All posts by Wayne Cavadi

YARGH MATEY: Brews, Big Reds, and Birds – The NL Central Breakdown

Spring is in the air. We have a few official Grapefruit and Cactus League games in the books. If you have been following along you are also aware that I have the NL East predictions in the books (or in the Internet as the case may be). Today we move onto the NL Central.

THE NL CENTRAL

The NL Central is a well-rounded division. There are four solid teams competing for the title and at least one will most likely lock up the other Wild Card spot. This could be quite an interesting battle from the first pitch in April right down to the last strike in September.

5. THE CHICAGO CUBS.
(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 66.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 73-89.)

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One hit?

They are famous for their legendary field. They are famous for their legendary announcer. Unfortunately, they are most famous for losing and it doesn’t seem that 2014 will change that. The longest championship drought in professional sports will continue for the 106th season.

When I look at the Cubs roster, I feel like I’m watching the beginning of Major League as I’m left asking who the hell are these guys? Starlin Castro, the lone star on the squad, took a giant step backwards last season. Their 2013 offense was second to last in the NL in both runs scored and RBI… and they made no moves to better the situation.

The pitching is an even bigger project. Last year’s ace, Matt Garza, is gone and Jeff Samardzija was on the trading block for much of the offseason but couldn’t bring in anything worth… well, anything. The ace of this staff, and that term is used very loosely, is Travis Wood. Wood is coming off a 9-12 season posting a 3.11 ERA with 144 Ks over 200 innings. That’s the third or fourth pitcher on most other rotations. They have a great back of the bullpen in Pedro Strop and Jose Veras but getting to them in meaningful situations may be a challenge.

Theo Epstein is in charge and this is clearly a team dedicated to rebuilding. He was the man in charge when the curse was reversed in Boston and Chicago faithful are still holding out hope that this team isn’t far away from contending. Until then they have the continued growth of Junior Lake, Anthony Rizzo, and Nate Schierholtz to root for — Hoo rah.

Projected 2014 Finish: 69-93.  For ticket information, check out Ticket Monster.

4. THE CINCINNATI REDS.
(Covers has the O/U at 87.5 while FanGraphs has them at 80-82.)

This could be my biggest blunder in all of my predictions. The Reds could easily win this division. They have a solid rotation as Johnny Cueto and Matt Latos are as formidable a 1-2 punch as any in the bigs. Homer Bailey is the newest $100 million-dollar man (yes, you read that correctly) so he better perform. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Ludwick are as good of a heart of the line-up as there is. And Cincinnati finally gets to see rookie speedster Billy Hamilton in the line-up. Then why I do have this team slated to finish fourth?

The Reds have no depth–zip, zero, nada. Where other teams made big signings to deepen their rosters, the Reds lost two huge pieces while adding none. Losing Bronson Arroyo forces Tony Cingrani into the starting rotation. He showed future ace talent in his rookie season last year but that was over a mere 18 starts. He was able to be the swingman last season being used as the 6th starter when Cueto was on the DL and others needed rest. If he has a sophomore slump the Reds are thin at starting pitching and will struggle to fill the void. Cueto, the undisputed ace of the rotation, has Cy Young stuff. He also has big-time injury history. If the Reds intend to go far Cueto needs 30-plus starts.

On the offensive side of the ball they lost the on-base machine Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was huge as he hit homers, hit for average, got on base, stole bases, and scored tons of runs for the Reds big bats. He is now in Texas and Billy Hamilton is his replacement. No one has questioned what Hamilton can do when he gets on base, but many questions surround if he can get on base. Ryan Ludwick, who has never had 500 ABs in his career and is coming of a 2013 season lost to injury, will now be needed as an everyday outfielder.

This team has tons of talent. Their stars are also getting older and are injury prone. Baseball, as we know, is a long season. Their lack of depth will come back and haunt them.

Projected 2014 Finish: 85-77.  For ticket information click here.

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3. THE MILWAUKEE BREWERS.
(Covers has the O/U at 78.5 while FanGraphs has them at 78-84.)
The Brew Crew is back and Milwaukee once again has something to look forward to other than a sausage race. This offense is stacked with power so even if their questionable pitching staff struggles they should win a few games just by out-bombing the other team.

Ryan Braun is the big question mark. All eyes will be on him as he returns from suspension for his PED soap opera that he didn’t take, but took, but didn’t mean to take, yet still did. Will he be the player he once was, a perennial NL MVP candidate, or was he a PED nightmare? I stand firm to my belief that PEDs don’t make someone a good player. Ryan Braun can play ball and the PEDs simply enhanced the gifts he already had. Braun will be back with a huge chip on his shoulder. He will have a lot of young guns like Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, and Jean Segura to drive in as well as solid bats like Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucoy, and the shell of Aramis Ramirez to protect him.

The starting pitching is a bit iffy. That’s why they brought in Matt Garza. I have never thought this guy was ace-of-the-staff material being more suited as a number two pitcher, however the Brewers are banking on his power pitching to come through in a big way. Yovani Gallardo was absolutely dreadful last season. The one time ace of the staff will now throw every third day. He has shown some flawed mechanics over the past few seasons watching his strikeouts fall and walks rise yearly. He is the Brewers X-factor: only 28-years-old, if he can find his old form, Garza, Kyle Lohse, and Gallardo are one heck of a 1-2-3 front end of the rotation.

Projected 2014 Finish: 87-75.  For ticket information click here.

2. THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES.
(Covers has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78).

Finally! Pittsburgh fans got to cheer for a winning season for the first time in over two decades. Clint Hurdle has this team poised and ready to make sure they continue their winning ways and don’t return to the perennial sub-.500 joke of the NL Central they had been.

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McCLUTCHen

Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen is my favorite player that doesn’t wear pinstripes. There isn’t one thing this guy does poorly as he is a lights out center fielder, a terror on the base paths, a nice contact hitter, and has the power to be a run producing threat. McCutchen is a special player and a team with his sort of talent won’t just go away. It’s a scary thought for the rest of the NL Central that Cutch seems to be now hitting his stride at 27 years of age.

The Pirates have one glaring problem on offense and it is why I don’t have them catching the Cardinals quite yet. They are a boom or bust team. They don’t play an inkling of small ball or get on base frequently. The have bashers like Pedro Alvarez. Starling Marte came into his own last season and coming off a 12 HR, 41 SB campaign he can help change that mindset. Pirate fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Gregory Polanco who has already had a big debut in Spring Training.

The pitching staff takes a hit losing veteran ace AJ Burnett but let’s face reality. Losing a 37-year old pitcher who was set on retiring is not the biggest loss. They need Francisco Liriano to continue his rebirth and mature into what everyone thought he could be as he enters his 30s and becomes the ace of this young staff. They also need Gerrit Cole to avoid a sophomore slump and not tease us with the goods he showed as a rookie. This staff has 6 quality starters which is never a problem for any team. The Pirates also have the luxury of knowing that if their starters can getting them six quality innings then they are in good shape. Set-up man Mark Melancon and closer Jason Grilli were nearly untouchable last season as anchors to one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Projected 2014 Finish: 90-72. NL Wild Card. For ticket information click here.

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These guys love to win

1. THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS.
(Covers has the O/U at 90.5 wins while FanGraphs has them finishing 88-74.)

There is no reason to bet against the reigning NL Champs. They once again seem to get better by subtraction as the loses of Carlos Beltran, David Freese, and Edward Mujica shouldn’t hurt them at all. This team is solid up and down the line-up and has one of the best young pitching staffs in the game.

The Cardinals line-up shouldn’t miss Freese as his departure will get Matt Adams full time at bats. They also made themselves strong up the middle bringing in veteran infielders Mark Ellis at second base and Jhonny Peralta at short. The outfield takes a little hit with the loss of Beltran but everyone in baseball knows he was just keeping the spot warm for all-world prospect Oscar Taveras. The Cards are in no rush to get him to the bigs, but I think it happens sooner than later. That is why I see Taveras as the NL Rookie of the Year.

The pitching staff they have assembled is one of the top five in baseball. It has some homegrown youngsters that will be fun to watch develop as a unit. Veteran ace Adam Wainwright anchors the young staff. Watching what playoff hero Michael Wacha and rookie phenom Shelby Miller do for an encore will be exciting as they both possess top of the rotation stuff. If they come of age this season and Jaime Garcia returns to full health, along with Lance Lynn the Cardinals will have the best rotation in baseball. Once they get to the bullpen, Trevor Rosenthal will take over at closer for the departed Mujica. I don’t know what they feed their closers on the farm, but Rosenthal is yet another hard throwing pitcher that will have no problem shutting down games for the Cards.

Projected 2014 Finish: 93-69. For ticket information click here.

NL East Projections: Politicians or Politically Incorrect?

It’s that time of year, folks. The bats and pitches are a little slower but baseball is back. This begins my division by division look at the National and American Leagues. Hopefully, unlike my Super Bowl prediction, I get a few things right. Even if I don’t, I’m sure I’ll ruffle some feathers along the way.

THE NL EAST:
The NL East is a two-trick pony. It doesn’t take an expert to realize that this division will come down to the Nationals and the Braves for the title with both teams likely heading for the postseason. The other three teams? Well, they do have one thing in common: the Phillies, Mets, and Marlins will all struggle to get close to .500.

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Your 2014 Philadelphia Phillies

5. The Philadelphia Phillies.
(Covers.com has the Phils Over/Under wins at 78. FanGraphs.com projects the Phillies to finish at 78-84.)
If they reach 78 wins, then it isn’t a terrible season though it’s not good. It’s certainly not because they don’t have the talent. It just so happens that the talent they have peaked 5 years ago.

AJ Burnett, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Cliff Lee, and Mike Adams are 35 or older. Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Roberto Hernandez, and Cole Hamels are all 30 or older. Hell, the 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz has 36-year-old Wil Nieves backing him up. Every person listed above aside from Nieves is a starter in this line-up. The 2012 Yankees showed us all this is not a recipe for success.

Like I said earlier, these guys aren’t washed up bums. These are still talented veterans, guys who can still contribute and play key roles on a contender. Then how does it make sense that I rank these guys last in the NL East? I think that once they are out of contention, they will have a fire sale and start to rebuild. Rollins, Utley, and Lee are sure to go, and Papelbon leaving is a strong possibility as well. Hopefully, this leads to a late season call-up for right-hander David Buchanan, a promising starting pitcher in the organization but he also helped me move about 5 years ago, so go David!  At that point it will be a lost season and the Phillies will sink to the bottom of the muck.

2014 Projected Finish: 74-88.  For ticket information, check out Ticket Monster.

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The highest paid OFer on the Mets in 2013 (no lie!)

4. The New York Mets.
(Covers.com has the O/U at 71 games while FanGraphs has them finishing 77-85.)
I wish this team was worse than it is, especially since I think Bobby Bo is seriously still on their payroll. I love watching this team play second fiddle in the Big Apple. In fact if I had a chance to go to a Wilmington Blue Rocks game or sit front row at Citi Field, then I’m going to Wilmington. Unfortunately this team does have some talent but fortunately, it’s not enough to return to relevance just yet.

That could happen when Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery in 2015 but with 41-year-old (so he says) Bartolo Colon as your ace, you could be in for a long season. David Wright is the heart and soul of this team. We continue to be told that he is still a superstar but the last few years he has done anything to prove that. He is officially injury-prone and his best years could very well be behind him.

Ike Davis versus Lucas Duda is a position battle worth watching… if you have no TV, can’t read books, and are duct taped to a seat in Citi Field. Chris Young and Curtis Granderson are upgrades in the outfield but these guys are there to mash home runs, not to change the franchise. The pitching staff does have some nice pieces as I look forward to Zach Wheeler’s second go round. Jon Neise has the goods, but he is coming off an injury-riddled campaign and is already heading for an MRI this spring. This season is about making strides for the Mets and getting ready for the future and surrounding Wheeler, Harvey, and d’Arnaud with the right pieces.

Projected 2014 Finish: 77-85.  For ticket information click here.

3. The Miami Marlins.
(Covers has the O/U at 66.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 74-88.)
The consensus both in Vegas and with the “stat guys” have the Marlins finishing dead last. Well, what fun is it to go along with the masses? Especially when you know I can make a compelling case as to why you should believe me.

I went to a Marlins’ game last season and, let me tell you folks, this was a bad team. They were so bad that it was impressive that they won 62 games. It was, however, a young team that kept growing throughout the year. The starting team in September vaguely resembled the team that started in April. In that final month when rookies Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Adeiny Hechavarria finally had some games under their belt together, the Marlins put up 13 wins. That’s about 20% of all of their wins the whole season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garret Jones, and even aging Rafael Furcal are not baseball superstars but are a much needed improvement that brings veteran leadership to the squad. They should add some pop to give a healthy Giancarlo Stanton some protection and make that weird eyesore in center field light up and blow its lid a few times.

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Is this the Miami Sound Machine?

Their young pitching staff is maybe baseball’s best kept secret. Sure, the whole world knows Jose Fernandez after his Rookie of the Year campaign that put him in Cy Young talks but little is known of his cohorts. Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and one-time Tigers’ top prospect Jacob Turner all anchored a staff with very respectable ERAs in the 3s. Like the line-up, a full season together as a staff should show vast improvement. I don’t think the Marlins have what it takes to be a sleeper playoff team, but I think they have the goods to surprise a lot of people with a nice comeback story.

Projected 2014 Finish: 80-82. For ticket information click here.

2. The Washington Nationals.
(Covers has the O/U at 90.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 87-75.)
An important mid-September series in Atlanta will probably determine the winner of this division. Like their Braves counterpart, the Nationals are stacked on both sides of the ball. What separates the two teams?

Until the Nationals can solve their injury woes, I can’t be a believer. I was all-in last season on these guys, trading a first-round pick in fantasy to get Stephen Strasburg with delusional visions of a 20-win shutdown season. The only thing shutdown about his season was Strasburg himself. Bryce Harper has endless potential but has to stay on the field this season and become the face of the NL. Ryan Zimmerman seems to always be sore or playing through pain and his bat is needed in the heart of this line-up.

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The best pitching staff in the NL

If Strasburg can finally reach 200 innings and Gio Gonzalez can bounce back to his 2012 form, then this is hands down the best pitching staff in the National League and, aside from the Detroit Tigers, could be the best in the game. Jordan Zimmermann is getting better and better. That’s a scary thought coming off a 19-9 season. Doug Fister, a number two on most other teams, will be the fourth slot in their rotation. Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Fister are all capable of pitching Cy Young-type seasons. If they do it all in the same year, this team isn’t just winning the NL East, they are winning it all. This team is young and has many future seasons atop the NL East. I simply don’t think their reign will begin this year.

Project 2014 Finish: 92-70; National League Wild-Card.  For ticket information click here.

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Politically incorrect choppin!!!

1. The Atlanta Braves.
(Covers has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77.)
I know, I know. You picked the team in the city you live in to finish first. Homer.

If there is one thing that I have learned watching the Braves over the years, it is that you can never count them out in the regular season. That being said, I think they repeat atop the NL East.

This team won 96 games last season with three of their key pieces having career-worst seasons. There is absolutely no way that BJ Upton and Dan Uggla can be as bad as they were last season. Despite batting a horrific .179, Uggla still slugged 22 HRs. He still has his power, so he can still bounce back to at least being a mediocre second baseman. Upton managed to hit a whopping .184 and didn’t get on base which was what the Braves brought him in to do (or lure his brother into town, which in that case, he succeeded). Let’s give Upton a wash for signing the big contract and not performing under the pressure. If he could reclaim his spot atop the line-up and cause ruckus on the base paths, then the Braves line-up would benefit greatly. The key factor is Jason Heyward. I’m done hearing about what this kid is capable of or comparisons to great right fielders of yesteryear. It’s now or never for him, which is probably why the Braves only signed him to a two-year extension.

Sure, they lost Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, but they have plenty of ammo to replace them. Throw in a Top Ten starting rotation in all of baseball AND one of the best bullpens in the game anchored by the second coming of The Sandman and this team is without question playoff bound. The boldest of the predictions? Your 2014 NL MVP is going to be Freddie Freeman. BOOM. That just happened.

2014 Projected Finish: 95-67; NL East Champs.  For ticket information click here.

Hate Duke Nation!!!

I have hated Duke for as long as I can remember. I never really had any reason other than that they were the Yankees of college basketball. Each year they got the best recruits, Coach K mostly convinced them to hang around for 4 years, and they made winning 30 games look as easy as finding something bad to say about Justin Beiber. Now I have a reason.

It wasn’t that it was a bad call. It was probably, as Boeheim said in his presser, the worst call of the year. In fact, earlier in the game, the same call on Michael Gbinije WAS a blocking foul. I used to be an assistant high school basketball coach. The one thing that was instilled in me by my mentor was that bad calls happen all of the time, but they happen on both sides of the ball so you can never blame the refs for a game. Well, folks, I’m going to be a little whiny brat and tell you that this game did not go down that way. The right call would have been a no call, which would have tied the game and let these young kids who gave their all decide the outcome, not the referees.

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And Laettner

But I digress. I am not here to write about 12 seconds of a single game. I’m here to talk about almost 35 years of tyranny under Coach K. I needed the help of an expert hater of Duke in compiling this list, so I called my guy Q-Tip (no, not from Tribe) who lives in Raleigh and has been an avid UNC fan since the day I met him. He was there Thursday night when Duke went down to UNC and he was thrilled to help me compile a list of his biggest enemy ever.

5 REASONS EVERYBODY SHOULD HATE DUKE

5. The Players.

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Kings of the Flop

Christian Laettner. Chris Duhon. Cherokee Parks. Bobby Hurley. Grant Hill. Jay Williams. Greg Paulus. Trajan Langdon. Corey Maggette. JJ Redick. All of the Plumlees. Steve Wojciechowski. Aren’t those names sickening? None of these players went on to NBA super stardom. You can make a case that Grant Hill was on his way to a Hall of Fame career, but injuries ended that too quickly. You can look at someone like Redick who does his job well as a shooting specialist but he’s a one-dimensional player, not a NBA star. My biggest beef is and always will be Christian Laettner. I hate that I have to admit that he is the best college player of my lifetime, but he undoubtedly is. He put together a respectable NBA career hanging around for a long time but was never part of the elite of the game. How that guy got to be on The Dream Team is beyond me.

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4. Coach K.
It’s not that I hate Coach K. He’s done a lot of good things for basketball, especially with Team USA over the years. The primary reason he makes my list is because Coach K is the one person who stands in Jim Boeheim’s way of being the winningest coach in NCAA history. Throw on top of it this whole he runs a clean program image and it gets even worse. Many pundits and former opponents will tell you that he bullies officials. Or take the Corey Maggette scandal. Maggette admitted to taking money from Myron Piggie, no lie, Myron Piggie, before signing his letter of intent with Duke. A year later Duke goes 37-2 and loses to UConn in the National Championship. No sanctions were ever levied, and 37 more wins were added to Coach K’s illustrious clean career. Add to it that Maggette declared early, which almost never happened with Duke athletes, and you have to wonder what exactly Coach K knew. (Coach K, incidentally is less than 37 games ahead of Boeheim.) When it comes to his overall record, there is also his one-year sabbatical at which you need to look. The team went 2-14 during his ’94-’95 absence, yet those loses were part of Pete Gaudet’s record while even Coach K admits they should be added to his.

3. Duke Vitale and the rest of the Duke loving media.
Much like Coach K, I don’t hate Dickie V. I just hate when he announces Duke games. I don’t understand how he and Jay Bilas are allowed to cover nationally televised games. People hate the Yankees enough as it is, but could you imagine if someone like Yogi Berra called the games for Fox? Granted, last night both Bilas and Dickie V seemed shocked and appalled at the end result of the game, but overall ESPN and their analysts have no problem openly displaying their love affair with Duke.

2. Cameron Crazies.

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OVER RATED!!! (Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap) OVER RATED!!! (Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap)

Best fans in college basketball? Puh-lease. Is the Black Hole in Oakland the best fan base in the NFL? Much like Duke, with the Black Hole, you see the craziest of the crazies on TV but miss out on the whole picture. A 2012 report showed a steady decline in attendance over the previous 5 year period. There were several reasons given but the most glaring was a lack of competitive top-ranked teams playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Really? So you’re too busy to support your team when they play in-state rival Wake Forest, but you can show up for a huge showdown? Is it me or does that sound like a fair-weather fan? These are annoying hooligans who jump around and make stupid noises or wave their hands in an opponent’s face and that has earned them the right to be declared the best fans in college hoops? Have you seen Kentucky’s attendance over the last decade? Have you watched Syracuse pack out the Carrier Dome, shattering the NCAA single game attendance record with each big game that comes through? Have you been to Syracuse? It’s like 50 below for half the season, yet they manage to cram 35,000 into the Dome. You can take your 9,200 seat high school gymnasium – I’ll take Otto’s Army any day.

1. Duke Rules.

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Look at his freakin’ foot?!?!?!?

I live in ACC country. When Syracuse moved to the conference people told me to be prepared to lose at Cameron every year because the refs won’t let you win. I thought that was a sign of sore losers, a group of fan bases whose teams could never find a way to beat Duke. Unfortunately last night’s game did nothing to prove those fans wrong. That being said, here are some of the most famous calls that make you wonder…

It all starts with Laettner in the 1992 East Regional Final. Everyone my age remembers watching that shot and cringing when it miraculously went through the net. But… should Laettner have even been on the court to take the shot? I’m sure Aminu Timberlake would think not. For those of you that don’t remember Timberlake, he was the one who Laettner ADMITTEDLY stomped on his stomach while he lay on the ground. Laettner did draw the technical but remained in the game. So take note all of you aspiring high school basketball players, punching an opponent will get you ejected, but kicking someone in the guts is A-OK.

Do you remember just one week ago when the officials fouled up in the Maryland game? The Terrapins were up 56-54 when a jump ball occurred. The possession arrow pointed towards Duke so they took the ball, tied the game, and went on to win 69-67. A day later, the ACC acknowledged that the officials had forgotten to change the possession arrow and that it should have been Maryland’s ball instead of Duke’s. They also conveniently mentioned that once games are finished they can not change the outcome but just offer an apology.

Remember when Greg Paulus was practically in the stands and made a “great save” on the ball to keep Duke, the number 2 seed, in the game against Belmont, the number 15 seed, back in 2008? He was CLEARLY out of bounds by two or three steps. Duke won that game 71-70.

How about the 2001 Championship game against Arizona when certain members of the media counted a whopping seven fouls committed by star point guard Jason Williams?

And let’s not forget in 2009 when 3 officials were actually suspended for messing up an obvious call against FSU. Duke won that game 97-96.

These five reasons all equate to one thing: People hate Duke because they are the power house you wish your team was. If Boeheim had 4 championships, then I’m sure Syracuse would be hated nationwide and I would wear the badge as an honor. Can you point the finger for Syracuse’s loss at Ennis and Cooney for playing a subpar game? Sure. Can you say that a team that shoots 28% from the floor in the first half doesn’t deserve to win the game? Absolutely. The bottom line is that Cuse found a way to stay in that game and that they lost that game because as usual, the refs made a call that favored Duke. In the end, that is all we need to unite as a Hate Duke Nation.

I need to cool off, folks. All I can hope for is that there is a Round 3 on a neutral court where my boys and Coach K’s kids can settle this once and for all.

Johnny Foot-in-mouth

“It would be the worst decision they’ve ever made. I’d be in the same division playing against them twice a year. Sorry, but you just turned that chip on my shoulder from a Fritos into a Dorito.”

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Is Johnny Football really Número Uno?

I tried, folks. I wanted to steer clear of a draft rant until after the NFL Combine concluded on February 25th. Then over the weekend, Johnny Manziel had to once again tell the sports world about how great a quarterback Johnny Manziel is. Well, I don’t buy it.

It’s not that I hate Johnny Football or think he doesn’t have the skills to succeed in the NFL. I don’t think he is what the Texans, my favorite NFL team, need at number one. I don’t think any of these QBs are. Seemingly everyday some draft expert has new insight on how the Texans need to take Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel. Well which one is it? According to Johnny Football, the first pick should be Johnny Football.

If you have been following me on Twitter, you know I have been taking two approaches. One, I am trying to start #TeamClowney because that is who, at the current moment, I want at number one overall. Secondly, I said I was not yet sold on the quarterbacks and that they could change my mind at the NFL Combine next week, which was why I was trying to hold off on a blog. Johnny Manziel will not be there as he is voluntarily skipping the event to prepare for his Pro Days.

While people question Clowney’s desire and motivation, I question if Manziel knows what he is talking about. Let’s dissect his quote from the other day:
It would be the worst decision they have ever made. Has he watched the Texans at all over the last decade? This is a team that drafted Dunta Robinson, Travis Johnson, Amobi Okoye, and Kareem Jackson in the first round and kept Gary Kubiak as head coach for about 3 seasons too long.
I’d be in the same division playing against them twice a year. This of course is speculation that if the Texans pass on Mr. Football then the Jaguars would snatch him up at the third pick. This is the same Jaguars team that swept the Texans last season and the same Jaguars team that won two games in 2012 and took the Texans, amid their best season in history, to the last seconds of overtime in a high scoring affair, and the same Jaguars that the Texans own a career 13-11 record over. The Jaguars have been doing quite alright handling the Texans without Johnny Football.
Sorry, but you just turned that chip on my shoulder from a Fritos into a Dorito. How delightfully metaphorical. I don’t care for Fritos much though, so I would hope it was a Dorito from the get go, preferably the Spicy Nacho flavor.

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Mmmmm

So why am I opposed to Manziel and this year’s flock of QBs at number one? Sure, the Texans need a QB badly, but is jumping on a prospect based on only their potential the right thing to do at number one? In 1984 the Portland Trail Blazers needed a center and they drafted Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Sometimes talent supersedes need. If you subscribe to the philosophy that you address needs in the draft over talent, let me throw this at you: the Texans addressed their biggest need last December when they fired Kubiak. His play calling had gone stale and their offense became predictable. He laid it up too often when the Texans needed him to be Tin Cup and just go for it.

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Well he did snag two trophies…

Manziel is not the right choice for the Texans. Our fan base deserves a proven winner, not a stat sheet filler. The current starter (I think) Case Keenum set records as a Houston Cougar and did very little last season to show that he is starting NFL QB material. Across the state, Dallas has been dealing with Tony Romo lighting up box scores for years with nothing to show for it. If the Texans go QB number one, he has to be Andrew Luck-esque, a guy who is going to get the team to the playoffs in year one and take over the division in year two. Drafting Johnny Manziel as the future of the team is not my problem. My problem is in drafting him with the number one overall pick. If the Texans had the fifth to seventh pick, I would have no problem with a gamble however, with the first pick overall, you need an immediate game changer. Take a look at the last four years. Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are considered elite, while people are beginning to question Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford. Yes, the same Matthew Stafford who has thrown for over 4,500 yards the last three seasons is viewed by some as uncoachable. Why? Because the Lions don’t win.

Manziel’s stats speak volumes, but stats do not win titles. In all of his college greatness, the Aggies had no division or conference championships and no BCS Bowl appearances to show for it. The Heisman you say? Sure, he was the first freshman to win the award, but it was considered by many to be the weakest Heisman class ever: Manti Te’o, Collin Klein, Marqise Lee, and Braxton Miller. What happened this season when he battled against Jameis Winston, Andre Williams, Tre Mason, Jordan Lynch, and AJ McCarron? He finished fifth.

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And boom goes the dynamite

I know, Clowney’s Gamecocks didn’t win any championships either. The reality of football however is that the quarterback is the ultimate leader. When the team wins the quarterback is the hero while when they lose he’s the goat. Clowney led a defense that had USC finish in the Top Ten in the nation all three years he was in school. Johnny Manziel’s Aggies only finished in the Top Ten once in his two year tenure.

Jadeveon Clowney is a freak of nature. Standing at 6’5″ and 274 pounds with 4.5 40-speed, he has the perfect build to transition from college defensive end to 3-4 linebacker in Houston’s scheme. He was the consensus top ranked recruit going into college and is currently the number one ranked draft prospect overall. He was Freshman of the Year in his first campaign, and while Manziel turned heads as the first freshman to win the Heisman, Clowney was the first sophomore to win the Hendrick’s Award as the top end in the nation. He times the snap better than most and he is too quick for trap blocking schemes. He can defend the run and the pass and has unlimited potential. What scares draft experts and NFL people is his head. Many feel that he took last season off to protect himself for his big payday in May. They question his work ethic because he was late to a few meetings and wasn’t the first-and-last-in-the-weight-room type of guy. There is some worry whether he will still have the desire and drive once he signs and makes his millions. I can’t answer that, but I’m willing to take that chance on sheer talent alone.

Manziel? He’s either the number 2 or 3 ranked QB heading into the draft and around the number 7 overall prospect depending on whose information you use. He is short for a QB standing at 6’1 and 210 pounds. He recently thanked Russell Wilson for showing that short QBs can win it all. No mention of how their defense (which was mainly built through the draft) came through when their offense sputtered throughout the season, eh, Johnny? The big knock on Manziel is that he falls away from his throws whether there is any pressure or not and this directly effects his consistency and accuracy. Well that doesn’t sound very good to me at all.

Who is Manziel’s primary competition? Teddy Bridgewater is a very good quarterback at many aspects of his game; however, he is just not a great quarterback. Blake Bortles has the quarterback build, but his footwork and throwing mechanics are questionable. When I look at Teddy Bridgewater I see a Big Ben type of QB while in Johnny Manziel I see a Russell Wilson or a more quarterback-ready Tim Tebow. When I watch Bortles, the way he runs and throws, I see Andrew Luck. Which of those guys would you draft first overall?

Recently, Manziel received two ringing endorsements from some pretty elite company. John McClain, esteemed writer for the Chronicle and regular insider on the NFL Network, said he is sold on Manziel as the right pick for the Texans, while legendary New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre said he sees himself when he looks at Manziel. Despite these prestigious opinions, I still feel that taking Manziel with the first pick is as equal a gamble as taking Clowney first and picking a project like Zach Mettenberger with a later selection. Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson turned out to be pretty darn good quarterbacks and they couldn’t even sneak into the first round never mind the first pick overall. Every Andrew Luck pick has a Jamarcus Russell to counter it and every Peyton Manning has a Jeff George. If Manziel was the clear cut choice over Bridgewater and Bortles, then the Texans would have to go for him. But he isn’t, and he won’t be at the Combine to prove to me otherwise.

I need to cool off. By the time you read this, I’m sure Derek Carr will be the projected number one pick in the draft. I wouldn’t mind that actually because I could whip out my David Carr jersey and wear it again with pride. Until next time, here’s to USA bringing home that hockey gold!

Space Jammin’ on The King

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Take that, Russia!

USA! USA! USA! What a way to wake up yesterday, America! Another episode in one of the classic rivalries in the history of the world. Starting with the 1972 Olympics when the Russians cheated us, to The Miracle at Lake Placid, all the way to Rocky and Ivan Drago, yesterday was yet another opportunity to show the world we are the Yankees to their Red Sox. Segue to this evenings NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, where the biggest All-Star of them all takes the stage for the East against his Western Conference counterpart Kevin Durant and his gang of high-flying hoopsters.

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See you in April again, right?

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the Wilt vs. Russell or the Bird vs. Magic of the new millennium. They are the best in the business and they are the clear cut leaders of the two best teams currently in the NBA. So, on this NBA All-Star weekend, it is time to reflect on one of the current great debates: The King or His Airness?

With each season that passes, many feel King James makes a bigger case for himself as the greatest the game has ever seen. I don’t think it is even close. In fact, I would argue Kobe Bryant is closer to Jordan 2.0 than the King. A lot of the debate circles around a wait and see approach, wondering how LeBron James will end his career. I don’t think it will matter. If Lebron were to win 4 more championships and tie Jordan, Jordan is still the greatest of all-time.

5 REASONS HIS AIRNESS REIGNS SUPREME

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So, seriously, are you a super hero or something?

5. The Stats:
The easy and lazy way to approach the topic is to merely whip out the numbers and whoever has better stats is clearly the best. That being said, I’m still going to do it. Not counting LeBron’s 2013-14 stats at the halfway point, let’s examine Jordan versus James through year 10 of their careers:

Michael Jordan: 21,998 points, 4,219 rebounds, 4,025 assists, and 2,445 steals.
LeBron James: 21,081 points, 5,553 rebounds, 5,302 assists, and 1,323 steals.

Well this just doesn’t help much at all. Jordan is tops in two stats and James ousts MJ in the other 2. Here’s something that may help separate the two. Jordan’s official tenth season was his first retirement which means to get stats for 10 seasons we need to jump to his ’94-’95 return, when played in 17 whole games. Nine seasons earlier, Jordan’s second, he broke his foot in the third game and wound up playing in just 18 games that season. James has never played in less than 62 games in a season. You give Jordan those missed games back or have him not retire and these numbers are ALL Jordan. To appease to the bling is the thing mentality, Jordan has three rings by year 10 and LeBron has two.

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C’mon MJ, we are the two greatest actors of our generation. Stick with us, kid.

4. Do you know, do you know, do you know?:
Sure, LeBron has his own line of sneakers, but that’s because Jordan paved the way. I was in middle school when Air Jordan’s hit the market and for those of you who weren’t alive, it was total pandemonium. People were getting killed for their shoes. Mars Blackman, aka Spike Lee, became Jordan’s sidekick in one of the more memorable ad campaigns of the 80s. (Incidentally, a few months back I found an It’s Gotta Be the Shoes Nike shirt at Rag-O-Rama in Atlanta and I snatched that baby right up!)

Yes, LeBron is Mr. Gatorade and even had his own gum flavor for a minute but EVERYBODY knew Michael Jordan. By the mid-1990s he had to be one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He was an actor, he was on the Dream Team, he was an adman, he sold out minor league baseball games, he IS one of the most famous logos ever which in turn made Nike into what we know it, and he made an awesome guest host appearance on SNL. Like Magic before him, Jordan knew he WAS the NBA and he stepped up to bat, put the NBA on his shoulders and carried the league to new heights. Sure he was smug and arrogant, but he was Michael Freakin’ Jordan. LeBron? We can’t even get this guy to dunk on All-Star Weekend. Which brings me to…

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3. The Slam Dunk Contest:
Imagine if you would, that the year is 1988. NBA All-Star Weekend is in Chicago. Bill Lambier, Mugsy Bogues, Kevin Johnson, and Terry Porter take the stage for the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. A sold-out arena heads for the doors.

The Slam Dunk Contest is the Slam Dunk Contest because back in MJ’s day the best dunkers in the NBA participated. Jordan, Dr.J, Drexler, Nance, Spud Webb, and Dominque Wilkins all participated in dunk contests leading up to the greatest of them all, the 1988 ‘Nique versus Jordan showdown (which Dominque should have won). Last night was a bunch of bench or role players dunking. I grew up walking the streets of New York City where I could watch dunk contests with guys I never heard of quite often. I want to see the big guns go at it. If you are too good to be in the Dunk Contest then you are too good to play in the meaningless showboat game that the NBA All-Star Game is. Stay home and let someone else shine.

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2. The Hardware:
It’s not just what MJ has on LeBron in the rings and trophies, it is how he accomplished it all. King James beat up on 15 and 16-year-olds half his size to win some state championships and jumped right to the NBA. Jordan decided to go to college first but not because he couldn’t have made the jump. Want proof? In his first year at UNC, he won the 1982 Freshman of the Year en route to the National Title in which he hit the game-winning shot over Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. 2 years later in 1984, he was the  NCAA Player of the Year winning the Wooden, Rupp, and Naismith Awards which of course earned him the honor of being drafted AFTER Sam Bowie. Imagine if Jordan had those three years in the NBA?

Both James and Jordan won the Rookie of the Year award in their NBA debuts. Jordan has 5 MVPs and LeBron has 4, so he may very well surpass him. LeBron has 2 NBA Championships while Jordan finished with 6. Make no mistakes, folks, the Rockets weren’t the ’93-94 and ’94-’95 NBA Champs because they were the best team in the league. They won because MJ “retired”. The Bulls would have won 8 Championships in a row if Jordan stayed. If that were the case this wouldn’t even be a debate.

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The Greatest Team Ever

1. The Joran Era:
I’m probably biased but I feel that I grew up in the greatest era of NBA basketball which is why I find it so hard to watch today’s NBA. The early 80s to the mid-90s was an amazing time for the NBA. They had characters like Sir Charles and Magic, they had classic player rivalries like Bird and Magic and Ewing and Olajuwon, and they had The Bad Boys. That era also had the greatest players to ever suit up.

This is what makes MJ’s 2 “three-peats” so amazing. His Bulls won 6 championships defeating the likes of Magic Johnson and James Worthy, Drexler, Sir Charles, Gary Payton, and John Stockton and Karl Malone. These aren’t just Hall of Famers, these are Top 50 NBA all-time players. Jordan and Pippen routinely beat up Ewing and Isiah Thomas in the East to get to the Finals. LeBron and the Heat lost to Dirk and the Mavericks their first go at the title. Jordan’s Bulls didn’t lose, and he made sure of it.

Jordan never had to leave and go join another team to win. People came to him. Dennis Rodman could have gone anywhere and probably had a bigger role but instead he decided to go to Chicago and form possibly the deadliest Big Three combo in history. If Pippen, Jordan, and Rodman had stayed together a few more years who knows what would have happened. On the other side of the debate, many experts already see James, Wade, and Bosh’s window quickly closing with more discussions weekly on where LeBron will sign next.

Dissecting it even further, look at the MVP awards we discussed earlier. Here are the second place finishers in Jordan’s MVP seasons: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, David Robinson, and Karl Malone. That’s some pretty hefty competition. They were all members of The 1992 Dream Team and they are all Hall of Famers. LeBron has beaten out Kevin Durant three times and Kobe once. There just hasn’t been much competition for the MVP trophy  and it seems like lately it’s a two man contest. When it comes down to comparing the greatest ever, Jordan beat the greats to prove it, LeBron never will. He won’t get to play a Magic, a Bird, Mailman, or a Sir Charles. Yes, he ousted the Tim Duncan led Spurs, but what would have been if that Spurs team was in their prime like the Heat. Even Kobe had a few years to go at Jordan to prove his greatness. LeBron never will.

All in all, LeBron is no slouch. He will finish amongst the greatest to ever suit up. Maybe one day, Sega will make us a Jordan Vs. James throwback game to try and help the discussion. Until then, King James rules the current NBA but His Airness still rules the world.

I need to cool off. Until next time, remember, lucky wins are good wins. Refuse to lose Cuse! UNDEFEATACUSE!!!

How Derek Jeter Taught Me to Love Again

This was supposed to be a quiet week for sports bloggers. There was no more football, Spring Training is just about ready to begin, there was only a half of a week of NBA action, and for those of you that actually noticed the NHL is on a 2 week break for the Olympics. Then the fireworks started: Marcus Smart goes Ron Artest on an old fat guy, Michael Sam comes out as the soon-to-be first openly gay NFL player, and Tyler Ennis hits a miracle three to keep Syracuse undefeated. If that wasn’t enough, yesterday, via a Facebook letter to all of his fans, Derek Sanderson Jeter announced he was hanging it up.

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For the last 19 years, Jeter has represented everything good about baseball. He has never been vocally arrogant, he has always put the team above himself, and he has never been linked to steroids. If you have been a Jeter hater for the last two decades it is for one of two reasons: you are a Red Sox fan or you hate the Yankees and Derek Jeter is the epitome of everything Yankees.

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Photo courtesy of The Daily News

Until Jeter and The Core Four came along, being a Yankee fan was miserable. We were young fans of the winningest franchise in professional sports, but had never seen a winner. Sure, we had our Yankee legend in Don Mattingly, but they couldn’t win when he was our Captain; Not one first place finish and one lone playoff appearance in Mattingly’s last season. In fact, we endured some of the most awful seasons in Yankees history between 1982 and 1993.

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Then it all changed. Jeter and his three wingmen came along and taught Yankee fans how to love again. Five World Championships, 7 AL Pennants, and 11 AL East crowns later Yankee Pride was restored for my generation. Like I said, the children of the 80s had Mattingly, but he didn’t win. Yankee fans of my era finally had their Gehrig, their DiMaggio, their Mantle, their Munson.

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Getty Images

Jeter did it all with style, grace, a sense of dramatic flair, and the patented Jeter fist pump. Was he the best fielder of his generation? By no means, but he sure made some of the most memorable plays in Yankee history. Was he the best power hitter of his time? No where close, but he hit bigger home runs than Bonds, A-Rod, Griffey, or Big Mac ever did. Was he the best hitter of his era? Considering he played in a time of Tony Gwynn and then later Ichiro, I would have to say no.

That was never important to Jeter. He has no regular season MVP awards in his trophy case. The Yankees all-time hits leader has no batting titles to his name. All Jeter ever did was his job. He did what was best for the Yankees. He got on base more times and scored more runs than anyone for one of the most prolific offenses of our generation. His reward was ring after ring after ring.

He was always more about being a Yankee than being Jeter. The fact that he did it with Jorge and Mo by his side for 17 straight years shows family values. Throw in Pettitte for all but three of those years and you have a heart that beats strong. The Core Four could have signed anywhere throughout their career, for any amount of money they wanted, but they always returned home because together they could win. Alone, who knows what they would have been.

That was the environment that Jeter established in 20 years in pinstripes. Sure, some of the big-time free agents came to New York for the money, but they didn’t last. The ones that stuck were the ones that realized they came to New York to win. David Cone was a hired gun most of his career, but he left it all on the field every start for the Yanks. Roger Clemens had done it all, Cy Youngs, MVPs, back-to-back Triple Crowns, but he never won until he was a Yankee. It was something you had to accept on Jeter’s Yankees: winning and the fans happiness, no matter how bright your star shined, was always first. I still don’t think A-Rod gets that.

I’m glad that we get one last season together with Jeter as a Yankee family. He deserves every accolade, speech, and gift he will get on his Farewell Tour. I have no doubt that, just like Mo, the most emotional and touching send-off he will receive will be from the Red Sox because when you’re a stand-up guy, even your biggest enemies respect you.

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So I say thank you, Oh Captain, My Captain. Thank you for 1996 when Bisach, Bret, Ross, Varrass, Bull, Rosie, Andy, myself, and others squeezed onto the tiny Courtney Street couches to watch the birth of a dynasty. Thank you for all those sunny Saturdays and cool weeknights with Big Lar, D-Sant, and Greene at the old ball park. One of the writers I work with at YanksGoYard.com tweeted how Jeter’s retirement marked the end of his childhood. He’s 20. At 38-years-old, I feel the same way.

(For more on Jeter’s illustrious career, check out my piece on Jeter’s Top Ten Moments at YanksGoYard.com)

School’s Out: What We Learned from the NFL 2013 Season

What a week, folks. There was a lot going on even without football and baseball. Saban grabbed 19 of ESPNs top 50 recruits to form yet again, the top freshman class in the nation. A-Rod came to his senses and dropped the lawsuit, although I still think he’s a jerk and there is something more behind it. Syracuse beat Notre Dame to stay #UNDEFEATACUSE and remain #1 in the land. Lastly, over in Sochi, the most bizarre Olympics to date kicked off with the US, of course, capturing the first gold.

Despite all that, I still rather write about football. With the 2013 NFL season all wrapped up, one thing I learned it’s that I suck at projecting the Super Bowl! All I can say is Wow, tip my cap, and congratulate the Seattle Seahawks. They went out there and totally thrashed the greatest offense of all time. It was the most anticlimactic end to an otherwise exciting season, even worse than the infamous fade to black Sopranos ending. Seriously, the Seahawks had the lead for 59 minutes and 48 seconds. It was total domination.

Enough about Super Bowl XLVIII. It’s in the books. Now we reflect on what was. My Houston Texans were the most overhyped team in years. They were projected to be in the Super Bowl by a lot of experts. I watched every game, folks, and they were literally two or three plays away from an 0-16 season. In the end, Kubiak and his entire regime paid the price. Despite having to endure the worst season I’ve had to sit through as a Texan fan – and that says a lot people – there were a few tidbits I was able to take away from the ’13 season.

WHAT WE LEARNED IN 2013

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Look, Tommy, were going to take Edelman and make him a star, ok?

1. Bill Belicheck is a genius and the best coach in football.
If you believe that there is a correlation between Spygate and Belicheck’s ability to win a Super Bowl, I’ll have the Easter Bunny come pick you up and discuss how the Red Sox were held title-less for 86 years because of a fat, dead Babe Ruth. Look at his resume this millenium: 158 wins, double-digit wins 11 years in a row, 11 AFC East Titles, a 3-2 record over 5 Super Bowls, and an undefeated regular season campaign. It’s not even about the numbers with Belicheck, it’s how he has done it. In the early 2000s, before Brady was merely super human and not a football god, he ran a run first, defensive minded team. Then in 2007, he got new toys he never had before in Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and they went 16-0 as Brady unleashed himself through the air as one of the NFL’s most dominating QBs. This season, he lost his best WR in Welker. He lost the NFLs best TE to multiple injuries and his back-up TE to the penal system. Vereen was down for most of the year, and it seemed he lost a key defender each and every week. He still won 12 games and the AFC East, and he still was on the cusp of making it to the Super Bowl. Belicheck seems to get it done with any combination of players, any style of offense or defense, and as long as he has Brady, even as he begins to decline in talent, the Patriots are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

2. Chip Kelly was better than advertised.
I assume many of you were like me. Entering 2013, I thought Kelly was another great college coach who thought he could change the NFL with his crazy schemes. Through 4 and a half games, the skeptics looked to be right. The Eagles started 1-3, but late in the 2nd quarter of game 5 against the Giants, Nick Foles replaced an injured Michael Vick and changed the Eagles season. They would go 9-3 with Foles at the helm and capture the NFC East title. Kelly helped make Foles the next big QB (2891 yards passing, 27 TD, 2 Int, and a league leading 119.2 QB rating over 10 and a half games). His offense helped return LeSean McCoy to stud-dom as he lead the league in both rushing (1607) and total yards (2146) with 11 combined TDs. The Eagles still have work to do, but Kelly has them going in the right direction.

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Tony Romo and Jason Garrett walk into a bar…

3. The Dallas Cowboys are a joke.
I’m tired of hearing about these guys. Over the last 10 seasons, they are a mere 87-73 with 2 NFC East titles and a 1-3 playoff record. Compare that to the other team in Texas, the aforementioned under achieving Houston Texans. The Texans have the same amount of division titles and more playoff wins over the same amount of time, and until recently, they have mostly been an afterthought. It’s time the Cowboys are, too. Somehow, the Cowboys are always a “threat” for the NFC East even though they lose out on the last game of the season every year. Tony Romo is always on the verge of becoming and elite QB, but he simply is not. This team is good but needs changes from top to bottom.

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4. Megatron… You have company. 

Throughout Calvin Johnson’s tenure, there were many good WRs in the NFL. We have even watched quite a few future Hall of Famers like Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. None came close to the sheer talent that Calvin Johnson possesses… until now. Josh Gordon had a spectacular 2013 campaign. What is more remarkable? Was it that he led the league in receiving (1646 yards) in just his second season? Or was it that he did it despite missing the first two games of the season? No, it was that fact that he was the ONLY weapon on a terrible Cleveland Browns offense that provided Gordon with Brandon Weedon, Brian Hoyer, and Jason Campbell behind center. The debates have already begun in fantasy circles. Who is the best WR heading into 2014? It sure will be fun to find out.

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You’re an All-Pro, and you’re an All-Pro, and you’re an All-Pro….

5. The Seattle Seahawks 2013 defense is one of the greatest of all time.
Halfway through the third quarter of SB48, Jay Holloway turned to me and asked If you blogged that the 2013 Broncos team was the best offense ever, doesn’t this make the Seahawks the best defense ever? Well, Jay, they certainly have earned the right to be in the conversation. Let’s compare them to what many consider the top defenses of the Super Bowl Era:

1985 Bears: 4,135 yards allowed, 198 points allowed, 61 turnovers, 64 sacks, and 5 TDs
2000 Ravens: 3,967 YA, 165 PA, 58 TOs, 35 sacks, and 1 TD
2002 Bucs: 4,044 YA, 196 PA, 47 TOs, 43 sacks, and 5 TD
1974 Steel Curatin: 3,074 YA, 189 PA, 60 TOs, and 3 TDs
(sacks were not yet an official stat)
2013 Seahawks: 4,378 YA, 231 PA, 57 TOs, 43 sacks, 4 TDs

Their numbers are very comparable. The yards allowed and points allowed are inflated because, let’s face it, it’s a different NFL where offenses rule and defenses can’t hit. You could argue that makes their defense all the more remarkable. What can’t be denied is that the 4 teams listed above won their Super Bowls defeating Tony Eason/ Steve Grogan (Bears), Kerry Collins (Ravens), Rich Gannon (Bucs), and Fran Tarkenton (Steelers). The 2013 Seahawks completely dismantled Peyton Manning, one of the Top 5 QBs of all-time who just completed the single greatest season of all-time. Are they the greatest? Maybe, maybe not, but they are clearly now part of the argument.

Well, there you have it. The 2013 NFL season is officially wrapped up. It’s time to turn our attention to the NBA, college hoops, and the Olympics for a few weeks until the NFL Combine and Spring Training is under way. Until next time, GO ORANGE!!!

Why Peyton Needs to Win Super Bowl XLVIII

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Watch out, Atlanta, there’s more winter comin’!

Happy Groundhog’s Day, folks! As my home base of Atlanta finally thaws out and returns to normalcy, that little fur ball Phil popped up and saw his shadow. On top of that, my SYRACUSE ORANGE BEAT DUKE AND ARE THE NUMBER ONE TEAM IN THE COUNTRY!!! If that all wasn’t enough, today, we get to watch the Super Bowl.

If you have followed my posts this week, you know my thoughts. But a quick recap wouldn’t hurt: Super Bowl in New York = bad idea and Broncos are your Super Bowl champs. This Super Bowl means so much to Peyton, and I think the heart of the warrior brings home the Lombardi Trophy to Denver.

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Archie’s proudest moment

Why does Peyton need to win this Super Bowl? It’s simple. In the NFL, more than any other sport, rings define greatness. Notice I used the plural form. You need multiple rings. In other sports, you can be considered elite without any rings. Take the NBA for example. Many consider that the top Power Forward to ever suit up is either Sir Charles or the Mailman. They have a combined 0 rings, but it’s forgivable because they played during the Jordan Era, and no one could win rings unless you joined the Bulls. Baseball is mostly about statistics. Cal Ripken has one ring and barely even made the playoffs during his career, but many consider him the greatest Short Stop ever. Tony Gwynn never won a ring at all and many baseball enthusiasts will argue he is the purest, most natural hitter of our lifetime. But in the NFL, it’s all about the bling.

Brett Favre will always be in the conversation for the best QB ever, but despite his records, despite his 3 MVPs, most people still think Brady and Montana surpass him. Why? One ring. Jim Kelly led his team to four straight Super Bowls, a feat that in this era of parity, we will never see again. But he didn’t win a single one and he has a hard time breaking a lot of people’s Top Ten. Poor Dan Marino would be the greatest QB ever if he could have just gotten a few Super Bowls. Drew Brees has some of the most insane numbers any QB has ever put up since he joined the Saints and he’s not even in the Top Ten conversation despite his statistics showing otherwise. Why? One ring. One ring is the same amount that Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Jeff Hostetler, and Jim McMahon have. No offense to those guys, but they are not even in a top 50 conversation.

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We got such a bum deal

Two or more rings, though, and all these crazy conversations start. Is Eli Manning elite? Seriously? This guy has two good drives in his life and people start anointing him better than his brother. Come on, people. This is why Peyton Manning needs to win. If he holds up that trophy tonight, not only will one of my good friends, Jay Scott, be thrilled, but Peyton Manning will solidify himself as the Greatest Quarterback of All-Time. It can be supported by opinion, it can be supported by rings, and it can be supported by FACTS. Let’s look at the facts, folks, and stack him up against the other people in the Greatest QB ever argument.

Who is in the argument? Brett Favre, based on rings is eliminated. Dan Marino, who was deprived of any rings, is also out. Bart Starr is hands down a Top Ten QB based on his winning pedigree, but he doesn’t have the numbers to compete, so cross him off. So, for me, that leaves Johnny Unitas, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and John Elway in the hunt with Peyton for the best ever. Well, last night, while Syracuse was beating Duke to become number one in the land, Peyton took home his fifth MVP. That’s two more than anyone else has ever had and four less than the others in this conversation had combined (Unitas has 3, Montana has 3, Brady has 2, and Elway has 1).

Montana and Brady are in the argument because of how they played in the post season and especially the big game. So despite the fact that if Peyton wins his second ring tonight they will still have one more ring, I still think Peyton will best them. Why? In my opinion, all you need are rings. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 or 3. Want proof? Terry Bradshaw has four rings and even a drunken Steeler fan knows he’s not the GOAT. So after that, we look at statistics, and Peyton dwarfs them all.

Manning: 64,964 yards at a 65.5% rate, 491 TDs, 219 Ints, 97 QB Rating
Elway: 51,485 yards at a 56.9% rate, 300 TDs, 226 Ints, 79.9% QB Rating
Brady: 49,159 yards at a 63.4% rate, 359 TDs, 134 Ints, 95.7 QB Rating
Montana: 40,551 yards at 63.2% rate, 273 TDs, 139 Ints, 92.3 QB Rating
Unitas: 40,239 yards at 54.6% rate, 290 TDs, 253 Ints, 78.2 QB Rating

(Johnny U only has one Super Bowl ring, but he has two pre-Super Bowl NFL Championships so he is allowed in the conversation)

You can see it’s not even close. If you do happen to be a statistics guy and want to argue Favre, you have a good case… right now. If Peyton’s neck is ok and he gets clearance to return, he will break Favre’s records. The only reason there is even a Greatest QB of All-Time conversation is because of Manning’s post season record and lack of rings. Tonight he can change all of that. Tonight he can cement himself as the greatest of all time.

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Photo from Getty Images

Well, folks, it’s that time for me to cool off. Enjoy your Super Bowl parties and to my people in the service industry stuck working, make that money. Let’s go Broncos, and remember: CUSE IS NUMBER ONE!!!

Super Bowl Prediction Special

For those of you that are unaware, this Sunday is Pooch’s birthday. He is one of my oldest friends, both in age (he’s one month older than me) and amount of time I have known him. What you are aware of, I’m sure, is that this Sunday is also Super Bowl XLVIII. The Peyton Manning led Broncos take on Richard Sherman’s Legion of Boom and the Seahawks for football supremacy. The question everyone wants to know the answer to is: Who will win?

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The truth is, folks, I have no idea. No one does. When I was a kid and all the way throughout college, I remember the Super Bowl was terribly boring. Almost every time the team that was clearly better would not only win, but romp their opponent. Then, the millennium switched over, Tom Brady became a QB, the Patriots somehow beat the Rams, and the Super Bowls have been pretty great ever since. The Buccaneers have a ring. No one gave the 2007 Giants a chance, but they won. The Arizona Cardinals were mere seconds away from stealing a Super Bowl from the All-Time Winningest Super Bowl team. That’s the beauty of what the Super Bowl has become.

That being said, it sure is fun trying to predict the outcome. I invited the members of The Thread to chime in with their predictions to give you, dear reader, some variety. If you are unaware of whom The Thread is, scroll up top to my Shout Outs and read up. Go ahead, I will be right here waiting for you to get back.

Ok, so now that we are acquainted, let me give you the background. I wanted to have a few expert opinions to go along with mine. The easiest group to get, and get fast, was The Thread. The best part about these guys is knowing how to address a question, because if you ask the right question, the debate will last for three hours. So, once they all gave me their scores and MVPs, I asked them to tell me why they chose the outcomes they did in one sentence. Sure enough, hundreds of texts messages later, arguing about the weather, defenses, and Wes Welker, some interesting side bets were made. These side bets led to trash talking about our soccer teams, which led to more side bets. Then finally, I got the sentence I needed.

THE THREAD’S SUPER BOWL XLVIII SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS

Sperry Seahawks win 29-20
Why: “A “struggling” Seattle defense put up 23 points against a Top 5 defense in the 49ers. A record setting Denver offense put up 26 points against a mediocre Talib-less Patriots defense. Combine this with weather expectations that favor Seattle’s number one overall defense, and you have a recipe for another Manning let down. Records are great, but they don’t get you rings. Just ask Marino how nice his records look next to Flacco’s ring.”
MVPs: Marshawn Lynch and Earl Thomas III

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MMMM Skittles!!!!

Saucy T Broncos win 26-17
Why: “Wes Welker will be the difference maker in Peyton’s 2nd Super Bowl win.” Saucy T also mentioned he thinks Peyton grabbing the second trophy will cement him as the best ever.
MVP: Knowshown Moreno

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You got Knowshowned!!!

Nomi the Greek Seahawks win 24-20
Why: “In this era of ultimate offenses, an extremely cold weather Super Bowl with a very good chance of frozen precipitation is why the Seattle defense will win this fairly low scoring game.”
MVP: Marshawn Lynch

The Englishman 27-13 Broncos
Why: “It’s about timing, and Sunday is Peyton’s time.”
MVP: Peyton Manning

Kid Robot Broncos 35-27
Why: “The legion of doom has 13 members, the Legion of Boom only has 4 members. Seattle needs to start recruiting more players to the Legion of Boom because Peyton will shred them alive, regardless of the weather. P.S. Eli gave his brother some tips about playing in MetLife Stadium… Peyton’s experience > Seattle’s arrogant D.”
MVP: Peyton Manning, 320 yards and 4 TDs

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Peyton Manning is good

So, if my guys picks are correct, there is a slight edge to the Broncos. I know what you’re wondering, folks. What does The Wayniac think? Thing is, I agree with pretty much all of what they have said. So who will win Super Bowl XLVIII?

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Hopefully no bridges get closed coming into NJ!!!

Why the Seahawks can win: The Legion of Boom and Marshawn Lynch.
They are arrogant, they are cocky, and they have Richard Sherman as their clear cut leader. The Seahawks defense is the best at what they do and have earned the swagger with which they strut. Sherman and Earl Thomas were both First Team All-Pro defensive backs and Kam Chancellor snuck in on Second Team secondary. While the front seven puts intense pressure on the QB, the Legion of Boom will cause turnovers, as evidenced by their league leading 28 picks.
On the other side of the ball is Beast Mode. There is no other player in the NFL who wants one yard more than Marshawn Lynch. Gaining those first downs will keep the Seahawks on the field and Peyton Manning off of it.
Throw in the weather conditions (now projecting at 19 degrees at kickoff) and you have pretty good conditions for a defensive, run-oriented team to dominate.
Why the Broncos can win: Peyton Manning.
Defense wins championships, and in this championship bout we get to see the #1 defense in the NFL. The problem is, they are not just squaring off against the #1 offense this season, but arguably the best offense of all time, at least statistically speaking: 4 wide receivers with double digit touchdowns, a running back with 10 more on the ground and three through the air, and then there is Peyton Manning. We know his numbers by now. It was historical. I think there is some extra motivation behind Manning’s season. Saucy T hit it on the head. If Manning wins this Super Bowl, he has two rings, and in the NFL to be the “greatest” you have to have the hardware. Until now, Manning always knew that if they should lose in the playoffs, then there was always next year. He always made the playoffs. Now he’s older, and he is going for that neck scope. There may not be a tomorrow for #18. Imagine playing against a Peyton Manning that needs to win, a Peyton Manning with his back against the wall, a Peyton Manning who fears that this is it? That’s a scary thought. I think it gives the Broncos the edge. Throw the cold weather career stats out the window because this is a different breed of team.
The Wayniac Broncos win 21-17 Peyton Manning takes home the MVP.

Well, folks, I don’t need to cool down this week. I’m snowed in and everything inside 285 in Atlanta is a parking lot. Please be safe out there my fellow ATLiens. Hoping we all safely get through this.

The NFLs Colossal Blunder

Well, folks, it’s Sunday and that means Super Bowl week is officially upon us. It’s a busy week for the sports media, even small bloggers like myself, in keeping up with the whirlwind that ensues. For many, it’s the most fun week of the year, coming to a climax with the world’s biggest game. For the NFL and Roger Goddell, it may become at nightmare.

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It’s the most magical time of the year!

If you haven’t heard, which means you’re living under a rock or are just too concerned with the collapse of Justin Bieber’s career, Super Bowl XLVIII is being played up north this year. I remember at the beginning of the season everyone I knew was saying What are they thinking? With the game a mere seven days away, people are now saying What WERE they thinking? Aside from the replacement refs and the current concussion debacle, this could end up being football’s biggest mistake yet.

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Huh?

There are several reasons The Meadowlands may have been the wrong choice for the Super Bowl. The weather is the clear and obvious choice for reason numero uno. However, the one decision that was the deciding factor is clear: the almighty dollar. The Super Bowl is the World’s Biggest Game, and New York is certainly the biggest stage to play it on. The money the NFL, New York and New Jersey can profit from a Super Bowl if, and only if, it goes well will probably be enough to build the Statue of Liberty a boyfriend. That money won’t be worth jack if you blow the greatest game on earth. Seriously, think about it. The only event that compares, and perhaps surpasses the Super Bowl, is the World Cup. The last World Cup Final in 2010 had 619.7 million viewers, whereas last years Super Bowl had 108.41 million. However, The World Cup involves every major country in the WORLD and it’s viewers wait four full years to watch it. The Super Bowl is solely an American game, yet is still broadcast in 232 countries. Corporations spend up to $4 million for a 30 second spot in between drives whereas a World Cup commercial caps out at about $450,000. The average pay day for the World Cup has been just north of $100 million. The Super Bowl? The big game has an average yield of $379 million. Every bar and restaurant, not just Irish and English pubs and sports bars, are going to have some sort of promotion going on. And the parties across the nation will seem endless.

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Futbol or Football?

So, why would you schedule a Super Bowl in winter time in New Jersey knowing that the weather will be the real 12th man? It is supposed to be cold with highs between 35-40 and the lows that may hit 20. If you have ever been in MetLife Stadium, you know that once the winds start swirling, 20 degrees feels like 0. There is a 30% chance of freezing rain or snow, and NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman has announced the Super Bowl may be played anywhere from Friday to Monday.

Huh? Did I just type that? Super Bowl Sunday may be Super Bowl Friday. IT DOESN’T EVEN SOUND RIGHT!!! Why would you put all this money, all these fans, all these schedules at risk?

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Johnny U in The Greatest Game Ever Played

Maybe one thought (and the word thought is used loosely here, because it doesn’t appear many brain cells were used in this decision) was that this is how the NFL Championships used to be played. The 1958 NFL Championship Game has earned the nickname “The Greatest Game Ever Played” and that was successfully played in Yankee Stadium, but that was an extremely different NFL. Those were the games that defenses controlled, where the hard-nosed players were allowed to hit, the era where the old adage Defense wins championships comes from.

Today’s NFL is different. We want offense. It’s a passing game these days, and if you are lucky enough to have a feature running back, you want to see him explode. Want proof? Let’s compare this Super Bowl’s elite to that 1958 game. The 1958 Championship pitted the Colts versus the Giants. The quarterback was a one Johnny Unitas, whom many consider one of the greatest to ever play the game. He threw for 2000 yards with 19 touchdowns that year and a 90 QB Rating. I know, the seasons were shorter, but if you take his averages and extend it to a 16 game season, he throws for 3200 yards and 27 touchdowns. Now, take the guy who had to live in Unitas’s shadow for all those years, Peyton Manning. This year he threw for a record 5,477 yards, a record 55 touchdowns, and a 115 QB Rating. Want more? (Of course you do, you thirst for it!) Frank Gifford was the Giants running back in that game, and he was considered one of the premier backs in the NFL. That year, Gifford ran for 468 yards and 8 touchdowns while tacking on 330 yards receiving and 2 more TDs. Marshawn Lynch, aka Beast Mode, aka Yum Yum Give Me Some Skittles, aka one of the top backs in the game, ran for 1257 yards and 12 TDs while adding on 316 yards through the air with 2 more TDs.

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Uh oh…

So why would you put these type of players in brutal weather conditions? The Super Bowl is being watched by thousands of people who don’t really care about football or are from other countries and want to see what all the hub bub is about. It is the ultimate billboard for the NFL. It is in my mind that we should then want to see the very best of what the NFL has to offer. I want to see Manning go off for 400 yards and 4 TDs on Sunday (or Friday, or Monday). So does everyone else except Seahawks fans. I also want to see Beast Mode rampage all 11 Bronco defenders all day long, and so does everyone else except Bronco fans. In the snow and cold, we won’t see that. We will see a lot of three and outs, and it will be a defensive stronghold, which is a huge advantage for Seattle because they are hands down the best in the business.

I get it the whole it’s football weather mindset, but that’s why we have the NFC North. That’s what makes Pittsburgh legendary. That’s why we watch the Patriots zamboni FGs for Vinatieri. But then, when those teams ravage through those tough conditions, they are rewarded by playing a Super Bowl in sunny San Diego or inside a dome where there is no weather at all.

Never mind the hypocrisy of the NFL preaching for player safety and then wanting an 18 game season. Forget about the fact that a league so concerned with the health of its players is possibly adding a team to the playoffs and prolonging their season (all because Jerry loses out on the playoffs in the last game of every season, but that’s another rant!). If you really want to go traditional like that 1958 Championship, if you really want to play in football weather, then you are truly putting our greatest players at injury risk and reversing every last thing the players union and lawsuits have been fighting. While there is no guarantee that injuries are less abundant in warmer weather than colder weather, it just seems that purposely placing the NFLs best in even the slightest possibility of treacherous conditions is a bit silly from a sport that is evolving into a player-safe league.

I need to cool off. We have a busy week in store. Keep an eye out for my Super Bowl predictions and a little bit more on Peyton’s greatness. And don’t forget to check in with my daily rants at @UofDWayne in the Twitterverse. Till next time, hopefully my internet won’t freeze over.