Let’s Party Like It’s 1999!!!

Flyin High Blue Hens!!!
Flyin High Blue Hens!!!

Last night, the University of Delaware delivered quite the birthday present to my fellow Blue Hen alums Rinalli, Andrew, and Larry by stamping their ticket to March Madness. The Ass Kickin’ Chickens will be making just their fifth appearance in tournament  history but we are Dancing nonetheless. Yes, Blue Hen Nation we are Dancing to some sweet, sweet music and as Delaware alum, still current resident, and Delaware’s sharpest jeweler , Taco, so eloquently put it, we hope the DJ keeps spinning through March!

Exciting times in Newark!
Exciting times in Newark!

When I was accepted at University of Delaware way back in 1993, we were amid a two year run in the tournament. In fact, the spring before I moved into Dickinson Hall F in 1993, we nearly upset Louisville losing 76-70. In August of that same year I made Newark my home and Delaware basketball fell off the map. Luckily for me, I seriously messed up my freshman year of college (do you realize how far Dickinson was from main campus? Why would I walk there when I had beer from State Line Liqours sitting in my fridge?) so I got to stay there for a fifth year before entering the “real world”. While most of the friends I walked into Freshmam Orientation with were gone, I got to stay around and watch the Blue Hens make the tournament in 1998. I remember the championship game being on ESPN and my good friend Ryan Law rushing the court and being so happy that he saw his shirt sleeve on national T.V. in the highlights. I remember this turtle-neck, sports coat-wearing, former Duke assistant named Mike Brey being regarded as the savior of Delaware athletics. I also remember that my Philosophy teacher was a Purdue grad and gave us off for the first round game against his alma mater. We were blown out of the water. I’m pretty sure I remember Purdue scoring 18 points before we were on the board, and it was one measly free throw. We lost that game 95-56 and I left Newark athletically unfulfilled.

We made the tourney again in 1999 but once again lost big to Tennessee. Since then the only promising hype Delaware had about basketball was Elena Delle Donna. She led the nation in scoring as a junior, took the women deep in the tourney, and became the second overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft.

Nice shot
Nice shot

Now, with Selection Sunday less than a week away, the Blue Hens have returned to The Dance 15 years later. Monte Ross is our head coach as Mike Brey left to become a national figure at Notre Dame. Last night, the patios at Deer Park and Klondike Kate’s better have been overflowing. God Street Wine, Grinch, Caravan, Love Seed Mama Jump, Jefe, and Mr. Greenjeans better have been blaring through the Mall, Harrington Beach, and the Student Center (the old one, not that new brightly lit, crazy one). There better have been some beer spilled for The Stone Balloon. And there better have been hundreds of college mistakes made at the wee hours of the morning. Why? Because this team not only made the tournament but has the chance to be your 2014 Bracket Buster.

TOP THREE REASONS WHY THE BLUE HENS HAVE A CHANCE:

YouDee says we're number 1
YouDee says we’re number 1

3. We’re from CAA Country!

The Delaware Blue Hens beat William and Mary 75-74 in an exciting, down-to-the-wire finish to claim their first ever Colonial Athletic Association Championship. The CAA has been producing Bracket Busters pretty steadily over the last decade. Most people remember George Mason’s shocking run to the Final Four in 2006. A few people remember Old Dominion bouncing Notre Dame, coached by the aforementioned Mike Brey, in 2010. But most NCAA March Madness fans remember Shaka Smart and his Virginia Commonwealth Rams running from The First Four to The Final Four just 3 years ago. That same year the CAA had a rare two teams in the tourney as George Mason earned an outright bid by winning the CAA Tourney. The Patriots went on to upset Villanova in their first game before being bounced by number one seeded Ohio State. The CAA is sleeper country, folks, and you never rule out the Fighting Blue Hens!

2.  We have experience.

Like most small schools, Delaware has the luxury of avoiding one-and-doners. Three of the starting five are seniors. Three have played together for a few years while the other two transfers have gelled in nicely. Monte Ross took over the depleted program in 2006 and while it has not been easy, his teams have shown improvement each and every year. This team has been patiently waiting for their chance. Now they have it.

1. The Ass Kickin’ Chickens are flat out good.

We have one of the more underrated starting 5s in the nation. All five average over 10 points a game as they run a fluid, unselfish offense. If Saddler has a big game one, Baptiste will have a huge game two. That’s how they operate and that’s what makes it difficult to shut down one guy for opposing defenses.

It all starts with Carl Baptiste staying out of foul trouble. Standing at 6’9″ and 260 pounds he’d be better named BapBEAST. He is going to cause match-up problems for a lot of schools because he is not just a huge hulking body but he can shoot and move. Jarvis Threatt is the floor general and has a handle on the ball that is dangerous for opposing defenses. He can slice down the middle and put in a sick lay-up, dump it to Baptiste who will dunk it down the opponents’ throat — or kick it out to Davon UsherKyle Anderson, or Devon Saddler waiting to drain a three. Threatt’s numbers show how important he is to the all-around game of the Blue Hens, averaging 18.1 points with 5.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. Usher and Saddler, both seniors, are legit scoring threats as both averaged over 19 points per game. They are also solid on the glass and can drill it from three point land. Anderson reminds me of Ollie from Hoosiers except he shoots a hell of a lot better than that underhand garbage. He fills his roll nicely as the perimeter guy but can sneak inside if you give him too much space.

The only question that remains for Delaware is the Blue Hens’ opponent in Round One (or Two, or however it works these days). Of course, the biggest question The Wayniac has been asked over the last 12 hours is,  “What happens if Delaware draws Syracuse?” And I got to tell you, folks, that is a tough predicament for me. If you haven’t read my bio, then you are unaware that I have rooted for Syracuse longer than any other team I have affiliated myself with since basketball was my first true love. Since 1986 and Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas, and Rony Seikaly, I have bled Orange. If you follow @UofDWayne on Twitter, then you know I’m part of #CuseNation. But when push comes to shove, the University of Delaware was five of the best years of my life. They gave me the skills that made me The Wayniac. They gave me one of my oldest friends who edits every piece I write. And they gave me 20% of their tournament visits while I was there. The very least I could do is give them my allegiance. It will be an emotional roller coaster of a game, I’ll tell you that. I’ll curse while cheering. I’ll be yelling while clapping. I’ll probably throw up somewhere. But right now I’m in the Cockpit gearing up to wear my blue and yellow and represent Blue Hen Country. Sorry Cuse fans.

Till next time folks, LET’S GO BLUE HENS!!!

Everyone Loves a Little Billy Ball

Baseball is almost here, folks. We are only 12 short days away from the first pitch Down Under, mates. It’s getting real exciting, too. If Spring Training had any sort of meaning behind it, we would have an exciting match-up between the Cleveland Indians versus the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. As it stands, Spring Training means nothing, and that’s precisely why I’m here telling you exactly how this season is going to play out.

THE AL WEST

5. The Houston Astros

(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 57.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 67-95)

It has to be tough to be an Astros’ fan. The last time they had a winning record was in 2008 when Usher unleashed Justin Bieber upon the world (so, we have all been struggling ‘Stros fans). They have lost over 100 games for three seasons in a row. They got booted, not only from their division, but the whole damn National League. They can’t even get poor Craig Biggo into the Hall of Fame.

This season doesn’t look like things will be getting any better as GM Jeff Luhnow has this team prepping for the future. I know a lot about sports, an unhealthy amount, so for me to tell you that there are only four people I in this line-up speaks volumes. It’s not so much who will be on the 2014 Astros’ roster, but who is waiting in the wings as the Astros have what several experts are calling the top farm system in baseball with elite prospects at every position. The simple fact that I know more about Jonathan Singleton (1B), 2013 number one overall pick Mark Appel, and one of the top prospects in the game, shortstop Carlos Correa than most of their starters shows that the Astros will be prime contenders… in two years.

Until then, Houston will have to watch second baseman Jose Altuve and All-Star catcher Jason Castro lead a cast of no names to the basement of the West. I guess newly acquired Scott Feldman, who has gone 27-35 since his 17-8 2009 breakout, is the ace of this staff. That’s mainly because Jarred CosartBrett Oberholtzer, and Brad Peacock have appeared in 44 major league games combined. Chad Qualls, more famous for falling off of pitchers mounds than striking people out, will be the teams closer. Be patient Astros fans. Good times are ahead… way ahead.

Projected 2014 finish: 61-101. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.

Unbelievable, right?
Unbelievable, right?

4. The Seattle Mariners

(Covers.com has the O/U at 80 while FanGraphs has them finishing 83-79)

I am not a bitter Yankees’ fan. I loved Robbie Cano. I think he was a more of a made things look easy kind-of-guy rather than the lackadaisical, no effort type-of-guy that everyone seems to suddenly be bashing him about. That being said, $240 million is absolutely absurd. He couldn’t lead a Yankees team to the playoffs last season that had very similar talent to what this Mariners’ team has this season and he’s not going to do it this year, either.

The revamped offense seems to have given up on Jesus Montero, the colossal bust acquired from the Yankees two years ago. His batting average has lowered, his home runs have dropped, and he appears to have eaten former Mariner Edgar Martinez. They brought in outfielder Corey Hart and DH Logan Morrison along with Cano to try and revitalize this offense. A lot will depend on the continued growth of 1B Justin Smoak and 3B Kyle Seager. Both have developed some nice pop but it would be nice if they could hit their weight and they would become All-Stars if the could hit Montero’s weight.

The pitching staff is anchored by Felix Hernandez who is simply one of the best the game has to offer. It’s scary to think what his numbers would be if he pitched on a contender. The rest of the rotation has already taken a big hit this spring. Hisashi Iwakuma is dealing with a finger issue and the Ms hope to have him back by May. Top prospect Taijuan Walker has a bum right shoulder and he is also doubtful until May. King Felix and the four castoffs they have attempting to hold the team together until both return may put them out of contention early.

Fernando Rodney leads an uninspiring bullpen. He returned to reality last season after his superhuman 2012 and that reality is that he is shaky closer. Should Rodney fail, the Ms will have to turn to Tom Wilhelmsen who struggled big time last season. Things are as bleak as the weather in Seattle this season.

Projected 2014 finish: 79-83. For ticket information click here.

Don't drop Trout
Don’t drop Trout

3. The Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles that were once California

(Covers.com has the O/U at 84.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)

The Angels are a prime example of how money does NOT buy championships. Mike Scioscia built this team on a small ball philosophy and when the big brass brought in sluggers, their success changed. It appears that they bought some broken down pieces on offense and their once vaunted pitching staff is half of what it used to be.

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, folks, and he is only 22. We as baseball fans are very lucky to watch Trout in the AL and Harper in the NL taking over their leagues. It is the Larry Bird and Magic Johnson of the MLB. What is also undeniable is how terribly awful Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton played last season. I know, they both suffered through injuries, but the reality is these guys are getting up there in age and have a lot of mileage on them. A bounce back from these two highly paid superstars is the only way the Angels can return to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. Pujols unfortunately is on the wrong side of 30 and dealing with a torn plantar fascia which is never easy to come back from. The entire line-up is getting older and the addition of 41-year old Raul Ibanez to replace the departed 28-year old Mark Trumbo may not be enough.

The pitching staff is a question mark. Only James Shields and Justin Verlander have thrown more pitches than CJ Wilson has over the last two seasons. It may catch up to him as he has always had a high WHIP and is entering his mid-30s. Jered Weaver was once a perennial Cy Young candidate, however both his strikeout rate and velocity have been in a steady decline for a few years now. Rounding out the rotation is a new and relatively young staff. What effect Hector SantiagoTyler Skaggs, and Garrett Richards can have in turning around this team is yet to be seen.

Ernesto Frieri is an enigma in the pen. He’s a bit like Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn. He is either going to strike you out or the ball his going to leave every park but Yellowstone. This is never a good sign for a long-term answer at closer.

Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.

Still the best Texas Ranger
Still the best Texas Ranger

2. The Texas Rangers

(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)

Ron Washington is the winningest coach in Rangers history and will always have this team competing. They could wind-up the last Wild Card spot if it weren’t for my most outrageous prediction yet (which hasn’t been made, so stay tuned!)  They made some big changes for the better this past offseason and like Chuck Norris’s beard, it makes them stronger.

Shin-Soo Choo was brought in from Cincinnati and instantly makes the offense more potent. The guy does everything well but most importantly knows how to get on base. That will be huge with fellow Ranger newbie Prince Fielder waiting in the hole. The veggie burrito eating monmouth is built for the home run-frienldy confines of The Ballpark at Arlington (I don’t believe in corporate name changes to stadiums, so back off Globe Life) and alongside Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios form a pretty sexy heart of the line-up. Ian Kinsler was sent to Detroit for Fielder which makes room for he prospect we have all been waiting on: Jurickson Profar. He will have his chance to prove his worth with no real threat on the roster.

The pitching staff is a bit iffy, but if you haven’t noticed, that appears to be the theme in the AL West. Yu Darvish is the clear cut aceThe Rangers really need Matt Harrison and Derek Holland to return to full health because it gives them a very formidable front end of the rotation. Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson will be forced into action without their services and that’s not good for anyone.

Neftali Feliz is officially the closer… again… I think. He wants to be a starter but because of his mechanical flaws, the Rangers feel he is more suited for the bullpen. Well, that doesn’t make much sense, now does it? Should he stumble the Rangers are actually in good shape as they have Joakim Soria and Tanner Schepps waiting in the pen.

Projected 2014 finish: 90-72. For ticket information click here.

mark-mcgwire-jose-canseco-19972

1. The Oakland Athletics

(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.6 while FanGraphs has them finishing 84-78)

The A’s are geared and ready for another run like the early 90s. They don’t have the power or swag that the Bash Brothers had but the back-to-back AL West Champs have all the goods to keep the title run going for at least another season.

The A’s return the same line-up that has been the best of the West. Josh Reddick needs to bounce back from an injury plagued 2013 and become the power surge in the middle of the line-up he was in 2012 when the A’s nabbed him from the Red Sox. Yoenis Cespedes must continue to adjust to pitchers as they have clearly begun to figure him out. He has all the tools and raw talent to take the next step, the question remains on when he will do it. Jed Lowrie is still the unsung leader of this offense while Josh Donaldson quietly continues his rise as one of the best third basemen in baseball.

The loss of last year’s ace Bartolo Colon should not be a problem for this young staff as their rotation gives them the edge in this division. Jarrod Parker must now become the leader of this staff and at 25 he should be ready to shine. The addition of Scott Kazmir brings some veteran leadership to the young staff, although a history of injuries along with it. I still feel like even at age 30 we are waiting for that one amazing season from Kazmir, but those expectations may be a result of too much hype early in his career. Sonny GrayDan Straily, and AJ Griffin round out a staff that is growing into one of the most solid rotations in the league.

The A’s let Grant Balfour walk and brought in Jim Johnson as their new closer. It will be interesting to see how he pans out. He amassed 101 saves over the last 2 years in Baltimore, however, he walked a ton of batters and blew a lot of saves that the O’s potent offense frequently bailed him out of losing. Should he struggle, the A’s are safe with possibly the best bullpen in the AL featuring Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Luke Gregerson.

Projected 2014 finish: 95-67, AL West Champs. For ticket information click here.

DO IT FOR DONNIE: The Dodgers and the Rest of the West

Spring Training rolls on. So does the tour of The Wayniac’s NL Predictions.  In case you haven’t been following along you can check out the NL East picks and NL Central projections at your leisure but for the time being I demand your full attention on the NL West. The winner will round out the playoffs with the fifth and final spot.

THE NL WEST 2014 PREDICTIONS:

5. The Colorado Rockies

(Covers.com has the Over/Under at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 80-82.)

Unlike Coors Original, the Colorado Rockies offense has never had a problem with its strength. Heading into 2014, the Rockies’ main problem is not their offense but the same two issues they struggle with every season: injuries and pitching. Michael Cuddyer, Wilin RosarioTroy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez are lethal in the middle of the line-up. They could carry this team very far… if they stayed on the field. Last season, the Rockies didn’t have one and of their offensive threats play over 130 games. This season, the Rockies begin their first season since 1998 without Peyton Manning’s former back-up, Todd Helton. Justin Morneau was brought in to replace him. He is a nice addition, but is also injury-prone.

The pitching staff from top to bottom is pretty weak. When Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are battling to be the ace of your rotation, you are in for a long season. They brought in Brett Anderson from Oakland. Anderson has always had sick stuff but he is, of course, an injury risk. Tyler Chatwood showed a lot of promise last season, but he needs to get his control issues under, well… control! The bullpen is anchored by 41-year old LaTroy Hawkins, who has pitched 1374.1 innings over his 19-year career and has amassed a meager 101 saves.  Now he is be asked to be the closer. Rex Brothers filled in admirably last season as the teams’ closer; however, he has always been plagued by control issues with a career 1.37 WHIP. Perhaps the Rockies feel more comfortable with Hawkins’ experience, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing Brothers as the team’s closer by season’s end.

This team could hover around .500 if they stay healthy. Based on history, that is a big IF.

Projected 2014 finish: 78-84. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.

I'm kind of important.
I’m kind of important.

4. The San Diego Padres

(Covers.com has the O/U at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 81-81)

The team is named after a holy person, their mascot is a chicken, and I am told that the name of the city translates to whale’s vagina. None of that makes much sense to me, but as the saying goes, when in Rome.

Believe it or not, despite not having many big names, this team isn’t half bad. Their offense has a bunch of nice players, but none are close to superstars.  Heck, I don’t even think one classifies as an All-Star. But together they work and could push this team around .500. Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko are the future of this team. It’s time for them to stop teasing us and become the big time players the Padres need so the team can be relevant for the first time since Tony Gwynn retired. 

Andrew Cashner should emerge as the ace of this staff as he set career bests in ERA and WHIP in his first full season in the bigs. Ian Kennedy will never be the 21-4 pitcher he was in 2011, having won 22 games in the 2 seasons since then, but he is still a good pitcher. The real X-factor will be Josh Johnson. He is one of the most frustrating pitchers in baseball with all the talent in the world but rarely stays healthy.  If he can, they form a pretty strong 1-2-3.

If they can get to the bullpen, Huston Street and newly acquired Joaquin Benoit are very solid. Benoit came on strong last season when the Tigers needed him to be a closer for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 35. Sliding back into his set-up role for Street gives the Padres extra insurance should they need him. The Padres are kings of one-run ballgames so the deeper the bull pen, the better. Stay classy, San Diego.

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

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants

3. The San Francisco Giants

(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)

I never think these guys are going to be any good, but the Giants are legit contenders as long as Buster Posey is around. He isn’t the best in the league. Hell, he isn’t even the best player in the division, but there are very few players more valuable to his team than Posey. He bats in the clean-up spot and handles one of the better pitching staffs in the league.

The rest of the offense is a question mark. The biggest question every spring is always how fat can Kung Fu Panda actually get? Talk about a guy wasting his talent on French Fries. Pablo Sandoval can hit but his conditioning has derailed his career as his peripheral stats are already in a decline at 27. Brandon Belt has been a “sleeper” breakout candidate since he came into the league.  He has gotten increasingly better each year so don’t be surprised to once again hear how this will be his “breakout campaign”. Hunter Pence is pretty reliable and really is the only protection that Posey has in the line-up.

No matter if the offense struggles, the pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Giants in contention. Tim Lincecum is the X-factor for these guys. It doesn’t make sense how he has fallen off from the best pitcher in the league to a guy battling to be in the rotation. I think he has a nice bounce back but I don’t think we will ever see The Freak again. Tim Hudson is the veteran leadership the front end of the rotation needs. Huddy can still pitch even if his best days are behind him. Madison Bumgarner (that name is funny, I don’t even need a joke) and Matt Cain are both the aces of the staff and I would trust either in Game 7 of a playoff series. Ryan Vogelsong is playing on borrowed time at 36 but there really isn’t anyone to take his job yet.

Sergio Romo leads a strong bullpen and should have no problem repeating as closer after a strong debut replacing Brian Wilson. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla will make closing out close games seem easy.

Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks

2. The Arizona Diamondbacks

(Covers.com has the O/U at 81 while FanGraphs has them at 83-79)

I hate the Diamondbacks. Not only did they win that 2001 World Series from my beloved Yankees, but on one pitch, on one bloop single by Luis Gonzalez, the D-Backs ended the Yankee dynasty. That being said, I think they have a good squad this year. If the Pirates fall back into their losing ways, then the Diamondbacks could steal the last Wild Card slot.

The offense is led by one of the best all-around players in baseball. Paul Goldschmidt’s stat line last season was sick: .302 batting average with 36 HRs, 125 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 15 SBs, all while getting on base at a .401 clip. He will be a Triple Crown threat soon enough as his batting average has jumped tremendously in each of his first three seasons. Bringing in Mark Trumbo from the Angels surrounds Goldschmidt with a solid 2 through 6 in the line-up. DiDi Gregorius has been a highly touted prospect for a few years and showed a glimpse of what he is capable of last season. If he can put it together this year, then the D-Backs will have a very potent line-up from the leadoff spot right up to the pitcher.

The pitching staff isn’t full of Cy Young contenders but they have 6 solid starters. Newly signed Bronson Arroyo brings some much needed veteran leadership to this young staff. Patrick Corbin stepped up and became the ace of this staff last season. Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy need to return to their old form. If not, Randall Delgado is waiting in the wings. I watched this guy as a youngster in Atlanta. He has the stuff to be in this rotation — most likely for McCarthy — by mid-season.

The bullpen is deep as well. They acquired Addison Reed from the White Sox and now have three go-to options with closing experience at the back end of the bullpen. J.J. Putz (yet another fantastic name) and Brad Ziegler will lock down plenty of wins for the upstart Diamondbacks.

Projected 2014 finish: 88-74. For ticket information click here.

I know plenty of Yankee fame rooting for the Dodgers
I know plenty of Yankee fame rooting for the Dodgers

1. The Los Angeles Dodgers

(Covers.com has the O/U at 92.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing at 91-71)

Well, folks, for just $224 million, you too can have the best team in a mediocre division. This Dodgers team (on paper) has all of the tools to win the NL Pennant. Which is why Don Mattingly is already on the hot seat.

Most Yankee fans are rooting heavily for the Dodgers just to see the hero of our youth make a World Series. He will have a lot of managing to do to pull it off both on the field and in the dugout. He has some highly paid egos that could implode on him if he doesn’t clamp it down right from the get go.

It truly is a Hollywood story for the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig is going for the Fat Albert look putting on 40 pounds in the offseason, which is exactly what you want from your stud 23-year old outfielder. Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp appear to be poised to bounce back from injury-riddled seasons… again. Adrian Gonzalez is the first player in the history of baseball to become a worse hitter after leaving the pitcher-friendly confines of San Diego. Together though, with the likes of Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, and Dee Gordon, there is no weakness in their line-up.

The pitching staff is anchored by possibly the best pitcher in baseball. You can mark it down now, Clayton Kershaw is your 2014 NL Cy Young. He’s too good not to win the award for the third time in the last 4 years. This starting five is so deep (how deep is it?) that newly signed starting pitcher Paul Maholm may most likely start the year in long relief out of the bullpen. Zack Grienke would be an ace on any other staff and it will be exciting to see how Hyun-Jin Ryu responds in his second year in the states.

The bullpen is super deep. Kenley Jansen throws straight-up gas striking out 111 batters in just 76.2 innings last season. That’s a 13 K/ 9 inning ratio which translates to INSANE. Like the Diamondbacks, Jansen’s set-up men both have closing experience. Brian Wilson seems like he is back and hairier than ever.  Reports are that he is also adding a knuckle ball into his repertoire which is perfectly normal 8 years into your career and also translates to INSANE. Chris Perez has long struggled closing out games for the Indians but maybe he thrives in LA with the pressure off of him as a closer.  There is no reason this team can’t reach 100 wins.

Projected 2014 finish: 100-62 NL West Champs. For ticket information click here.

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.)

20140301-002317.jpg
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!!!

Welcome to the site formerly called the Wayniac Nation. Here you can find all of my work and writing samples as well as the ALL NEW WAYNIAC NATION PODCAST. Welcome back!

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