Monday, June 26, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

* Now that the ballpark issue has been settled in Minnesota, the looming question for the Twins has now become what to do with Torii Hunter? The guy HAS been the face of the franchise, but with the emergence of Joe Mauer and Hunter being owed $12 million for next season, he could be roaming center field for some other team by August. Local scribes have scoffed at the idea that trading Hunter is a necessity, that with the new ballpark coming, the Twins can now afford to keep him and show Twins fans they're serious about spending for a winner. Hunter had been relatively quiet of late, saying all the right things when asked about his future in the Land O' Lakes. But today in Ken Rosenthal's column, Hunter for the first time says he'd like to play elsewhere to save his legs from 4 more years of pounding on the Metrodome concrete- I mean, turf.
Hopefully, this will encourage Twins GM Terry Ryan to look to move Hunter. THe Twinks have won 14 of 16, but are STILL 11 games behind the Tigers for first, and 9.5 behind the White Sox for the Wild Card lead. Although I'm in the minority on this one, I don't think the Tigers are coming back to earth. They've got veteran hitters up and down their lineup, and most importantly, have one of the league's best pitching staffs. Everyone is in agreement that the White Sox aren't slowing down either. The Twins are close to contending, but I don't think they'll be within striking distance (i.e. 6.5 games back of the Sox) by the end of next month. They need to deal Hunter, Stewart, and Lohse and build around a VERY solid core of Mauer, Santana, Liriano, Nathan and Morneau. Twins fans will keep coming to the park to watch those guys this year, and I believe are smart enough to understand that building for a very bright future makes more sense than a futile run at an unreachable playoff spot this year.

* Baseball's All-star game has officially become a joke. Fan voting is all the rage in all the major sports, because apparently these leagues believe fans will be more likely to watch if they get to vote in players. Well that's certainly true if you live in Boston and New York, because the Red Sox and Yankees are dominating the voting, and there's going to be more deserving players left at home because of it. Yanks or Sawks are the leading vote-getters at 6 of 8 positions for the American League, and only two- David Ortiz and Derek Jeter- are deserving. The all-star game is a mere popularity contest for the largest markets, and because of this some deserving players will be left at home. Most notably is Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who as of today is leading the majors in hitting at .369, but is probably won't be an all-star in 2006. Sox catcher Jason Varitek is leading, and has no business playing in the all-star game. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen gets to choose the reserves, and has already said he'll take his own guy, A.J. Pierzynski, as the backup instead of Mauer. Sure, Guillen can point to his team having a great year and currently having ZERO all-star starters, as well as only getting to take one of his two prized first basemen. A legitimate beef, but don't take out your frustrations on a deserving guy. At least the game's best left-handed hitter, Big Papi, will be keeping Konerko or Thome out of the all-star game. There is catcher more deserving than Mauer but because of politics and biased fan-voting, Mauer won't get to go. Nice work, MLB: here's an opportunity to promote one of your rising young stars in the league, but instead you'd rather shove the overhyped Sox/Yankees rivalry down our throats one more time. Feel free to waste your time trying to vote in Mauer here.

* I'll let the Strib's Jim Souhan say what Jer won't let me: the Wolves need to consider dealing Garnett.
And I'll add something Souhan didn't: IF the Wolves could get from the Bulls the #2 pick, next year's #1 from the Knicks, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng they couldn't pull the trigger fast enough for me. Although this would be the first time in history Kevin McHale has actually gotten 1st round picks instead of giving them away.

* I'm probably the only person in America who got excited about all the wheelings and dealings from the NHL's draft weekend, but I thought I'd share my joy anyways. Not only did my Vancouver Canucks make a HUGE deal to get Roberto Luongo, the franchise goalie we haven't had since...ok well we've never had a franchise goalie. But we got rid of Todd Bertuzzi in the process. Look, I was a big Bertuzzi guy even after the Steve Moore incident. It was tragic what happened to Moore and I wish him the best but the media's hatred of Big Bert was ridiculous. I've seen worse hits than his (Claude Lemieux hitting Kris Draper face-first into the boards is one example), but people who didn't care about and don't understand hockey took this as their chance to take shots at a game I love. Bertuzzi deserved the suspension he got, and I would have been fine with him getting another 30 games or so to start last season, but people's inability to move on baffles me.
However, it was obvious after the incident Bert needed a change of scenery. He may never be the same player he was before the lockout, but if it's going to happen, it wasn't going to be in Vancouver. If Canucks GM Dave Nonis can lock-up (Lock it up! No YOU LOCK IT UP!) Luongo long-term my boys are on the fast-track back to Cup Contention. And in an added bonus, it creates the opportunity to get rid of extremely overrated goalie Dan Cloutier, who has basically been the bane of my existence.

* Great move by the Minnesota Wild to get Pavol Demitra from the LA Kings over the weekend. Yes, the Wild had to give up promising center Patrick O'Sullivan and the #17 pick from Saturday's draft, but the ramifications of this deal could be twice as nice. Demitra is a solid 2-way player that will finally give the Wild another bonafide sniper. Not only that, he and Marion Gaborik, the youngster the Wild are trying to keep, are good friends and showed great chemistry in the World Cup. This move not only boosts their offense now, but if it can encourage Gaborik to stay, it'll be a huge boost to the team for years to come.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Jeff: NFC South

Welcome back to the on-going still running division-by-division NFL Preview. Sure, I should probably be commenting on the NBA Finals, but really The Sports Guy said everything yesterday better than I could have. Dwyane Wade is an amazing talent, but watching him go 1-on-5 and knowing the refs will blow the whistle on Dallas everytime he drives, even if a) Wade is the one initiating contact by jumping into somebody or throwing a forearm out to create space or b)there's no contact whatsoever. Wade's a fantastic player, and apparently I'm alone in believing that he's good enough to not have the refs help him by sending him to the line everytime he misses a shot because MY GAWD if Wade missed he MUST have been fouled!! Anyway, congrats to the Heat for being the NBA 1-on-5 champs of 2006.

Anywho, back to football. The South boasted 3 playoff-caliber teams last season, getting two into the postseason. This year, the Saints could make it 4 playoff eligible teams, but the division will only get 1 playoff team for 2 reasons: 1) 3 of the 4 have some glaring holes that will hold them back, and 2)the schedules are just brutal. In this age of parity, scheduling definitely makes a difference, and not only will these 4 beat up on each other, their matchups with a much improved AFC North will be just as tough. Still, I believe the NFC's Super Bowl representative resides here. Now on with it!

4. New Orleans Saints:
I'm more bullish on this team than most. Drew Bress could be the most important free agent signing in team history, because his impact on the team and community will go well beyond his accomplishments on the football field. Since high school Brees has been cast as the underdog, and it's a role he's relished. After his release by San Diego (honestly, what the hell was GM AJ Smith thinking?), Brees once again has a chip on his shoulder, and joins a franchise and town with ones as well. Yes he signed here for the big bucks, but he also truly believes he can lead this team to a title, and help rebuild the great city of New Orleans. I for one, am a believer. Sure he has no Antonio Gates or Ladanian Tomlinson, but his line and receivers are better, RB Deuce McAllister is on schedule recovering from knee surgery, and didn't they draft somebody pretty good in the 1st round?
Too bad getting an easier schedule isn't an option. They open with 2 of their "easiest" games on the road, at Cleveland and at Green Bay. And no matter what kind of teams they have, the Dawgpound and Lambeau are two of the toughest venues in football. After that week they play a grand total of 3 more teams who had a sub .500 record in 2005: Philly, Baltimore, and San Fran. Best of luck with that one.
Otherwise, they need to get something out of their defense. The D-line looks solid (and it damn well better considering before this year it seemed like they spent a #1 pick on a D-lineman for 200 years in a row), but as usual the back 7 are questionable.
It's not just that Bush is the most anticipated video game athlete (VGA) in forever, it's that he's the first guy who could really truly possibly legitimately challenge video Bo Jackson as the greatest VGA of all-time. Now for those of you who had the honor and privledge of playing with Video Bo back in the day in Tecmo Bowl, well I don't have to tell you that thinking that anyone, even someone as electrifying as Reggie, could challenge Bo's VGA supremacy is a mighty bold statement. But I'm standing by it. If EA does the man justice (i.e. 97+ speed, 473 agility, 875 acceleration and of course 85 hands as well as mid 70's breaktackle), well then I like his chances. And please, when you get the new Madden, change Reggie's number back to 5. It's the least you can do.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For years the Bucs and their flaming yellow unis were as laughable as the Clippers, Cardinals, and Washington Generals. Since their uniform change to red, black, something called "puse" and like 19 other colors, the Bucs have been known for a great defense, winning, and that big damn pirate ship in the back of the endzone. The defense, led once again by Derrick Brooks (who seems like he's been around since the days of Red Grange), will have to be as feisty as ever, because this is one average offense. The schedule is downright cruel. They've got 6 games within their division, 4 with the AFC North, and 4 with the NFC East (which could be the league's toughest division). Their other 2 games? THe Bears and Seahawks.
Two other random Bucs notes:
* they have a backup corner named Blue Adams. How many times do you think he's heard "You're my boy Blue!"? Not enough, I'd say.
* Watching the World Cup reminds me that somewhere, former kicker Martin "soccer celebration" Gramatica is crying, wailing, and hurting himself celebrating.
A lot. Chris Simms has to do something he's never done as a football player: live up to his vast potential. Joey Galloway at 76 years old (or 35) needs another career year because Michael Clayton's idea of an offseason workout program has been...well not working out, let's say that. Cadillac Williams needs to stay on the field because even though Mike Pittman played admirably in relief of Caddy last year, he's entering that "uh oh" age for running backs at 32, so the wheels could fall off at any moment. Oh and the O-line? Still no better than average. As I said, this team needs a LOT to go right, and I just don't see it all happening.
MIMP: Caddy Williams, RB
Honestly there's nobody here that really intrigues me- well except guard Toni Fonoti, who could be the first NFL player over 500 pounds. Or 600. During those NFL Skill competition shows they should have an eating contest where Fonoti goes against Takeru Kobayashi, the world eating champion who weighs like 12 pounds. Kobayashi (not to be confused with Kobayashi from the Usual Suspects. Boy there's a mistake you don't make twice) would eat like 50 hotdogs in 10 minutes, and then Fonoti would just eat him, and wash him down with a soda. That'd be fun.

2. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had themselves a nice little offseason (maybe Bed, Bath & Beyond...I don't know if we'll have time!), trading for underachieving DE John Abrahams, who, if he wants to, could be a bigtime pass-rusher off the edge. Lawyer Malloy can still play as the strong safety, and the Falcons flat-out stole Tech CB Jimmy Williams in the 2nd round. Expect him to be the starter opposite fellow Hokie alum Deangelo Hall by midseason. Offensively, it's the same old story: run, run, run, and then occasionally Mike Vick will try and be a quarterback. Seriously, people, when can we stop pretending Vick will ever be a decent NFL QB (I reached that point at about season 3)? This will be his 6th NFL season, and here's a list of the things he's never done in any one of those years:
* started all 16 games
* completed more than 57% of his passes
* thrown for more than 16 TD's
* had a QB rating higher than 82

He's a helluva athlete with a rocket arm, but he'll never be an effective QB in the NFL. Never. Last season which was the 5th year in a row he was supposed to have a "breakout season" he actually regressed throwing only 15 TD's (19th in the NFL) to 13 INT's for 2412 yards (20th) and a measly 73.1 QB rating (25th). Out of 32 starting QB's in the league his numbers are average. Barely. But hey who am I to burst the bubble of all the Vick Lovers out there? Keep believing that this really IS his breakout year, even though the evidence to support it says otherwise.
Keep on...keep on truckin'. Ok good talk.
Get Matt Schaub on the field because he gives them a better chance to win than Vick does. Seriously. And before you go throwing his meager numbers as a starter at me, there's a reason Hotlanta wanted a 1st round pick for the guy this offseason. He can be a productive QB in this league, and he could be more productive than Vick starting this year. Too bad it won't happen.
MIMP: Deangelo Hall, CB
I know I know I know everybody just loves to use Vick in Madden. BUt for me, I love to use DeAngelo Hall. He's not the biggest guy at 5'10, but his 98 speed and crazy agility, acceleration and jumping always make him one of the first guys I trade for. Oh and he's only 23. Wow.

1. Carolina Panthers
This is the team that could dominate the NFC. The Seahawks finally found an answer to stopping WR Steve Smith, which was make ANYONE else on the offense beat you. This year that won't be so easy. Keyshawn Johnson is a solid possession guy and should make defenses pay for quadruple teaming Smith (it also makes Keary Colbert better by putting him where he should be, as a #3 guy), and when tailback DeShaun Foster gets hurt (the ex UCLA Bruin hasn't played a full season in his 3 years in the league), DeAngelo Williams can step in and actually improve the running game (he SHOULD be starting by the end of the year). The line is very good and Delhomme is dependable and playoff-tested. THe team's only real weakness on offense is at TE, and the fact they somehow didn't manage to draft one of the 17 athletic pass-catching ends in the draft. As Papa Burgandy said to Brian Fantana "That doesn't even make sense." Defensively this is as good as it gets for me. The D-line is the best in football, and the corner tandem of Chris Gamble and Kenny Lucas may be too. And the rest of the guys lining up out there aren't slouches either. This is Carolina's conference to lose.
Here's some stats from the 2005 regular season to chew on:
Smith had 103 of the teams 269 receptions (that's 38%), 1563 of 3485 yards (45%), and 12 of 25 TD's (48%). No other Carolina receiver had more than 34 catches, 441 yds, or 4 TD's. No matter how amazing Smith is (and he IS amazing!), teams are not going to let him do that to them again. Every team on Carolina's schedule has been watching that NFC Championship tape to see how Seattle finally stopped Smith (which was generally by using 3 or 4 guys on every play against him). The defense and running game are good enough to win the division, but to get to the Super Bowl, the passing game has to be a threat, and that means Keyshawn needs to accept his role as the #2 guy (something he's never had to do thus far), and be damn good at it.
MIMP: Steve Smith, WR
After the Panth beat the Bears in the playoffs last year, here's what I said about Smith:

Honestly, how good is Panthers receiver Steve Smith (12 catch, 218 yds, 2 TD-oh and he ran for another 26 too)?
To paraphrase Red from Shawshank Redemption "the last thing that went through the Chicago Bears heads is how in the hell did Steve Smith ever get the best of them?" It's become a cliche to say that Smith is the ONLY weapon in the Panthers offense, but seriously, when one of the best defenses in football have a week to prepare for him and he not only beats them but DESTROYS them? What do you do with that? What else is the guy capable of? Could he cure cancer? Find Bin Laden? Talk KG into staying in Minnesota? Nothing would surprise me anymore. For the record, Smith IS the only option Carolina has. And for the record, his numbers yesterday were good for half the teams catches, 68% of their receiving yards, and 2/3rds of their TD's. As Ron Burgandy would say "I'm not even mad- that's AMAZING!"

The question for the new Madden won't be how good will they make Steve Smith? It's can they make Steve Smith good enough? Remember, Steve Smith has counted to infinity-TWICE!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

* I don't pretend to understand golf, but was yesterday's final round of the US Open the football equivalent to a 3-0 Super Bowl, where both teams turn it over 12 times each, miss 8 field goals, and only total 300 yards between them? NOBODY could make a shot yesterday! I understand these Major courses are supposed to be incredibly challenging, but the winner finishing at +5? Only 12 golfers scoring under par for a day the ENTIRE TOURNAMENT? And nobody did it more than once? Either Wingfoot was too tough, or nobody showed up.

* Poor Lefty Mickelson. In his post-match interview, he looked and sounded like a guy who had driven his car into the side of house while sleep-walking. It's like he had no idea what he was doing on 18! He IS the real life Tin Cup! He's like the guy who's up big and black jack and can't walk away. He has to have that rush to the very end, even if it means losing everything!

* The only guy more upset than Lefty or Monty yesterday had to be Tiger Woods. The guy misses the cut Friday at +12, which of course ended up being only 7 shots off the lowest score! Tigger's feeling like had he just made a putt here or there on Friday to make the cut, that tournament was his.

* I felt kind of like Lefty Mickelson Saturday after watching the US/Italy futbol match. Had I really just spent the past 2 hours watching a 1-1 tie where the States' only goal came from Italy scoring on itself? How had it happened? Where was my brain when I made this decision? Why didn't I get up from the couch and go do something else? Had I just watched a game where players are not rewarded for passing to a wide-open man (because it's offsides)? Did I really watch a sport where a supposedly good team (The Italians) would drop to the ground like they had been shot if an American player got anywhere near them? I mean, I've heard of diving, but they were taking this to an entirely new level. Twice a guy was taken off on a stretcher, acting as though the pain in his leg was so bad they may have to amputate. And both times, literally just a minute or two later, the guy was back on the field fresh as a daisy. I was shocked that the mob, one of the toughest group of men on the planet, could come from the same country as these floundering, cowering babies. No wonder soccer's never caught on in America-- we actually like our athletes to act like men!

* Speaking of men, there are few bigger in sports right now than Dwayne Wade. Anyone out there still want to take Lebron or Kobe over Wade as the NBA's best player? Anyone? Left for dead after losing the first two games of the series (including by yours truly), Wade has strapped the Heat to his back and has been the One-Man-Mission he's had to be. Yes he's gotten the benefit of some calls, including the one that got him to the line to hit the game-winning free throws, but a) that's nothing new in the NBA for superstars to get calls and b) David Stern couldn't help him hit those free throws. He did all of that on his own!

* By the way, Wade's 3 consecutive Finals games of 35+ points puts him in rarified air: only Shaq (twice), Iverson, Jordan, Rick Barry, and Elgin Baylor have ever done it.

* And what happened to Dirk's "clutchness"? As much as I love The Diggler, I've ripped on him in past season's for not showing up in the playoffs. After his performances against Phoenix, and especially San Antonio, I thought he had finally moved past his old choking ways. But they've certainly returned in THe Finals. So was his "Clutchness" in the first 3 rounds an abberition? Is there some rule where a German player in another sport cannot overshadow his country when they're playing in the World Cup? Is there a time-limit on how successful a guy can be after admitting to liking David Hasselhoff? Is there only so many times we can reference that his dad REALLY wanted him to play handball instead of basketball before the basketball gods finally say "You know what? Maybe you SHOULD have played handball!"?

* In case you're wondering, Dallas wins game 6 tomorrow night, and Miami wins game 7 Thursday night.

* Finally, game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight (and it's on NBC, a channel you actually get! I would encourage you to watch it, as I will be). Here's my question for the day: what are the Hurricanes telling people in Carolina to get them to show up?
That there's a tractor pull during the intermission?
There'll be a NASCAR race on ice?
Maybe free beer and Toby Keith cd's for anyone showing up wearing red?
Free gun-rack for their pickup for the first 10,000 people?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Jeremy: This isn't good

Last week I asked Jeff for a hiatus from Midwest Sports Rubes. With the wedding coming up quickly and it being the busiest season of the year at work I figured I wouldn't be able to post anything for awhile. But I read something today and I had to comment.
Gary Russell is not coming back to play tailback for the Gophers next year.
Alright, I guess so far nobody is saying for sure, but the bottom line is this: there were minimum requirements for Russell to re-join the Gophers before fall, and he has not met those requirements. (Please see Onterrio Smith and Maurice Clarret for additional stories on athletes with no off-field motivation who in-turn ruined their on-the-field careers.)
I probably don't have to mention this, but this is not good! The Gophers might be in big trouble here. Look, I know that the Gophers run the best zone blocking scheme in the country (thank you Bob Davie for pointing that out and simultaneously re-validating Glen Mason as a coach, I'm sure we won't here anything from Mase about this) but turns out that we have not officially lost our two best, and most mobile, offensive linemen (might be an important part of the zone blocking bit) and have now also lost TWO 1,000 yard rushers. Again, I probably don't have to mention this, but... OUCH.
The Gopher football season now rests squarly on the legs of Amir Pinnix and the arm of Brian Cupito.
Anyone nervous about this?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Jeff: NFC West

Heyo! Here we go with my 2nd annual NFL preview...well ok more like the 1st annual, since I only got halfway through last year. The goal here is to post one division a week, and the theme this year will be what needs to go right for a team to succeed- and it's assumed a team has to stay healthy. But BESIDES health, what has to go right?

Also, I'm probably "too old" to still be playing video games, but I still do, as do some of my buddies (most of whom are married with real jobs). For us, the upcoming August release of Madden Football 2007 (for PS2 or XBox Live) is one of the most anticipated ever because of an incredible rookie class, and cool stuff like "lead blocking control", new & improved mini-camp drills (which you'll be able to do IN SEASON for things like injury rehab!! No news on whether they'll have facial rehab in case, you know, your starting Qb rides a motorcycle without a helmet and goes head-first into a windshield), and so much more! Oh, and my new favorite two word phrase: "highlight stick". So in anticipation, I'm providing a player from each time that I'm excited to try out and/or trade for when Madden comes out. As Vince Vaughn would say in The Breakup..."it's not me, it's the little digital guys with big hearts!" (I know it got bad reviews, but trust me, if you like Vince it's worth it just for the Madden video game scene. I promise. And also for "Band of should rent it sometime!")

Ok, I'm starting with this division because it's where my Super Sleeper Upset Special for 2006 resides. In order to qualify for the SSUS you have to be a team who missed the playoffs last year, that had a good offseason and draft, and has a weaker schedule because of last year's poor performance. Oh, and it has to be a team nobody's talking about, which means not Miami, Baltimore, or San Diego-which is German for a whale's... nevermind.

4. San Francisco 49ers
We get surprises every year, but this will not be one of them- well unless you count a surprise as the 9ers winning more than 3 or 4 games. Drafting Alex Smith last year was a mistake (Browns fans should be happy I'm not running the 9ers because I would have said "screw it!" to the stupid theory that you don't take a wideout #1. Braylon Edwards was the right choice), and Trent Dilfer will give them a better chance to win. That said it doesn't matter much because there's no weapons in this offense outside of rookie tight end Vernon Davis. Yes I'm aware they picked up Antonio Bryant but there's a reason he's on his 3rd team already. Manny Lawson was a solid pick, but otherwise the defense bores me.
Davis needs to perform like his digital self in Madden on starter level which would mean catching 20 passes a game for like 10 TD's. Still, short of the players from the other 31 teams contracting the avian bird flu, Alex Smith becoming the next Joe Montana, and Manny Lawson turning into Charles Haley the Niners there really can't be enough go right for the Niners to win more than a couple of games this year.
If he's not at least 90 speed I'm taking the game back...ok no I'm not, but he'd better be at least 90 speed. He'll be the 2nd most traded for player in the whole damn game. And if you can't guess who #1 is, well, ask Texans fans who they'll be trading for because their team inexplicably didn't draft him.

3. Arizona Cardinals:
This would not be my SSUS. Yes Edgerrin James will be a major upgrade at tailback, and the receiving duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Bolden is now the league's best, but the Cards did nothing to upgrade their biggest weakness: the O-line. Defensively Arizona's on the right track, but they'll be average at best, which is not good enough to help them compete for the division title.
Kurt Warner HAS to stay healthy, and considering he hasn't started 16 games since 2001 (and has only played in 29 of a possible 64 in the 4 seasons since then) the chances of that happening are slim to none. Look, I like Matt Leinart, and I think he'll make a good pro, but he's not going to set the league afire in his first year no matter how good Bolden, Fitz and Edge are. With that O-line and defense, it'll be another non-playoff year if Leinart has to play major minutes this year.
There'll be plenty of people interested in Leinart because you can make rookie QB's into MVP's the first season (I'm not sure how you get around this. The passing cone was impossible and I don't know anyone who uses it), but I still like Fitz. Could EA go ahead and make his catching 110 on a 99 point scale? Larry Davis is another favorite because he could be close to 500 pounds by the time training camp starts.

2. Seattle Seahawks:
Hey Seahawks fans: STOP CRYING! And I'm not even talking about the officiating in the Super Bowl. You got screwed! We get it. It happens. I'm talking about the whining about how the Minnesota Vikings cheated your team out of All-pro guard Steve Hutchinson with dirty contract negotiations. Just stop! If your team hadn't have been so cheap and would have slapped the franchise tag on him instead of the transition (it would have cost them roughly $600k a year more to do so), you wouldn't have lost him. But you did. And giving the same kind of contract to Nate Burleson was cute but really, who would you rather have? Burleson or the best guard in football AND a 3rd round pick? Your java's a little too strong or you've been listening to the new Pearl Jam a little too loud (not that there's anything wrong with that) if you even have to think about that one.
Well actually let's look at what's gone wrong...and it starts with that Super Bowl loss. The last team to lose a Super Bowl and even make the playoffs the following season were the 2001 Tennesee Titans, so your loss in the Big Game is one strike against you. We mentioned losing Hutchinson, who you're not going to replace, so that's 2. The third? Well, since we're talking about Madden today let's not forgot the Madden Curse, and this year's coverboy Shaun Alexander. That's three strikes against you going back to the playoffs, so a LOT is going to have to go right to overcome it.
He's always fast, and if they have the drill where you can improve accuracy he can turn into a decent QB.

1. St Louis Rams:
Ladies and gentlemen: your 2006 Super Sleeper Upset Special!! And it's ok if you want to steal this as your own idea and tell all your friends and then look like a genius when the Rams win the division, get a first round bye, and make some noise in the playoffs. Really it's ok. We both know where you got the idea. Tailback Steven Jackson will become a household name as new coach Scott Linehan understands that when Jackson gets 20+ touches a game, the team wins (the three times it actually happened last year the Rams were 3-0 and Jackson averaged almost 129 on the ground on 23 carries for an avg of 5.6 per carry). THe line is solid, and they have more weapons than Saddam was rumored to have, including Marc Bulger at QB, Torry Holt and a slew of receiving options, including 2 intriguing rookie tights ends. The secondary is a weakspot, but the D-line should be improved and the signing of LB Will Witherspoon from Carolina will prove to be one of the best of the offseason.
WHAT NEEDS TO GO RIGHT: The schedule already has gone right. 6 win seasons are never fun, but you're at least rewarded with a weaker schedule (including the Niners and Cards twice, and the Packers, Lions, and Raiders thrown in for good measure), getting 3 of their 4 toughest games at home (Broncos, Bears, Chiefs). Besides that they have to get improvement from their defensive backs (the sooner 1st rd pick Tye Hill is ready to start, the better), and the offense needs to adjust to not having to throw 744 times a game (the Rams were 4th in the NFL in pass attempts with 599) and start running the damn ball more with the 230lb Jackson (Rams had the 4th least rushing attempts at 380).
M.I.M.P.: Tye Hill, CB
I don't know about you, but I LOVE fast cornerbacks, and Hill was timed as the fastest in the draft. I'm thinking about 97-98 speed with mid 90's acceleration sounds about right.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jeff: Blaming Big Ben

As you've probably heard by now, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his motorcycle were in an accident yesterday morning. Roethlisberger, who wasn't wearing a helmet, went headfirst into the windshield of a car. Miraculously, he suffered no life-threatening injuries, and after hours of surgery yesterday, he is left with facial fractures, a broken nose, and a broken jaw. Early estimates are that Big Ben could miss up to 4 weeks of the season (the Steelers have a bye in week 4), something that could put a real damper on the Steelers repeat title hopes. If you're like me, your first reaction was "how could he be so stupid?" How could a superstar athlete with so much going for him be so careless as to ride a motorcycle without a helmet?

It's not like he was racing, or doing any stupid tricks like Browns tight end Kellen Winslow was doing when he wrecked his knee last year. But that still should have served as a warning or a wake-up call for Roethlisberger to be more careful right? Wrong. Big Ben was still adimant that he would ride his bike sans helmet (Pennsylvania repealed the motorcycle helmet law in 2003) but was a "safe rider." Well even trying to be safe, and even though it looks like the other driver was at fault, it will cost Roethlisberger part of his season, and could have cost him his life.

Will this stop Roethlisberger from riding again, or stop other athletes from riding motorcycles in the offseason? No. Go here for a list of athletes involved in motorcycle accidents in the last 10 years. Most of those accidents are very serious, and all caused the player to miss at least a small part of their season. And yet guys still ride. Why? Well having never been a professional athelte myself I can only speculate: but from what I've seen and read and understand, a lot of these guys are adrenaline junkies. They LOVE competition, and in downtimes during the offseason, they still need to feed that love and desire to compete. Some guys turn to gambling, like John Daly, Michael Jordan, or Charles Barkley. Others to motorcycles or fast cars. It should be noted, that although Big Ben was not speeding or doing anything illegal prior to the accident, that wasn't just any old bike he was riding: his 2005 Suzuki Hayabusa is the fastest production bike on the road.

Sure maybe he was trying to be as safe as possible, but then why have the fastest bike you can buy? I was surprised at first when I heard the Steelers had no clauses or provisions in his contract against riding a motorcycle. If I was a Steelers fan (which I'm not) I would have been upset that Roethlisberger would be riding around without a helmet, jeopardizing his life, and my football team. But then "The Professor" John Clayton explained...

The reason the Steelers and most teams don't add specific language about off-the-field accidents is that they don't feel it's necessary. The NFL Management Council has advised teams to use the phrasing "for any reason" in regard to a player who defaults on his contract because of an injury suffered outside of football.

So the Steelers would have reparations coming against Roethlisberger if he misses time, just as the Browns did with Winslow. I guess teams understand that these guys are going to get the adrenaline going off the field too, and that as long as they're protected against them injuring themselves in non-sporting-related activities, then they cross their fingers and hope for the best. As a fan, I guess we should be doing the same.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

* Is it too early to award the NBA Championship to the Mavs? The Heat were atrocious last night in their 99-85 loss to Dallas, and Heat fans can't have high hopes that the next 3 games being played in South Beach will help turn this around. My buddy Ben, who's got a great tactical mind, thought there was no way Miami would allow Dallas to dictate tempo for 7 games. Throught the first two games they haven't, yet Miami is still down 0-2. First give credit to the Mavs for this. They've been a hybrid team, able to run when they need to, and execute in the halfcourt when needed. With Dirk, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris and Marquise Daniels, the Mavs are the best one-on-one team in basketball, and yet all of those guys are excellent in transition too. It's been a killer combination all playoffs long. Dallas' strategy looks to be to make Dwayne Wade work for his 20-30 points a night, double-team Shaq before he even thinks about touching the ball, and dare anybody else to beat them. Thus far, Miami hasn't done it, and although the Heat may take game 3 (anybody think the refs could give a couple-or thirty- calls to the Heat Tuesday night to try and make this interesting?) or 4, Dallas just looks to have too much.

* If I told you that a center in last night's game was 2-5 from the field and 1-7 from the line for 5 points, you'd probably guess it was Erick Dampier, right? Or Desagana Diop? Nope, it was Shaquille O'Neal. Think about that-- SHAQ SCORED 5 POINTS IN AN NBA FINALS GAME!!! Honestly, is this the end of the Diesel as we know him? I mean I don't care how old the guy is, he's still 7'1 and 350, and even if all 5 Mavs are draped over him like a curtain, the Big Aristotle should still score more than 5. What has happened?!?

* I do know this: Dwayne Wade is certifiably insane if he signs a contract extension with Miami this summer. Just plain crazy.

* My Mariners and the Local 9 (your Minnesota Twins) have played two series in the last 2 weeks, and there's some interesting parallels there:
Twins catcher Joe Mauer is hitting leading the world with in hitting at .386 (can somebody talk to him about the sideburns? Please? This isn't 90210) and Mariners outfielder Ichiro is 2nd at .366 (he's hitting .461 (47-102) since May 17). In the team's series last week, Mauer and Ichiro were a combined .528, and the WORST day for either of them was Mauer's 2-4 day Wednesday. Think about that. It will blow your mind!

* Twice in those series the two best young pitchers in baseball squared off: the Twinks Franisco Liriano and the M's Felix Hernandez (by the way, just a little giddy that we've seen Good Felix 2 games in a row. He absolutely dominated the Angels yesterday. King Felix has returned! King Felix has returned!) each won once, and both were essentially lights out in their performances. I was in attendance for their duel a couple of Friday's ago in the Big Giant Ugly Garbage Bag, and watched all of the rematch at the Safe last week. These two are going to be very good for a long, long time. Too bad we can't say the same about their teams!

* What's just absolutely ridiculous about Mauer right now is that he has zero protection in the Twins lineup. None. Zip. ZILCH! NADA! The Big Mountie Justin Morneau is the only Twin in the top 30 in the AL in homeruns (14) or RBI's (47)(First the Twins finally get a new stadium approved, and now a Twin could finish with 30 HR's in a season for the first time since 1987? Start building your bombshelter because there's no room in mine!). In case you're wondering, the Royals are the only other team that can make that claim. If this is the Mauer we can expect, Twins fans should start a riot if GM Terry Ryan isn't allowed to spend money on some hitting this offseason. With Mauer, Liriano and Johan Santana, Minnesota has three of the best building blocks in the bigs, and if they wait 4 years for the new stadium to start putting talent around it, they're going to be sorry.

* I'm putting together the ol' NFL preview for 2006. Last year I started strong (click on 07/2005 and scroll about 2/3rds of the way down), but ended up having to do too much in too short a time to finish. This year I'm going to start posting sooner (like say this week!) in hopes of previewing all 8 divisions.

* I've admitted before (and will again) that I'm not the greatest at predictions, but I realized even the "experts" have trouble doing this as well. Let's look at what the Big Boys picked, and compare to what actually happened in 2005:

What actually happened:
PLayoff teams (* denotes wild card)
NFC- Giants, Bears, Bucs, Hawks, Skinnies*, Panth*
AFC- Pats, Bungles, Colts, Bronch, Steelers*, Jags*
Super Bowl- Steel over Hawks.

Here's what people picked:

Sports Illustrated:
Super Bowl: Panthers over Colts
NFC: Eagles, Vikings, Panthers, Rams, Cowboys*, Falcons*
AFC: Pats, Ravens, Colts, Chiefs, Steelers*, Jets*

John Clayton: SB: Colts over Vikes
NFC: Eagles, Vikes, Panthers, Rams, Falcons*, Carrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrds*
AFC: Pats, Steelers, Colts, Chefs, Chargers*, Ravens*

Chris Mortensen: SB: Eagles over Colts
NFC: Eagles, Vikes, Panthers, Rams, Falcons*, Cowboys*
AFC: Pats, Ravens, Colts, Bronch, Bills*, Jets*

Fox Sports:
Jay Glazer: SB: Falcons over Colts
NFC: Eagles, Bears, Falcons, Rams, Giants*, Panthers*
AFC: Patriots, Ravens, Colts, Chargers, Chiefs*, Jets*

Me: Super Bowl: Never picked
NFC: Eagles, Vikes, Rams, Panth, Bucs*, Lions*,
AFC: ?? (I never posted)

So what did we learn? A) I need to actually finish my picks for an accurate comparison, and b) This is as much for fun as it is for accuracy. NOBODY picked the Seahawks to make the playoffs let alone the Super Bowl!!

Just wanted to throw that out there so when all my picks go wrong this year, at least you'll know I won't be the only one.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Jeff: Morrison Won't Be Another Wally

If we didn't live in a politically correct world, I could compare Adam Morrison to the NBA player I think he'll most resemble: Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. But since we apparently aren't allowed to compare white guys to black guys, or vice versa, there's always two names that come up when people want to compare Morrison: Larry Bird or Wally Szczerbiak. Since the only comparison you can really make between Bird and "Ammo" is their staches, I guess we're left with Wally, but other than their size (both 6'8), lack of foot speed, and skin color, they're different players. I'd take Morrison over Szczerbiak right now for any basketball format you're looking for. But I'll do the comparison because Wally's been a decent player, so if I think Morrison's going to be better, then that should say something.

Let's look at Morrison's weaknesses first, and there's none bigger than on defense. People harp about Morrison's inability (and partially his unwillingness) to play defense, and the effect it'll have. Look, he's a terrible defender, and has a chance to be nothing better than not-downright-awful, but Szczerbiak's been in the same boat for his 7 years in the league (honestly who can he guard?), and yet he's been a decent player and will continue to play for as long as he can shoot. Does being a bad defender hurt you in the league? Certainly, but with the new stringent rules on hand-checking on the perimeter, offense is (finally!) be emphasized over defense, so the great and good defenders are coming back to the pack. Long story short being a bad defender is not as big a liability as it used to be, especially if you're in a system that stresses running and gunning (i.e. teams not in the Eastern Conference). For an example of how bad defensive players can still serve a purpose, look no further than the 2-time defending MVP (Nash is far more valuable than either guy, yes, but he's not a better defender than either of them).

Morrison is an ok rebounder for his size (averaged over 5 a game in 3 years with the Zags). Wally has averaged only 4.4 boards in his career (with 5.5 in 2000-'01 by far his highest) but he did average 6.3 in his 4 years in college (including 8.5 his senior year), so I'd say Morrison would be lucky to get close to 4 boards a night in the L. Neither guy are great passers. Morrison's assist-turnover ratio was barely over 1 for his career, and although Wally's is 1.67 in the NBA, he actually averaged more turnovers than assist in college.

The big difference with these two is scoring, and it's all about mentality. Wally's a shooter; Morrison's a scorer, and anybody who knows basketball knows that's a BIG difference! Szczerbiak's shooting in his 7 full seasons (15.6 pts, .499 FG%, .859 FT%, .403 3pt%) have been impressive-- and they'd better be considering that's all he does well. Give him a catch-and-shoot open look and Wally's reliable. Force him to make decisions, and he's basically screwed. Look no further than his playoff numbers in 5 trips to the postseason to prove it. Everything but his FG % (.447) and FT % (.877) drop dramatically-- well except his turnovers, which skyrocket. In 29 playoff games, Wally has only 22 assists and a mind-boggling 63 turnovers!!! That's an assist-turnover ratio of only .349, or an easier way to say it is he averages almost 3 turnovers (2.86 to be exact) for every assist. That's beyond awful. When he's pressured he's a turnover waiting to happen, and yet the man has a huge contract(as much as I'd like to blame Wolves VP Kevin McHale for that one, if he didn't pay Wally that, someone else would have. For example see Dunleavy, Mike) and a secure place in the league.

Despite all these deficiancies, Wally's been an all-star once, and a serviceable player. So if Morrison's better at handling pressure and creating his own shot, which he's proven to be in college, then wouldn't it make sense that Morrison should have a better career, which means a very good pro? Morrison is a scorer, and has the killer instinct that Wally lacks. Club owner Tino from Anchorman has a saying in his country about guys like Morrison: "the coyote of the desert likes to eat the heart of the young and the blood drips down to his children for breakfast, lunch and dinner and only the ribs will be broken."

Sure maybe his intensity gets out of hand (banging his head with the ball at the end of the Zag's first round win or his crying after the loss to UCLA), but I'd rather take that knowing he's giving 168% for every game than a lot of these guys that loaf through most of their games. Morrison's offensive game is about as ugly to look at as his stache, but what he lacks in style he more than makes up for in substance. Don't be worried about his lack of footspeed or athleticism, it's not going to be a big deal. He'll never fly by people and make spectacular drives like DWade, Kobe or Lebron, but he will consistently get his shot off and get to the line. He's got a very high release on his jumper making it difficult to block, and his herky-jerky drives and impossible shot angles and arm slots make him that much tougher to defend. He's also great at drawing fouls. In his 4 year college career, Wally attempted 372 free throws. Morrison shot 311 just THIS YEAR!! He's crafty, tough and makes you pay for fouling him. And again, with defenders no longer allowed to hand-check, with the threat of his jumper he's going to be able to get by people.

He's not going to be a 30-point-a-night guy, but it's very reasonable to expect 20-a-night, and if he gets on the right team, I think he can do it from the get-go. Does Morrison have flaws? Certainly, but I think his scoring and his toughness (both mentally and physically) will make him a good scorer and borderline all-star (and perhaps better) for years to come. He'll be a solid draft pick and will contribute from day 1, and depending on the system he gets into he could turn into a 20-25 points-a-night guy. You know, like Glenn Robinson used to be. Whoops, there I go again comparing a white guy to a black guy. My apologies to whomever I offended.

And actually, thanks to, I have found a white guy we can compare Morrison to. Let's hop in the way-back machine and go with Kelly Tripucka who had a 10 year career averaging 17.2 pts, and almost 4 boards a game as a gunner at small-forward. Happy now? Good. Hopefully this can prove to the doubters that you'll be seeing plenty of Morrison and his dirty stache for years to come.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

* So I was looking through some old posts yesterday, trying to find one that I swore I wrote comparing Adam Morrison to Wally Sczcerbiak, proving that Morrison will be a better pro than people believe. Apparently I never wrote it (which means I WILL write it this week), but I did find the following from my NBA preview...

Mark Cuban needs to deal the Diggler now for as much as he can get, and build around someone else because the Dirk will not lead a team to the title. I had high hopes for him that maybe, just maybe, he'd be the first European to step-up when it mattered. Of course that was right before chewing out Jason Terry at the end of game 5 and then missing all 5 of his shots in OT. Maybe if he didn't shave his head every year things would be different, but I doubt it.

I was right at the time I wrote it, but boy I'm REALLY wrong now!! Dirk Nowitzki has risen from a good NBA player to one of the league's 5 best in the post season (I'll at least point out that he hasn't shaved the 'do this year), and I think this has been a good lesson for me to learn. Dirk hadn't come up big for the Mavs when it mattered, but he worked his tail off this offseason, and is now pretty much unguardable. He's shown more of a willingness to go into the post, and is not killing the smaller guys that used to give him trouble. And the outside shooting? Yeah, it's still there.

I wrongly believed that if you couldn't get it done in the playoffs on more than one occasion, as was the case with The Dirk, then you'd NEVER get it done. Well Dirk has proven me wrong, as did Lebron. Unless you're Peyton Manning or Alex Rodriguez (who never have been and never will be clutch), apparently you CAN learn to be clutch!!

* A poll on had Dirk rated as the league's 5th best player behind Lebron, Wade, Kobe and Duncan. I agree with all of those except Duncan- even when 100% (which TD was not this year), his free throw woes make him less valuable than Dirk.

* Not that I'm ever right with predictions, but I like Dallas to win the series. They've got the size to contain Shaq, and guys like Josh Howard and Marquise Daniels to slow down Dwayne Wade (and by "slow down" I mean keep him shooting under 70% from the field). They also have the quickness on the perimeter to do what Detroit couldn't: drive to the basket on the slower Heat forwards and guards. Oh and have I mentioned Dirk is unguardable? Because he is. SHould be a fun series, although it's ridiculous we have to wait till Thursday to start it.

* Stanley Cup Finals start tonight (congrats to the 4 or 5 households that actually get OLN). I'm cheering for Edmonton because they're a Canadian team (and their best players are generally Canadian) and I hate Carolina (although I obviously support all the great Canadian players the Canes have). Carolina is a prime example of why the NHL isn't working and will never work in the South: Carolina has been one of the worst franchises for attendance since their inception. Sure, the place will be packed for the games, but how many people down there really care? The South has very passionate sports fans (as college football and that sport where guys drive cars and turn left for 4 hours will attest), but unless the team's in the Finals, the people don't show up. Send the team back to Hartford, send the Coyotes back to Winnipeg, and get rid of Florida, Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville, and Anaheim. Please.

* I may be losing my manhood, but I'm actually interested in the World Cup of Futbol. I still find a full soccer game to be boring, but the intensity with which fans in the rest of the world follow this sport, well it's impressive, and almost enviable. I still love the story that in the 2002 World Cup, Ireland (my ancestors) voted to change their clocks to Korean time (something like 9 hours ahead) so that they wouldn't have to watch the games at work. I don't think the amendment passed, but that's still impressive. THAT'S a passionate fan base. Of course the Irish didn't make it this year, and Scotland (my other "homeland") but oh well.

* I'm REALLY ready for football season!! These June and July Sundays when there's NOTHING on reminds me how much I miss football.

* Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry was arrested for the 3rd time in 6 months. He could be the 2006 winner of the "Onterrio Smith Award for Athlete Who Just Doesn't Get It".

Friday, June 02, 2006

Jeremy: IDIOT!!!

Maybe I'm slow... okay, I know for sure that I'm slow, but I didn't know this little factoid that I read in Sid's column today: In the 2003 draft, "(Josh)Howard was available when the Wolves selected Ndudi Ibi at No. 26. The Mavericks ended up taking Howard at No. 29." Yeah, Josh Howard, the guy who just happens to be tearing it up in the playoffs for the Mavs right now. Ouch!
This proves once again that Kevin McHale is an idiot. He chose an unproven project in Ebi (who by the way isn't even on the team anymore, or in the league, ANYWHERE), over a college player who had proven his worth against some top college talent in Howard.
Here is a snipit of a recent conversation that Jeffrick and I had on Google Chat (which we both use to avoid work):
me: i'm not sure mchale is smart enough to draft anyone but a foreign guy we've never heard of.
what if (rudy) gay and (adam) morrison are both there (when the Wolves pick #6 in this years draft)?
Jeff: or a Big 10 player
(I'd) take Rudy
I could come to regret that but take Rudy
I love Rudy after the 5th pick, because the pressure's off of him
me: i think i'm more comfortable with him
Jeff: as peeps have said all year, Rudy's got the stuff to be a star
it's just a question of whether he has the drive. Hello KG!!
that's why I don't think Rudy will get past Charlotte. His workouts will be good, and they'll forget all about his work ethic
me: excellent point
like i said, i just think we are going to end up with a foreign guy that we've never heard of who will not play...EVER.
Jeff: or a 7'0 white guy who'll never play
Jeff: understatement of the year

Honestly, we have a lottery pick for the first time in how long? The 6th overall pick, and both Jeff and I have literally ZERO confidence that McHale is going to bring somebody in with that pick that will make an impact at all, let alone an immediate impact.
A better option might be to try to trade that #6 pick for a proven veteran, but it doesn't even matter that that might be a better option, because there's no doubt that McHale would mess that up too.
I'm at the point where I'm not sure it's even worth cheering for the Timberwolves anymore as long as McHale is at the helm. You have no idea how it pains to me have just typed that.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Jeremy: Muse on Thursday

*Is there now any doubt that Fran Liriano should have been a starter from day 1? Liriano is now 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA. Last night he went 6 innings, gave up just one hit, had 4 walks, 4 strike outs and was making a run at a no-hitter when the first base umpire blew a call at the bag. The Angels, who I would consider one of the better hitting teams in the AL, simply could not touch the guy. The future looks much brighter with Santana, Liriano and even Bonser is looking like he could have some throws for the Twins down the road.

*Speaking of Bonser, Boof Bonzer has to be one of the best names in sports right now, and I just heard this today: he actually had his name legally changed from John to Boof. I had to laugh. ESPN shows his "proper name" as Boof Bonser. I love it! In a related story, Ricky Williams is expected to legally change his name to Puff Williams by the end of next week.

*I'm a bit surprised that Detroit beat Miami last night. I am firmly of the belief that Shaq, as big and lumbering and beat up as he is, is able to turn it on and off whenever he wants. I'm convinced that when he sees the prospect of having several days off before having to play the next game just by winning one game, he turns on everything he's got to win that game so he can go sit in his easy chair and wait for the next challenger. That's why I'm surprised Miami didn't win last night, I thought for sure Shaq would be ready for a rest and would do whatever it took to get it.

*I think I'm completely sick of Roger Clemens in the same way that I'm sick of Brett Favre, and the same way that I got sick of Jordan during the Wiz years. The difference, of course, is that the Rocket still has the ability to dominate everytime he takes the field. The other difference, and it's significant, is that a pitcher doesn't really need to be a part of the "team" concept in order to help make his team successful, and Clemens prooves that. Clemens will again not be required to travel when he's not pitching, and won't even be required to be at the ballpark in Houston on days that he's not pitching. Clemens will be the most rested, physically and mentally, pitcher in the majors when he starts. And oh, by the way, he'll be making roughly $100,000 every inning he pitches. One more thing, Clemens is slated to make his debut this season against the Twins.

*Congrats to the Vikings for getting the Fran Foley monkey off of their backs by hiring the guy they should have hired in the first place, Rick Spielman.