RT Kyle Turley was lost for the season. His replacement, most likely rookie 1st rounder Alex Barron, needs to solidify the end and allow QB Mark Bulger the time he needs. Bulger is better than Warner now, but will never reach the MVP-level Kurt attained in their Super Bowl year. If he keeps his interceptions down, and continues getting the ball to Torry Holt and the ageless wonder, Isaac The Bruce, the passing game will be dangerous. Marshall Faulk has been one of the best backs of the last decade, but it's time to step aside and let bruising 2nd year stud Stephen Jackson take the bulk of the carries. Jackson doesn't have the all-around abilities Faulk had in his prime, but then again neither does Marshall now. What Jackson does do is move the chains and punish people between the tackles, and his pass-catching is much improved. Faulk could still be lethal as a change-of-pace. Still, with Martz calling the shots, all of this makes way too much sense to happen.
Raise your hand if you know the name of last season's leading tackler? Uh huh...uh huh...interesting...yeah, thought so. Even Rams fans probably aren't familiar with the name Pisa Tinoisamoa, let alone how to pronounce it. The 3rd year linebacker from Hawaii was a pleasant suprise, but is really going to have his work cut out for him this year. Aeneas Williams and Tommy Polley are gone, and their replacements are as inconspicuous as Pisa. SS Adam Archuleta needs to be great to help this unit come together. The better the offense, the less pressure, and better these guys will be.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Jeff: NFC Least

4. Washington Redskins (4-7 wins)
This division is a good reminder that no matter how good you are, time always catches up with you. Two coaches, including the Skins' Joe Gibbs, have proven in their return to the division that their greatness has receded along with their hairlines. Granted, this is not anywhere close to the Skins glory years Gibbs once coached. Teams that had talent on both sides of the both. They also had hope. This team has neither.
OH for the glory days of the Fun Bunch. This group is a fun bunch for opposing defenses to line up against, but that's about where the comparisons end. Gibbs' first QB signing, Mark Brunell, was a disaster. Former first round pick Patrick Ramsey didn't fair any better. This year's #1 pick, Jason Campbell, could be a good player down the road--especially if Washington had half the talent his college team at Auburn had. Of course they don't, so whether it's Campbell or Ramsey gets another shot, neither looks to be very productive. The team needs to play to Clinton Portis' strengths (too bad bragging about himself is his biggest one), and hope he returns to All-Pro form he showed in Denver. Especially considering that David Patten is his #1 receiver. He was great as a role player in New England, but might as well be wearing "disappointment" on the back of his jersey. The team dealt their only productive wideout, Laverneus Coles, to the Jets for the undersized, underproductive and oft-injured Santana Moss. Let's just say it's good not to be a Skins fan.
Lavar Arrington needs to do 2 things: 1) stay healthy. 2) Finally play up to his ability and become the best defensive player in the league. The team has less talent around him than before, and ned him to step up. If FS Shaun Taylor were half as good on the field as he is at whining about his contract and getting arrested (what a shock he played for the Hurricanes), the still potential All-Pro could make this one of the better defenses. Only time will tell (and from the looks of the Florida courts it could be awhile) whether Taylor plays in DC or the penal league this season. And with all the NFL guys they had in The Longest Yard, wouldn't Taylor have been a natural selection? He could have even used his real inmate number.

3. Dallas Cowboys (6-8 wins)
The Tuna still is a coaching legend, but he seems to be running on fumes. In much better shape than Gibbs (not physically), as this Cowboys team has some talent. But they do have plenty of questions as well. After overachieving in 2003, Parcells' boys played to ability and finished under .500. More of the same is probable this year.
For the first half of last season the Boys looked insane for passing on Stephen Jackson in the draft. Then Julius Jones, who broke his shoulder in the preseason, got healthy and looked like Emmitt Smith. Now if Dallas could just find the second coming of Aikman and Irvin. Drew Bledsoe is certainly not the longterm answer to replace 97 year old Vinny Testeverde, but the statuesque (both in physique and mobility) former pupil of Parcells could have one last gasp in him. And with these receivers, he'll need it. The line will be solid again, and it boasts one of the league's best tight ends in Jason Witten. If Bledsoe can pass enough to keep all eleven guys from ganging up on Jones, Big D could be back in the playoffs.
Usually a Parcells staple, the Boys' D slipped last year. They tried to make amends in the draft, taking two guys for the front seven in the top 20, in DE/LB Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears. 2nd round LB Kevin Burnett could start right away, and teaming with Dat Nguyen, gives Dallas plenty of speed from sideline to sideline. The secondary was a dissapointment, and needs to rebound. Because of it they overpaid for corner Aaron Glenn, but if he can provide leadership and depth and push former #1 Terrance Newman towards his potential, it may just be worth it. Safety Roy Williams is the scariest thing in Texas since the death penalty.

New York Giants (9-10 wins)
This is the one team that could close the gap on the Eagles, who more than lapped the field last season. Coach Tom Coughlin had some revolt last year when he (gasp!) actually asked for effort during training camp. The regular season results were mixed, mostly due to the mixed effort. Coughlin has tried to get more of "his kind of guys" for 2005 (which makes the Plaxico signing a little puzzling being that he's never exactly been an overachiever) and hopes to improve on the team's 6-10 finish.
Boy you've really got to feel for Eli Manning, don't you? It's bad enough the guy has had to live under his big brother Peyton's shadow (you know, the one of "best-regular-season-QB-who's-won-jacksquat") but the guy also had to recover from the trauma of almost having to play for San Diego. Luckily, he weasled his way out of playing for a team that won twice as many games as the Giants last year, has the best player in football (Tomlinson), and is located beside the ocean where it's 75 degrees and sunny every day. Yeah I think that's a decison we all would have made. Despite that, his decision-making skills on the field weren't bad for a rookie, and with new wideout Plaxico Burress, along with TE Jeremy Shockey possibly showing up for all 16 games, he should look more comfortable this season. Tiki Barber is the key though. The better he plays, the easier life will be for Manning. Not as easy as it would have been in, oh I don't know, San Diego, but easier none the less.
Other than DE Michael Strahan, not a lot of big names here. But the D was productive, and the G-Men will look for more of the same this season. DT William Joseph could take major strides in his 3rd season (and being that he's a Hurricane he could also get arrested), and well if you know the names of the Giants starting linebackers, you need to get out a little more. 2nd round pick Corey Webster could start at corner and will definitely provide a spark returning kicks and punts.

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-12)
So TO's reporting to camp "unhappy" which is not a surprise. God-forbid he play for a contract he willingly signed. But as he showed in San Fran and is already showing now, he will be a distraction and a detriment to the team before the year's over, and that means the Eagles dominance in the NFC will come to an end. If they were in a better divison, I think a collapse could be possible this season. As it is, their only real threat is the Giants, so even though they're going to have a less than stellar season, they'll still win the division. And the fact they're in the NFC means they'll still be a Super Bowl threat.
The line should continue to protect Donovan "your-chunky-soap-ads-make-root-canals-pleasant" McNabb and open holes for Bryant Westbrook or rookie Ryan Moats to run. The team has slim and none lining up at wideout besides TO, so the pressure's is once again squarely on McNabb for the team to return to the Super Bowl. Will he do it? Well we know he'll have his mom and plenty of that damn soup to help him.
The spotlight's on McNabb but this is the part of the team that really shines. Credit the Eagles' front office for keeping this group intact, with a nice mix of experience and talent. They can match up with anybody, and considering the struggles the offense could have, they'll need to be better than everybody. When you've got guys like Javon Kearse, Corey Simon, Jermiah Trotter, Brian Dawkins and others, it's not only plausible, it's possible.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Jeff: The NFC Norris

Everybody else is doing their division-by-division NFL preview, so MWSR might as well do one too. We'll start with the NFC, and if I had one word to sum it up it would be "gong show" (ok maybe that's two but still). The first NFL game I really remember watching was the '85 Super Bowl where the Bears beat New England 1,944-0. That was just the beginning of NFC dominance that would last for more than a decade, when Horseface-I MEAN John Elway and the Broncos (thanks mostly to Terrell Davis-who's still not a Hall of Famer but was the key to those teams) put up back-to-back Super Bowls and finally brought some balance back to the league. Now it's completely reversed. The NFC is terrible. If the NFL, like so many wanted to do back in the NFC's heyday, took the top 12 teams regardless of conference, the NFC would get 3, maybe 4 teams and that's it. It's that bad.


4. Green Bay Packers (6-7 wins)
Yeah, that does feel good to type. I can only imagine what it'll feel like if/when this actually happens. Look Pack fans, put down the curds and the Ol' Mil, and listen carefully. This end is near. The days of the '70's and '80's, when most of you wouldn't have gone to Lambeau if the stadium were made of cheese and brats, are coming again soon. All the signs are there. If this team had anybody else but Brett Favre at QB, everybody else would be saying the same thing. Instead, like you, they're clinging to false hope. But hey, at least you've still got the or how about the Bucks? Andrew Bogut doesn't get you fired up? Well hey Bo Ryan and Badgers hoops is right around the corner. Nothing like seeing if either team can score 30... You know what? On second thought, forget I said any of this. The Pack are all you have, so why should I take it away from you? Throw on a cheese head, throw down your pants at the opposing team's bus, and wear that Favre jersey proud. Just keep the suicide hotline number handy.
Don't worry about the Javon Walker holdout-and for once I'm not being sarcastic. Cheeseheads' were so excited to get their first bonafide #1 wideout since Sterling Sharpe, that they forgot about the 15 years in between (well except for '96 when apparently something amazing happened. Not that they mention it much-or like every day or with every breath or every polish that they eat). Since Favre has been under center, he's had a different leading receiver almost every season. Is Green BAy better with Walker? Absolutely, but they'll be fine without him too. The real concern is on the offensive line. Favre and the power running game steals all the headlines, but the Pack have had one of the best O-lines in football the last decade. Now they lose 2 Pro-Bowl caliber guards and have little to replace them with. If the new guards can block as well as Favre has thrown interceptions or Ahman Green gets arrested or Najeh poops in ex-girlfriends' closets, well then the offense will be just fine...
...but it won't matter because the defense is awful. Watching that new Pauly Shore show would probably be less painful. The Pack went with the Chiefs philosophy from the last couple of years: take a terrible defense and change nothing but the co-ordinator. KC had one of the worst D's in football in 2003, and replaced only the co-ordinator for last year. The result? Another horrible year. The Pack actually have done them one better this year by subtracting from their D. Look for more of the same non-results.

3. Chicago Bears (8-9 wins)
It has not been fun for Chicago sports fan these last few years. Since MJ hung 'em up in 98 (assuming you want to remember him going out on top, rather than that whole debacle in DC), things have not gone well in the Windy City. The Bulls have made the playoffs once since beating Utah in the finals, the Cubbies have continued to provide plenty of heartache and heartbreak, the Blackhawks management was locking the team out of contention long before the real lockout happened, and how would you like it if the two college football teams in your state were Illinois and Northwestern? And I dont' buy for a minute that the White Sox winning is doing anything for that town. If you used the WNBA question, and asked the people of Chicago "would you rather find a $5 bill on the street or have the Sox win the World Series?" Hawk Harrelson and that other jackass that does the WGN games with him would be the only people who wouldn't take the $5. Put it this way, the only way the Sox will sell out playoff games is if bitter Cubs fans come down to boo.
To say Rex Grossman's health is the key for the Bears is like saying Lake Michigan has a lot of water. When Grossman's season ended against the Vikes last year, so did Chicago's. They went through more quarterbacks last year than Tara Reid (which holiday is better for Tara? Christmas or the ESPY's?). For anybody else, having Jeff George as your starting QB in the year 2005, or really any year, would be a sign that you need some help. So what'd the Bears do to shore up the position this offseason? Nothing. If Grossman goes down, you're looking at Chad Hutchinson or Kyle Orton. Yeah maybe Bears' fans should keep that suicide hotline # handy too. Just in case. IF Rex-in-affex can stay healthy, the O should be in good shape. Mushin Muhammed won't be as good as he was in Carolina, but he's still much better than anybody they had last year. Benson will run until his legs fall off, and with a pretty good line in front of him, all that running could be for positive yards.
Brian Urlacher's health is an issue here too, but now that he has some D-tackles to block up the line, he should be back to his Pro Bowl self. DOn't be surprised though if DT Tommie Harris is the best player on the team by the end of the year. Hopefully he'll stay away from the ridiculous RightGuard commercials though-and Paris Hilton. Not quite the MOnsters of the Midway, but this unit will be improved.

2. Detroit Lions (10-11 wins)
You know it's football season when the De-twah Leones are talking about "Restoring the Roar" the annual tradition for Lions fans since 1957 when they really think "this is our year!!!" (Cubs fans call this spring training). For a time I thought I'd be telling my grandkids about "Restoaring the Roar" and how De-twah would be no closer to be good then than they are now (of course all of that would hinge on me finding somebody crazy enough to marry me AND have my kids). But really, this might actually be it, even with Joey Harrington still on the roster (Leones fans, at least this is the last year you'll have to say that). This team will be the San Diego Super Chargers of 2005- and they've already got the powder blues-sorry "honolulu" blue jerseys.
The Joey Harrington stuff is getting out of hand. Look, Harrington's success or, much more likely, his failure as a QB will not hinder the Lions progress this year. He either has a Drew Brees-esque breakout year (and hell freezes over) or he's terrible and Jeff Garcia steps in and runs the show. Neither of these options probably sound great, but with all the weapons they have they're going to be dangerous (a statement that's usually reserved for De-twah fans instead of the football team) no matter who's under center. Chuck Rogers' paper-mache collerbone is the real key here. He WAS better than both Williams' boys coming out of college, and can still be the best of the three. The chances of him breaking the collarbone again are about as good as Harrington going to the Pro Bowl. Of course they said that about Brees last year...
Forget Rogers' injuries or Harrington or anything else- Boss Bailey's health is the most important question for the Lions heading into the season. With him he solidifies a pretty good defense. Without him, the Motor City Kitties will be scrambling to put 3 decent linebackers on the field. How they didn't spend their 1st round pick on D is beyond me though, as this unit is pretty good, but could be deeper. Still, if the O can click, the D will stick.

1. Minnesota Vikings (10-12 wins)
That sizzling sound you hear is Mike Tice and Daunte Culpepper feeling a little toasty now that the microscope's focused on them instead of Randy Moss. The team, including those two gents, wanted Randy gone. He was a headcase and a full-scale circus clown, but the man not only took all the pressure and media scrutiny for the team but he handled it and took it in stride--that is, when he felt like running. But with Randy no longer around to just be Randy, ALL the focus is going squarely on Tice, and also to Daunte. The defense is much improved, there's a lot of talent coming back, but now we'll find out if the Vikes' success the past few seasons had more to do with Randy or Daunte.
I've been defending Daunte since day 1, and considering that Minnesotan's favorite pasttimes are fishing, boating and ripping on Daunte, well I'm getting pretty worn out. This is the year #11 has to prove to me and everybody else that this IS his team and he IS the man and he can lead the Vikes to the Super Bowl. If he can't, he no longer has Randy to blame. I must be one of the few people who aren't worried about the running game. Yes, it'd be nice to see Michael Bennett be the workhorse back, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing some combination of Mewelde Moore, Ciatrick Faison and Moe Williams by the end of the year. And I think it'll work just fine as it has in the past. Matt Birk's health (or complete lack of it) is a much bigger issue for me, as he's the most important guy on the line, and maybe on the offense. Without him, people start playing out of position, and I don't see that working out any better than it did last year. The receivers will continue to catch as long as Daunte has time to throw, but how long will it take for the Purple to regret not taking Mike Williams? I'd say the first pre-season game.
So apparently, it's possible to hold a team to 3 downs, and then they bring in this "punter" and they give the ball back to you. No really, I think it's called a "3-and-out". Vikings' fans have seen plenty of these with the Purple's offense on the field, but the D? People might actually stay to watch the defense instead of heading to the fridge saying "call me when they're done kicking the extra point". Pat Williams was just as important a signing as Freddy Smoot. The bigger Williams will give other Williams plenty of room to maneuver, as well as the ends, and linebackers and...well you get the idea. And who ever thought the Vikings would have the best corners in football? Dennis Green must be rolling over in his grave-what? He's still alive? Arizona? Whoops, that's awkward.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Jeff: Musings at the All-Star Break

  • Yet another solid move from Twins GM Terry Ryan. As I said last week, the only way I would pick up Bret Boone is on the cheap, and that's exactly what he did. Not a bad rental for a couple of months. It's hard for Bret to get his jersey over the big fork sticking out of his back these days, but still, some stability and leadership, as well as a solid glove, should do the Twinkies some good.
  • Maybe it's because I was a broadcaster for a very short time, and I had to pay my dues waaaayyyyyyyyyyy out in the Dakotas. So when I see these pretty girls who know nothing about sports getting put on TV as sideline reporters and what not, it makes me a little angry. Hey, the scenery is nice and all, and if all reporting was about was standing there and looking cute, then fine, have all the hot women you want. But the thing is, and apparently the execs are missing this small detail, when you're covering a game on TV YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO TALK. About sports, no less!! And when you know nothing about sports and are just there because you're pretty, well, it annoys the hell out of me. Personally, I think sideline reporters, male or female, are pretty much useless anyways. But if we have to have them, I want useful facts or information about the game or the player or an injury (and just so you don't think I'm sexist, I do think Michelle Tafoya does a fantastic job for ABC). Apparently I'm the only one. While watching the end of the Home Run Derby on ESPN last night, I got to see reporter Sam Ryan (a female with died-blonde hair) lay this one on home run champ Bobby Abreu:

"Bobby, you just hit 41 homeruns. Most guys don't hit 41 homers in a season."

You're right, Sam, most guys don't hit 41 homeruns in a season. As a matter of fact, neither has Bobby. The 41 homeruns he just hit were in a HOME RUN HITTING CONTEST WHERE THE GOAL IS TO HIT AS MANY HOMERUNS AS POSSIBLE!! THIS IS NOT THE REGULAR SEASON! NOBODY COMPARES THIS TO REGULAR SEASON STATS! DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT A BASEBALL IS? Maybe it's just me.

  • The good ol' US of A seems pretty gung ho about getting this World Baseball tourney together next spring. I assume it's because they want to spread the glory of American baseball to the world, and think they're going to win the whole thing without much trouble. Granted, they'll have a good team, but, um, have they SEEN the Domincan Republic's team? Here were just 4 of the guys at the derby last night who were huddled around the Domincan flag: the best player in baseball (Vlad), best DH (Big Papi), best SS (Tejada), and with Bonds out, the best LF (Manny). Granted their pitching isn't as deep as the USA's, but their hitters are better, and I would almost say MUCH better, than the Red White & Blue's. I know good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting, but when your hitting is THAT good and you have some decent arms of your own, well, the Domincan will be the team to beat, not the USA. Just throwing it out there.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Jeremy: Let's Do The Random

It's been awhile I know, but I promise you, sports has been in the top 7 things on my mind. I've got a lot that's swishing around in my head regarding the sporting world, so here we go.

*My cousin called me tonight. He's in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the summer working on a turtle project. Yep, he's one of those turtle guys. (On a side note, when it comes to my cousin, I'm like a proud older brother. I am so proud of that kid and everything he does. You should all be so lucky to know him like I do.) Anyway, he was at a bar in Ann Arbor today called "The Little Brown Jug." For those who don't understand why this is significant, please leave this site immediately and never return. I suddenly have the Minnesota Fight song in my head, and it, my friends, is a lovely feeling.

*Are you like me? Are you still waiting for the White Sox to come back down to earth so that the fine baseball the Twins have been playing will allow them to catch up? Isn't it sad when your team wins 8 out of 10 games and they are only able to make up a game and a half? The Sox are unconscious right now. They can't keep it up. Can they?

*I've decided that the best word to describe the Timberwolves organization is "dysfunctional." I looked up the true definition of the word: "abnormal or impaired in functioning, especially of a ... social group." Does that not describe the Woofies to a T? A dysfunctional family, for instance, has to have a dysfunctional father. Kevin McHale (or as Jeff calls him, the Big Ugly Sweater) is that dysfunctional father. Maybe schizophrenic is a good word too. I have an idea, let's bring in a draft consultant (Rex Chapman) 24 hours before the draft. What? Really? Am I wrong here? What did I miss?

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Just read today that Bret Boone could become a Minnesota Twin soon. As a longtime Mariner fan, just wanted to pass along to you Twins fans that this is NOT the move Terry Ryan needs to be making. I've said here in the past that Ryan is a very underrated GM, and definitely one of the best in baseball. Like everybody, he's made a mistake or two, but the good decisions far outweigh the poor ones. What's even more impressive is, thanks to tightwad owner Carl Pohlad, Terry Ryan has had the least amount of room for error of any contending team in baseball. Whereas the Red Sox or Yankees or others can make multiple moves at the trade deadline, the Twins usually can only make one, and it has to involve a cost-effective player. More bang for the buck as they say.

WEll Mr. Boone is now a player getting paid a lot of buck with very little bang. If he's not traded after 10 days (it's beyond me why any team would trade for him when you get him for nothing 10 days later, but this is the braintrust the M's now have, and why they're currently 161/2 games out of first place), Seattle has to pickup the final payments for this season, somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million dollars. I am assuming, being that he's already getting paid, whoeever signs him can give him the vets minimum. If that's the case, Boone would be an ok pickup. Anything more than that, the Twins shouldn't risk it. He's still a pretty solid defensive secondbasemen, but since baseball has mandated steroid testing, Boone's dropped almost 20 pounds and has little power left in that bat. Of course I would never infer he was a juicer. Never. OK maybe. Hey at least it would give he and Juan Rincon something to talk about.