January 21, 2007
It's strange to see the Patriots giving playoff games away but now we've seen that happen twice in the past two years. I'm not particularly angry about it. After all, the Patriots have still won three Superbowls and five division titles in six years. They hobbled into San Diego last week and beat a red hot 14-2 team that most everyone had agreed was the front runner to win Superbowl XLI. All things considered, Patriots fans should be very happy with their football team but that does not change the fact that the Pats absolutely gave one away today.
Let's start with the good news. Despite not having a legitimate starting receiver, losing both starting safeties for most of the season, suffering injuries at virtually every position and having much of the team getting sick the week of the AFC Championship Game, the Pats were a couple of minutes away from returning to the Superbowl. The physical effort today (and last week) was outstanding. No one can argue that the Patriots did not leave all they had on the field. It was a gutsy effort, as usual.
On the down side, today's mistakes were mindboggling. The Patriots were, well, very un-Patriotlike. Essentially, New England for the Colts did what the Chargers did for them last weekend.
Peyton Manning is the luckiest man alive right now. If not for the "12 men" penalty, chances are the Patriots would have run out the clock. The Colts would have lost, Manning's last drive would have been an ugly three and out and most of the post game talk would have been about Peyton's pick six to Samuel and his poor clock management (play clock and two minute warning blunders in the first half). He would still be "the guy who can't win the big one." To his credit, the Patriots gave him a second life (or was it a third, fourth of fifth life?) and he did the job.
We will find out next season if Bob Kraft is still committed to winning. This season, the Patriots were about $8 million under the salary cap. Had that money been spent on a legitimate wide receiver, the Pats would be heading to Miami. I will not bash Bob Kraft for not spending the money this season. He has given Patriots fans so much. But, he should remain fully committed to winning and that means spending the money that the salary cap allows.
A note on last week's game -- I have great respect for LaDainian Tomlinson as both a player and a person, which is why I cannot believe his little crybaby act at the end of the game last Sunday. LT complained about the Patriots dancing at midfield at the end of the game and mocking Shawne "Sterioids" Merriman. He called the Patriots classless. If LT wants to complain about lack of class, he should be talking to his teammates. Not only did they show a lack of class in the week leading up the game and during the game but their personal fouls cost the Chargers the game. LT may be classy but he's a giant hypocrite. A true team leader does not blame the opponent when his teammates are at fault.
All things considered, it was a great year. In spite of the injuries, the Patriots won 14 games, beat a 14-2 team on the road in the playoffs and if not for silly mistakes, bad officiating and bad luck (admittedly, a rarity for the Patriots this decade), they would be playing Da Bears and be favored to win their fourth Superbowl in two weeks. Not bad for what could be called a "rebuilding year."
March 8, 2006
The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Sunday is now just four days away. There are about 48 teams that have either already qualified or will be clear cut at large selections. Another seven small conferences will crown champions between now and Sunday. That leaves about 15 teams fighting for 10 remaining at large spots. Please visit my March Madness pages (menu option above) to see my latest "bubble" analysis and NCAA Tournament Trends featuring data through last season's games.
This year, Boston College appears to be peaking at the right time. Since an 0-3 start to the ACC season, BC has won 11 or 13 and one of those losses was a two point heartbreaker against Duke. BC has been winning but they really haven't put it all together. They have rarely played badly. Three of their six losses were by two points and the Michigan State game was close until the last minute. At the same time, they haven't had many dominant performances against conference foes. Here's the good news and the bad news (or the bad news and the good news if you are a BC hater).
The Good News
The Bad News
It is impossible to predict how BC will perform in the NCAA Tournament. They have the tools to get to the Final Four but they also have the deficiencies to be eliminated by a 13 seed in the first round. We'll certainly know a lot more about their chances after the pairings are announced on Sunday afternoon.
I'm having a hard time getting excited about the World Baseball Classic. Obviously, I hope the United States wins, but if they don't, I can't see myself being bothered by it for more than half a second. In fact, the WBC could create some interesting loyalty conflicts. What if Roger Clemens faces Big Papi with the championship game on the line? Am I really going to root for Clemens? I don't think so.
The WBC has also turned me off because of all of the "which country should so and so play for" nonsense. This isn't the Olympics. I don't care if Mike Piazza plays for Italy. I couldn't care less if A-Rod plays for the Dominican team or the USA, nor should anyone else. I guess when you are making $10 million per year and work eight months per year, you have time to worry about this stuff.
The Celtics are playing some decent basketball just in time to (a) miss the playoffs and (b) screw up their lottery position. The Celtics are having a tough time escaping NBA purgatory. That is, they are not good enough to go deep in the playoffs but not bad enough to have a legit shot at a franchise player in the draft (not that there are any franchise players in this year's draft). The Celtics are currently 3 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for the final playoff spot and they play the Bucks on Friday. With 21 games left that will be pretty close to a do or die game for the Celtics as far as the playoffs go. More importantly, the Celtics are 4 1/2 behind Philly and Washington for the 6 and 7 spots. If the C's could somehow figure out a way to finish 6th, they could actually be competitive in the first round. Right now, the 6th seed would play New Jersey. Playoffs or not, the Celtics are playing better basketball and I am more encouraged than I was earlier in the season. Here's why:
I still have very high hopes for second year players Al Jefferson, who has had his ups and downs, and Tony Allen, who has had a rough year on and off the court. Orien Greene and Gerald Green could also be outstanding players down the road. Kendrick Perkins has shown small flashes of brilliance.
I think I have figured out the formula. Every four years, the number of hours of Winter Olympics coverage that I watch drops by half. I figure that I watched about 64 hours of the 1984 Winter Games and I tuned in for about an hour this year. One day I Tivoed seven hours of coverage and planned to watch the interesting parts. It took me about 23 minutes and most of that was fast forwarding. The Winter Games have always had an aspect of ridiculousness. After all, ski jumping and the biathlon have been around for ages and it's not like figure skating is a real sport. The Winter Olympics really became irrelevant, however, when they added snowboarding as a medal event. The snowboard racing is bad enough, but snowboard halfpipe? Are you kidding me? This is like having skateboarding in the Summer Olympics. I think the gold medal lost its prestige the minute Carrot Top won one. My sisters and I used to go down hills pretty fast on those red plastic sleds. Maybe we should have won gold medals.
After winning his gold medal, Carrot Top said in an interview that snowboarders don't really train for their events and partying the night before the competition is par for the course. I'm sure that's comforting to all of the speed skaters who trained by waking up at 5am every morning for about a decade and never won a medal. It seems that we're about four years away from awarding Olympic medals for drunken ice fishing.
Bryant Gumbel stirred up some controversy when he stated, referring to the Winter Games, "try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention." The comments were made on Gumbel's HBO show Real Sports. I've never cared about Bryant Gumbel one way or another, but I've always thought of him as a professional so these comments are very surprising. Sure there is a paucity of blacks in the Winter Olympics. There is also a paucity of white kids from Georgia, Hawaiians and bartenders from Cancun. Bryant should try looking at a weather map once in a while. My guess as to why Gumbel made these silly comments is that he was looking for some "street cred." Gumbel has been shamefully and unfairly ridiculed in the past for being "too white." As for the GOP comments, if Gumbel throws the segment into a movie, he is guaranteed to be nominated for an Academy Award next year. If were to add some sympathy and admiration for suicide bombers, he might even win an Oscar.
February 6, 2006
Five Things I Didn't Like About the Superbowl
February 1, 2006
The 2006 Red Sox are starting to take shape with the acquisition of outfielder Coco Crisp from the Indians and the signing of free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez. David Wells remains on the roster and the Red Sox still do not have a legitimate lefthanded reliever so we will see at least a couple more interesting moves before Opening Day. Terry Francona could come up with any number of Opening Day lineups, but here is my best guess:
Youkilis and Loretta could be swapped depending on how each player performs in Spring Training. Lowell, Varitek and Nixon are likely to be batting 5-6-7 but the order may be different. Nixon will probably bat 7th against lefthanded starters. It depends a lot, of course, on how each man is hitting the ball in Spring Training.
It appears that most Sox fans believe that this lineup is a downgrade from the 2005 team that scored 905 runs. I don't necessarily see it that way. I don't think that anyone can argue that the Sox are not better defensively. Let's look at the changes position by position.
First Base -- Kevin Millar gave the Red Sox next to nothing last season (.272, 9 HR, 50 RBI, .355
on base percentage). That was in 449 at bats. Over the past two seasons, Kevin Youkilis has batted only
.265 but has a .376 on base percentage. Youkilis has 8 HR and 44 RBI in only 287 at bats. He
has bounced from AAA to the Red Sox and has rarely played several games in a row. I think, given a
chance to play four to five games per week, Youkilis will have a batting average in the .290 to .300
range with something close to a .400 on base percentage. It is hard to predict his potential for power
numbers but I think he'll hit around 15 homers if he gets Millar's 450 at bats. J.T. Snow isn't known for
his offense, but he did hit .327 with Giants in 2004. At the very least, he will be an outstanding
defensive replacement in the late innings. Snow won four consecutive gold gloves between 1997 and 2000.
Offensively -- Better, Defensively -- Weaker with Youkilis, Better with Snow
Second Base -- I see absolutely no reason why Mark Loretta will not bounce back from a
disappointing 2005 season. Loretta dropped to .280, 3 HR, 54 runs in 105 games last season after
posting a .335, 16 HR, 108 run season in 2004. Loretta is one of many Sox recovering from an
injury-plagued 2005 season. Loretta missed 57 games last year, most of that due to a left thumb
injury. You have to believe that the drop in production was directly related to the thumb problem.
Defensively, Loretta doesn't have tremendous range but he is very steady with the glove and turns
the double play as well as anyone.
Offensively -- Better, Defensively -- Better
Shortstop -- Former Marlin Alex Gonzalez was last - yes, last - in the majors last season in
on base percentage (.291). He batted only .264 with 5 homers. In his career, Gonzalez has struck out
four times more often than he has walked. On the plus side, he does have some pop in his bat. He hit
18 and 23 homers in 2003 and 2004, respectively. I cannot explain the dropoff to only 5 longballs in
2005. I certainly hope this dropoff and the implementation of steroids testing is a coincidence. Gonzalez
may be a pleasant surprise at the plate and it's not as if Edgar Renteria carried the offense.
Defensively, Gonzalez made 16 errors last year (and in 2003 and 2004). He is considered one
of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.
Offensively -- Weaker, Defensively -- Better
Third Base -- Mike Lowell is one of the many "what if" Red Sox. Lowell averaged .285, 30 HR,
95 RBI in 2003 and 2004. Last year, his numbers sunk like a stone (.236, 8 HR, 58 RBI). Unlike
Loretta, the dropoff does not appear to be injury-related. Lowell's defense didn't suffer as he won
the NL Gold Glove award last season. Among the projected nine in the Red Sox lineup, Lowell is the
biggest wild card. He could bat .230 with 8 homers again or he could take advantage of Fenway and
bat .300 with 35 homers. If Lowell does return to his pre-2005 form this season, the Sox offense
should be even better than it was in 2004 and 2005. Manny Ramirez has been putting up ridiculous
numbers even without a legitimate slugger in the #5 slot. Imagine what Manny could do if Lowell is a
30 HR man.
Offensively -- ??, Defensively -- Better
Centerfield -- The Red Sox will definitely miss Johnny Damon. The Sox tablesetter reached
base 252 times last season and scored 117 times. He batted over .300 in each of the past two seasons
and drove in an average of 85 runs from the leadoff spot. Covelli Loyce Crisp (aka Coco) put up some
pretty nice numbers of his own. Crisp batted .297 and .300 in 2004 and 2005, while averaging 16 HR
and 70 RBI. On the down side, he's struckout nearly twice as often as he's walked in his career.
Damon, by comparison, had only 22 more strikeouts than walks as a member of the Red Sox. Coco's
ability to put the bat on the ball will determine whether or not he can fill Damon's shoes.
Crisp was considered one of the best leftfielders in the league last year and has played 188 games
in centerfield during his four year career. He should be able to cover as much ground as Damon.
His throwing arm cannot possibly be weaker than Damon's.
Offensively -- Slightly Weaker, Defensively -- Same
Last season's offensive success was almost entirely a product of three players (Manny, Papi and Damon) and two of those players will be back in the lineup this season. There is every reason to believe that Crisp will be as valuable as Damon. My expectation is that Coco will have about the same batting average and number of stolen bases as Damon. He'll walk less often but will hit a few more homers to make up for it. We pretty much know what we'll get out of Varitek and Nixon. Loretta should bounce back and I am confident that Youkilis will be on base a lot and provide occasional power. Very little is expected of Gonzalez so anything that he gives the Red Sox will be a bonus. The key to this offense is Mike Lowell. The Sox desperately need a legitimate producer in the #5 spot. If they don't get it from Lowell in the first half of the season, I imagine they will go shopping before the trading deadline.
Next time, I'll preview the pitchers.
The Celtics season reached a lowpoint on Monday night when they were blown out 110-85 by the Minnesota Timberwolves. The blowout, which dropped the Celtics to 18-27 for the season, was the not the worst part. The worst part was seeing recently traded Mark Blount put up 16 points and 10 rebounds and Marcus Banks put up 20 points and 6 assists off the Minnesota bench. I think this was the first time anyone has seen Mark Blount sweat since he signed his $38 million contract a season and a half ago. But fear not Celtics fans, Blount will back to his lazy, whiny ways before long. I doubt that Minnesota will see that kind of effort again until the next time the Wolves play Boston.
Despite the agony of Monday night's game, I am happy about the recent trade. First, I think Wally Szczerbiak is a slightly better fit for the Celtics than Ricky Davis. He's a better complement to Pierce and gives them another legitimate long range shooter. At the very least, he puts the Celtics a little closer to having a well-rounded team. Second, Davis was playing well and working very hard but I see him like a stock that has peaked. This was a good time to trade him. Third, the Celtics saved a little money. I haven't looked at the figures closely but according to the Globe, the Celtics will save a total of about $5 million. Fourth, and most importantly, the trade allowed the Celtics to get rid of Mark Blount. Blount is probably the laziest Celtic I've ever seen. Even drunk, Vin Baker put in more effort than Blount.
The loss to the Suns tonight dropped the Celtics to 18-28. Amazingly, they are only 6 games out of first place in the Atlantic Division and 4 games behind the Wizards for the final playoff spot. It is getting very close to that point in a disappointing NBA season where the fan has to decide if he wants to root for his team to lose. Obviously, I would like to see this team improve and participating in the playoffs would provide great experience for this very young team. On the other hand, if the Celtics are going to miss the playoffs, they might as well be bad enough to (a) have a chance to draft in the top five next season and (b) increase the odds that Doc Rivers will be fired. I have been skeptical of Doc's coaching abilities since Day One, but I was willing to give him a chance this season. The team's performance through 46 games tells me that Doc is not an NBA caliber head coach. Paul Pierce is having maybe the best year of his career and Ricky Davis was exceeding all expectations yet the C's are still ten games under .500. I was not looking for miracles this season, but 18-28 with this talent, raw or not, is inexcusable.
Boston College suffered an agonizing loss to Duke this evening at Conte Forum, 83-81. The Eagles played well in the first 15 minutes or the game and the final 13 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, they gave the game away in the middle 12 minutes as Duke outscored BC 30-13. The Eagles turned the ball over only four times in the second half, but 11 first half turnovers led to several breakaway baskets for Duke. The Eagles also missed four or five layups and failed to rebound a missed Duke free throw in the final minute. Had BC been able to secure the rebound they would have had the ball, down by three points with 40 seconds left in the game.
There was plenty of good news though. Jared Dudley played a monster game (28 points). Akida McLain made a nice contribution off the bench (8 points, 8 rebounds). The Eagles shot 49% from the floor against the #2 team in the country and held Duke to just 44%. BC showed great perseverance as they came back from an 18 point deficit midway through the second half to come within one point in the final 20 seconds. They thoroughly outplayed Duke over the final 12 minutes. Louis Hinnant made four of his five three pointers. The Conte Forum crowd was loud giving BC a real home court advantage for a change. Most importantly, BC proved that they can play toe to toe with one of the best teams in the country.
Lastly, I have to mention the officiating. In a word, it was sickening. Duke shot 37 free throws to BC's 13. The refs called several defensive fouls on apparent offensive fouls by Duke. Two of those were on Craig Smith, who fouled out with about five minutes left in the game. The Duke big men were able to hack away while both Sean Marshall and Craig Smith fouled out. Louis Hinnant and Akida McLain each four fouls. If this game had gone to double-OT, we may have seen some walk-ons. The worst of all was the no-call when Shelden Williams whacked Tyrese Rice as he drove to the basket with under ten seconds left in the game. BC did not get any close calls in the first half. When Duke surged ahead by 15 points, the refs actually called it fairly. When BC made their comeback and the game was in doubt, the zebras became Coach K's lapdog once again. The worst part of this is that this was a home game for the Eagles! I cannot imagine what will happen when BC visits Duke next season. Fans from several ACC schools have been posting on BC message boards warning BC fans about officiating in Duke games. I now feel their pain. No wonder ACC fans seem to get so well. The common bond is that everybody hates Duke.
I have to tip my cap to J.J. Reddick, however. A one point in the game there was a verbal altercation between Reddick and Sean Marshall (more than likely instigated by Marshall). The television replay showed the players shouting at each other and chest bumping. Just a few minutes later, under pressure from Reddick, Marshall fell down (he basically tripped over his own feet) and was called for traveling. I'd guess that about 50% of college players and 99% of NBA players would have bent over Marshall and started trash talking had they been in Reddick shoes. Instead of taking that road, Reddick quickly jumped in to help Marshall to his feet. It was a very classy move.
Despite the loss, BC is still in very good shape to make the NCAA Tournament and remains in contention for a coveted 1-4 seed. BC is 16-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play. Of their remaining eight ACC games, four are against the bottom two teams in the league, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. There a no bad teams in the ACC but if you are going to have to play anyone, it might as well be those two teams. The Eagles also have a non-conference game against Stony Brook. If they finish the season winning five of the last eight in conference play, they will be 21-8 heading into the ACC Tournament. That should be more than enough to gain a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Then again, with BC you never know. This was a team that once finished 10-6 in the Big East and won its division yet was still left out. A 4-4 ACC finish puts them squarely on the bubble.
January 15, 2006
Saturday's loss to the Broncos gets my vote as the most frustrating loss in Patriots history. Keep in mind that my recollection of the Patriots dates back to about 1980. The loss to the Raiders in the Divisional Playoff round in 1977 (the roughing the passer game) was a little before my time. The other playoff candidates for "most frustrating loss" were a 7-6 loss in Pittsburgh in the '97 Divisional round, and a 22-17 loss in the '86 Divisional round in Denver. There was also a memorable game in the second to the last week of the 1997 regular season where Drew Bledsoe inexplicably threw an interception as the Patriots were running out the clock. The loss screwed up New England's seeding, setting the stage for the aforementioned 7-6 loss in Pittsburgh. Saturday's game in Denver was so infuriating it was almost surreal. The Patriots turned the ball over five times which led directly to 24 of Denver's 27 points. These were bad turnovers. Two of the fumbles came after fairly soft hits, one by the kicker. Brady threw directly into coverage for his first interception, something he rarely does especially in the playoffs. The second INT was a desperation heave which I can't really fault him for. Troy Brown's turnover on the punt was obviously very uncharacteristic for the veteran. Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal in the fourth quarter, his first missed field goal in the fourth quarter in 22 chances. Tom Brady twice overthrew receivers who were open for touchdowns on two occasions. Then there was the officiating. The pass interference call on Asante Samuel, which should have been an offensive pass interference call on Denver's Lelie, late in the first half turned the entire game around. After another Patriots fumble on the ensuing kickoff led to a Denver field goal. A Bronco offensive linemen moved prior to the snap but the refs missed it. The refs also claimed that Champ Bailey's interception return was fumbled out of bounds and not through the endzone (the pylon is considered part of the endzone). Bailey fumbled at the one yard line and the ball landed about seven yards beyond the goal line. Geometry tells us that the ball went over the pylon.
Let's convert all of the mistakes into points. The first four turnovers netted the Broncos 24 points. Vinatieri missed a fairly easy field goal. The interception by Bailey prevented a chip shot field goal. Now we're at 30 points even if we don't include the overthrows by Brady which turned touchdowns into field goal attempts. That's another eight points lost for a total of 38. Even the best teams give away points during the course of a game, but 38! The Pats should have won this game by two or three touchdowns. During the three championship, ten game winning streak the Patriots have made few big mistakes and they have not had many bad breaks. It was as if ten games worth of mistakes and bad luck hit them all at once on Saturday night. Like I said, it was surreal.
Points off turnovers can be a misleading stat. For example, if a team drives 95 yards for a touchdown following an interception, that is considered points off of a turnover even though it was poor defense not the turnover that caused the points. Denver's 24 points off of turnovers were undeniably the result of New England miscues. Denver compiled only 24 yards of total offense to score those 24 points.
Let me be clear about a couple of things. First, my objective is not to rip the Patriots. This group has won three Superbowls. They gave one away on Saturday, but I am not the least bit angry with the players or the coaching staff. The fact that they could get this far given all of their injuries this season is an achievement in itself. The Patriots are a better team than the Broncos, but in the NFL playoffs you can't make silly mistakes and expect to win. Secondly, I am not looking for any sympathy for the Patriots or their fans. The Pats have had more than their share of breaks during the three championship seasons. Things have a tendency to even out. I am disappointed with the way that this season unfolded but three Superbowls wins in five years is more than I could have hoped for.
Saturday's upsetting loss became even more upsetting on Sunday when the Steelers knocked off the Colts. This means that the Patriots not only lost their chance to return to the AFC Championship, but they would have played the league title game at home against a team that they have beaten three times in the past four years, twice in the playoffs. The Patriots were a much less healthy team when the beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh early this season. I can't imagine that New England would have had any trouble with the Steelers next week. Of course, we'll never know.
No one should be surprised that Peyton Manning didn't get it done against Pittsburgh. Yes, Pittsburgh played well and yes, the Indianapolis offensive line was terrible but Manning showed once again that he is not the guy you want behind center in a big game. Manning is great when it's Week 8 and the Colts are beating the bejesus out of a team like Houston or Detroit. When January rolls around, it's "deer in the headlights" time for Peyton. Tom Brady is leader. Brett Favre is a leader. Peyton Manning isn't. The Colts received two enormous breaks today -- Palomalu's interception that was reversed by replay and the Bettis' fumble -- and still managed to lose. At least the Broncos capitalized on their breaks.
I was actually rooting for the Colts today for two reasons: (1) I knew that a Steelers victory would make the Patriots loss on Saturday at least 50% more painful. I was right. (2) With the Patriots out of the picture, I really would have liked to have seen Tony Dungy make it to the Superbowl. I feel terrible for Dungy. He lost his son just weeks ago and now he must face the stigma of being labeled as a coach who can't win the big one. He hasn't been able to reach the Superbowl with a immensely talented Colts team and the Buccaneers won the title the year after he left Tampa Bay. Add to that the embarrassment of having Peyton Manning wave off the punt team in defiance of Dungy in today's game. Manning made the right decision. It was ludicrous to punt on 4th and 2 down by 18 points with just over a quarter to play. Still, it has to be humiliating when a player ignores your decisions and decides to run the team himself.
I was happy, however, to see Mike Vanderjerk wear (or at least share) the goat horns today. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
If there is one good thing to come out of the Patriots loss, it is the fact that they are now locked into the #21 pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Had they reached the Superbowl, they would have picked 31st or 32nd. With the 21st pick, the Pats could grab a much-needed cornerback or an offensive lineman. The Pats would love Virginia Tech cornerback Jimmy Williams, but he isn't likely to fall to the 21st pick. Here are a few 2006 mock drafts with the Pats predicted selection in parentheses.
December 21, 2005
Sadly, the Johnny Damon era in Boston has ended. Johnny was both a terrific player and an amusing character, especially during the past two seasons. Damon's defection to the Yankees leaves the Sox with two holes - centerfield and the leadoff spot in the lineup. The Red Sox made Damon a very generous offer (4 years, $40 million) but the Yankees did what they do best and outbid the Red Sox. I was fully expecting this to happen. I think Damon would have taken a little less to remain in Boston, but an extra $12 million is a little too much to pass up. I can't fault Johnny for taking the extra money, but I will be fiercely rooting against him from now on. It would have been great to keep Damon, but losing him is not the end of the world. Damon covered a lot of ground in centerfield, but that was largely offset by his weak throwing arm. Dwight Evans is 54 years old and I think he could outthrow Damon if given the chance. AL baserunners never hesitated to go from first to third on a single to center or tag up on a shallow fly ball in Damon's direction. Damon's departure from the leadoff spot is a much bigger loss for the Red Sox. Damon reached base 252 times last year via either a hit, a walk or a hit by pitch and scored 117 runs. This is tough to replace. However, if Mark Loretta can return to 2004 form, he could be just as effective in the leadoff spot. In 2004, Loretta reached base 275 times and scored 108 runs. He was on base 247 times in 2003. The other silver lining lies in the fact that the Red Sox will save a lot of money in centerfield that they can spend on pitching or a power hitter. I think the Yankees will get their money's worth in 2006, but will Damon be worth $13 million per season in 2008 and 2009? Damon's success is based largely on speed and he is at the age where he will start losing a step or two. I don't forsee Damon stealing many bases or running down long fly balls in the cavernous Yankee Stadium left/center field in 2009.
What's next? I am very intrigued by the possibility of the Sox trading for Seattle's Jeremy Reed. Reed was a big disappointment in 2005 (.254, 3 HR, 45 RBI, 61 runs) but he is only 24 years old and has a tremendous upside. I see him like a stock that has fallen from $20 to $10 in the past year but could rise to $40. If the price is right, I would not hesitate to make a trade and pencil him in for Opening Day. If the Sox pick him up and he ends up being a disaster, they can trade for a veteran prior to the trading deadline. Some of the other names mentioned are Coco Crisp, Corey Patterson and Mark Kotsay. I love Coco. He's only 26, batted .300 last season, runs very well, has sneaky power and has a very amusing name. The price for Crisp may be too steep for the Sox right now. Corey Patterson was once a rising star, but I think the reality is that he will never reach the heights that were expected. He bottomed out at .215 last year and he strikes out as much as Mark Bellhorn. Kotsay is a solid player. He'll make some spectacular plays in the outfield and give you a .290, 15 HR, 75 RBI type of season. I've heard Ken Griffey's name mentioned, but I can't imagine the Sox taking the risk given his health situation and the $40 million-plus left on his contract.
The wheeling and dealing is far from done but it appears that the Red Sox have improved on the pitching side but are weaker offensively. This does not account for future moves or a possible trade involving Manny Ramirez. I like the way the bullpen is shaping up. Foulke should be healthy and ready to resume the closer's role. Timlin and Seanez were both solid in 2005. If Guillermo Mota can return to his Dodger form and the Sox can pick up a quality lefthander, they could have one of the better bullpens in the league. If Schilling is healthy and Papelbon pitches in 2006 like he did at the end of 2005, the rotation will be very good. A Schilling-Beckett-Clement-Wakefield-Papelbon rotation would be at least 50% better than what they had for most of last season. I'm of course assuming that David Wells is traded, that Bronson Arroyo doesn't beat out Papelbon for a starting job and that Roger Clemens doesn't sign with Boston. I don't really believe that Clemens will sign with the Red Sox. If he wants convenience, he'll remain in Houston or sign with Texas. If it's about money (when is it ever NOT about money with Rocket?), he'll wind up with the Yankees. The lineup is very soft right now, but we still have no idea who will be at shortstop or in centerfield. Only DH, catcher and second base appear to be etched in stone.
We'll probably know a lot more about the team's 2006 prospects in a month or so. But even then, the question marks will remain. If Loretta, Schilling, Foulke, Lowell and Mota return to 2004 form, the Red Sox could be a 100 win team. If they all repeat their 2005 performances, even the Wild Card is a stretch. Something in between is more likely. Some of those 2005 disappointments will bounce back, some won't.
The Patriots are finally getting healthy, at least relatively speaking. The defensive front seven has been phenomenal the past three weeks. Granted, the opposing offenses have been weak, but the absolute domination of the line of scrimmage says a lot about how the defense has progressed during the season. Bruschi is starting to play like the Tedy of old. Seymour looks healthy. Wilfork is becoming a force. McGinest is making his usual late season surge and Roosevelt Colvin looks like a premier pass rusher for the first time since his horrific hip injury in 2003. The secondary remains suspect, but they are playing better, aided by the strong pass rush. The offense is also getting closer to full strength. Having David Givens and Deion Branch on the field at the same time gives the Pats a top-notch 1-2 punch at the receiver position. If all goes well, both Graham and Watson will be ready for the postseason. Dillon and Faulk are both back and appear healthy. Tom Brady has more than enough weapons to win another Superbowl. The problem, of course, is the offensive line. Having Tom Ashworth back in the lineup helps, but with both Dan Koppen and Matt Light out for the season, New England's chances for a three-peat have declined dramatically.
The key to beating the Colts, should they battle the Pats in the playoffs, will be the pass rush. New England's patchwork secondary simply cannot cover the speedy Colt receivers if Manning is given time to throw. If, however, the Patriots can pressure Peyton, he will probably make mistakes. At the very least, they will pick up some sacks. Manning is not mobile and New England's pass rush has been relentless of late. Pass protection will be the key for the Patriot offense as well. Dwight Freeney can dominate a game all by himself. Brady is a little more mobile than Manning, but he's not going to be successful running for his life. I imagine that Belichick would feature Faulk and the tight ends against Indy. Quick plays and ball control, as San Diego proved, is the key to beating the Colts. New England and Indianapolis would be a great matchup. I hope it becomes a reality.
I guess I have to talk about the Celtics. What can I say? They have been a huge disappointment so far this year. I was not expecting miracles. They are a young team and I expected some rough nights, but 10-14 is not what I had hoped for through this point of the season. Paul Pierce is having what would be an MVP caliber season if he were playing for a contender. Ricky Davis is playing the best basketball of his career. Unfortunately, the rest of the team has been remarkably inconsistent. LaFrentz, Blount, Perkins, West, Banks and Jefferson have all played well at one point or another, but they have been ineffective (and in some cases horrible) more often than not. There is still a reason to be optimistic. If the Celtics can get two or three of the aforementioned six players to contribute on a nightly basis, they should finish the season above .500 and compete for the division title (they are only a couple of games behind now). If not, Pierce will eventually wilt under the weight of carrying the team and the Celtics will be on their way to 50 losses. To be honest, it could go either way.
After threatening to give up on Jeremy Jacobs' Bruins and the NHL for years, I finally quit the NHL "cold turkey" three seasons ago. I didn't mind that the Bruins were losing. What bothered me was that Jeremy Jacobs didn't care about winning (here is the LINK to my full explanation if you are interested). Well, I can tell you tell you now that I couldn't be happier that I gave up on the NHL. Last season's strike was unforgiveable and thanks to Jacobs, the Bruins are an embarrassment. As if things weren't bad enough, this season they basically traded superstar Joe Thornton for a couple of skate blades. If I hadn't given up on the Bruins before, that would have been the nail in the coffin. Let me be clear, I take no pleasure in seeing the Bruins lose. In fact, it pains me that the great Bruins fans are forced to suffer this way. No one deserves a winner more. Maybe someday Jacobs will sell the team to someone who cares about winning and the Bruins can regain their past glory. In the meantime, Bruins fans are only making things worse by continuing to pay top dollar for a "99 cent store" product.
December 12, 2005
It looked like the Patriots were going to clinch the AFC East following Sunday's 35-7 drubbing of the Bills, but Miami's very surprising upset of San Diego left the Pats magic number at one. The Patriots are in no real danger of not winning the division, but it would have been nice to wrap things up and give Bill Belichick three full weeks to give some extra rest to the injured players (which is essentially the entire team). New England is pretty much locked into the #4 seed in the AFC playoffs so once they clinch the division, they can use the starters sparingly. Hopefully, that will happen next week.
Assuming the Patriots finish with the #4 seed in the AFC Playoffs, they would host a first round playoff game against the top Wild Card finisher (the #5 seed). Right now, that team is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Personally, I would rather play Jacksonville than any of the other Wild Card contenders - San Diego, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. As the #4 seed, New England would play either the #1 seed (Indianapolis) or the #2 seed (likely Denver or Cincinnati) in the divisional playoff round should they win in the first round. The most likely scenario has the Pats visiting Indianapolis in the second round, but they could also play them in the AFC Championship Game (the teams are re-seeded after the first round). A Patriots-Colts AFC Championship Game would draw an enormous television audience and might break some non-Superbowl TV ratings records if the Colts are still undefeated at the time. With all due respect to the other AFC teams, it would be a shame not to have a Colts-Pats AFC Championship.
It was nice to see the Patriots defense dominate over the past couple of weeks. They held both the Jets and Buffalo to less than 200 yards of total offense and only 10 total points (7 of those in garbage time in Buffalo). These numbers must be taken with a grain of salt because the Jets and Bills are terrible offensively. Still, the performance is encouraging. The front seven looks very good. The secondary is still of major concern. Needless to say, With Dillon, Faulk and Ashworth all back in the lineup, the Patriots are a completely different team offensively. If Matt Light can return to the lineup, the Patriot offense will be very dangerous in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots perform next week against a solid Tampa Bay team.
The Colts are the obvious front-runners in the AFC. I think most would agree that the Bengals and Broncos are a notch above New England, San Diego, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville right now. The NFC, on the other hand, is wide open. Seattle has clinched a playoff spot while the Giants, Chicago, Carolina and Tampa Bay have the inside track. Dallas, Minnesota and Atlanta are all in the thick of the race. At 11-2, Seattle has earned the right to be called the favorite, but unlike the Colts, the gap between the Seahawks and everyone else is not large. I think if these eight teams played each other once, there is a good chance that everyone would end up 4-3 or 3-4. We'll learn a lot more about the Seahawks next week when they host Indianapolis. It must be noted that Seattle and Indianapolis have played the two weakest schedules in the NFL this season.
November 10, 2005
The Patriots are in unfamiliar territory heading into the second half of the season. The Pats, who had lost only twice in their last 34 games heading into this season are now 4-4. A brutal first half schedule and a seemingly endless string of injuries have been a deadly combination for the defending World Champs. All is not lost, however. The Patriots are in first place and the competition in the AL East is not patricularly frightening. The schedule also eased considerably in the second half. In the first eight games, New England played five teams who are currently 6-2 or better (and went 2-3). That doesn't include the 5-4 Chargers who could easily be 9-0. In the second half, the Pats play six of their eight games against teams below the .500 mark plus fading Tampa Bay and the Priestless Chiefs. If there are no further casualties, I think the Pats will finish 10-6 or better and win the division.
They will not, however, have home field advantage and even a first round bye is very unlikely. This isn't the end of the world. The Patriots have won in Pittsburgh on the way to the Superbowl twice in the past four years. Denver and Cincinnati are playing well but if the Pats can get fairly healthy, I see no reason why they couldn't beat those teams in January on the road. I think it goes without saying that the Colts are the team that scares me. The Colts tossed the monkey off their backs on Monday night when they scored 40 points and beat the Pats. I am not ready to dub the Colts defense the "new 1986 Bears" like many people are nor was I overly impressed with the running game the other night (James averaged just 3.1 yards per carry). What scares me is the incredible efficiency of their passing game. They seemed to have developed a short pass, ball control offense that keeps defenses on the field and saps the opponent's energy. The Patriots need to fix their problems in the defensive backfield or they will no chance to beat the Colts in January, especially on the road.
The stats really tell the story. Here are New England's NFL rankings last year and through the first half of this season:
2004 2005 ---- ---- Total Offense 7 9 Offense - Run 7 28 Offense - Pass 11 2 Offense - Pts 4 14 Total Defense 9 31 Defense - Run 6 27 Defense - Pass 17 27 Defense - Pts 2 30 Turnover Margin 7 22
Turnovers, defense and a consistent running game are the key to winning football games and the Patriots have been poor in all three categories. The Pats are in the bottom six in the NFL in run defense, pass defense and rushing offense. The only good news is Tom Brady and the passing game. Brady is fifth in the league in QB rating and is tied for second in the league in passing yardage. He's thrown 12 interceptions and only 4 interceptions despite being hit more this season than he has in any of his previous four seasons. In fact, I'd venture to say that he's already taken more hard hits this year than he has in any full season as a Patriot. Deion Branch is also having a very nice season. He's on pace to catch 90 passes for about 1,200 yards.
October 11, 2005
The Patriots survived another tough road game to remain in first place in the AFC East. Brady and Vinatieri teamed up yet again for another late fourth quarter victory. The injuries continued to pile up. Richard Seymour didn't play against the Falcons, Corey Dillon left the game late in the fourth quarter and Willie McGinest apparently broke his hand in Sunday's game. In my last set of notes, I listed the ten most important Patriots. If Seymour, Dillon and McGinest miss next week's game, seven of the top nine Patriots (according to my list) would be out of the lineup against Denver. We'll find out later this week who is ready for the Broncos.
Tom Brady is currently 2nd in the NFL with 1,522 passing yards. He is 7th in quarterback rating at 95.1. Surprisingly, Carson Palmer and Drew Bledsoe are in the top three. Eli Manning has a higher QB rating and more TD passes than Peyton so far this season. Deion Branch ranks 7th in the NFL with 30 receptions. Josh Miller is 7th in punting average.
Brady has been remarkably consistent over the past three years. In 2002 through 2004, he passed for a total of 3,764, 3,620, and 3,692 yards. This year, he is on pace for 4,870. His completion percentage is at 65.4%. Brady completed 60.8% of his passes a year ago. What does all of this mean? Well, Brady is going down field more but completing a higher percentage of passes. He seems to be getting better. That's a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.
As a team, the Patriots rank 5th in total offense (4th in passing, 24th in rushing) and 23rd in total defense (22nd vs the pass, 20th vs the run). They are 8th in punt return average and 10th in kickoff return average.
September 25, 2005
The Patriots never cease to amaze me. They went into Pittsburgh without Randall Gay and Tyrone Poole then lost Rodney Harrison early in the game with a leg injury but still managed to hold Ben Roethlisberger to only 12 completions on 28 pass attempts. They lost left tackle Matt Light midway through the game, yet Tom Brady was able to go 12 for 12 for 168 yards in the fourth quarter. They turned the ball over twice inside Pittsburgh's ten yard line, but were still able to score 23 points against one of the league's top defenses. Pittsburgh's tying score late in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers all of the momentum and drove the crowd into a frenzy. Still, the Pats calmly drove the ball down the field in under two minutes for the winning score despite having no timeouts. It was vintage Belichick, Brady and Vinatieri. It was vintage Patriots.
The Patriots outgained the Steelers 425 yards to 269, but in reality it wasn't that close. Two of Pittsburgh's pass plays totalled 134 yards (the TD to Ward and the catch and run that Randle El lateraled back to the Pats). If you take away those two plays, Roethlisberger was only 10 for 26 for 82 yards. Minus those two plays, Pittsburgh averaged just 2.8 yards per play. It could have been much worse for Pittsburgh had the Patriots been able to finish off a few more sacks. They had Big Ben on the run the whole game.
That's not to say this game didn't give me reasons for great concern. The loss of Harrison and Light hurt the Patriots despite the win. Both injuries appear to be serious. In my mind, Harrison is the Patriots fourth most important player and Light ranks about sixth largely because his position is the most important on the offensive line. I would rank the players in order of importance as follows: (1) Brady (2) Dillon (3) Bruschi (4) Harrison (5) Seymour (6) Light (7) Branch (8) Faulk (9) McGinest (10) Koppen. The Patriots are also making a significant number of mistakes right now (penalties, turnovers) and the running game is not what it was at the end of last season. I think the mistakes will stop and the running game will improve, but the injuries are another story.
Why in the world did Bill Cowher not use his final timeout prior to Vinatieri's game-winner? They could have had about 35 seconds to work with. I thought Cowher was supposed to wait until the AFC Championship Game to do things like that.
Speaking of head coaches, ESPN has something called the "ESPN SportsNation Approval Rating" for NFL coaches. Belichick's approval rating is 95%. I'd like to know what those other 5% are thinking. They are either clueless Pats fans or bitter fans of the Colts, Steelers, Jets or Eagles.
September 22, 2005
The Red Sox are 34-34 against the Yankees since the start of the 2003 season. The teams have split 14 playoff games. This season, the teams are tied in the loss column with a week and a half left in the season. Given how these teams have battled over the past three years, it only makes sense that either (a) they will be tied in the standings when they meet for three games at Fenway Park on the final weekend of the season or (b) they will be tied after that final series and have a one game playoff at Yankee Stadium on October 3rd. Please note that if the two teams are tied at the end of the season and they both have a better record than all remaining second place teams, they would not have a one game playoff to determine the division title. The league would use the head-to-head tiebreaker to determine the AL East Champion (the Yankees lead 9-7 at this point) with the other club taking the Wild Card. Right now, Cleveland is * game ahead of the Red Sox in the Wild Card race.
Speaking of the Cleveland Indians, they have a record of 37-13 since late July and are playing the best baseball in the American League. I havenít seen the Indians make a late season surge like this since Pedro Cerrano and Roger Dorn played for them.
In the competence rankings, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ranks just above Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons and just below Mayor McCheese of McDonaldland.
I knew that Tedy Bruschi was a great player. The last two weeks have proven that he is an even better player than I thought. His return to the lineup (whenever that is) will be very special.
Barry Bonds is back with the Giants after missing the first 140 games of the 2005 season. If anyone was wondering how many games it takes for steroids to leave a personís body and allow them to pass a drug test, the answer is 140 games.
I looked at the fall television preview the other day. Still no CSI: Waltham. Maybe next year.
Eighteen of the 32 NFL teams are 1-1 after two weeks of play. It looks like another year of parity in the NFL. Some of the biggest surprises through two weeks are:
I was thinking, which is more volatile? The Nasdaq between 1999 and 2003 or the sales of Notre Dame ďReturn to GloryĒ shirts.
The Yankees 2005 projected starting rotation of Johnson, Mussina, Pavano, Brown and Wright will earn $65.4 million this season. The fivesome has combined for a 40-32 record and an ERA of 4.64 Thatís $1.6 million per win if you are counting. If you remove Johnson and Mussia, who has been healthy for the most part, the remaining three have a combined record of 13-16 and an ERA of 5.53. By contrast, Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon, Chien-Ming Wang and Al Leiter are a combined 25-11 with an ERA of 3.92. Injuries have no doubt saved the Yankees season.
In Awe Part I: Even if the Aís do not make the playoffs this season, you canít help but be in awe of the job Billy Beane has done in Oakland. They have a chance to win 90 games or more for the sixth consecutive year despite losing Mulder and Hudson this season and players like Tejada and Giambi in the past few years. Thereís also the $55 million payroll which ranks 22nd in Major League Baseball, $154 million behind the Yankees.
In Awe Part II: Iím nearly as impressed with the Braves organization. The last time the Braves DIDN'T win their division, George Herbert Walker Bush was president, the Dow was at around 2,500, the Braves top hitter was Lonnie Smith and Julio Franco was only 32 years old.
In Awe Part III: In his last 26 games, David Ortiz is batting .337 with 15 homers, 31 RBIs and 22 runs. He has a good chance to have a 50 HR / 150 RBI season. Only four players (Babe Ruth, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx and Sammy Sosa) have accomplished this feat. If Ortiz reaches 50/150 and the Red Sox win the East, the voters will have a hard time not picking him for MVP. I have a feeling that Papi will have more first place votes, but that A-Rod will win the award. My logic is that A-Rod will finish no lower than second on any ballot but that Ortiz will be third, fourth or fifth on many ballots because some voters simply donít believe that a DH should be the MVP. Though I agree that defense should not be overlooked when it comes to voting for MVP, a DH should not be eliminated simply because he doesnít play in the field. I see no difference between a DH and a bad fielder (Jose Canseco comes to mind).
September 5, 2005On Thursday, the Patriots will begin their quest to become the first team to win three consecutive Superbowls when they take on the Raiders in Foxboro. The Patriots return to the gridiron with a few changes. Gone are coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis, as well as Ty Law, Joe Andruzzi, David Patten and Ted Johnson. The new faces include LB Chad Brown, WR David Terrell, WR/KR Tim Dwight, CB Duane Starks and rookie OL Logan Mankins. The biggest void, however, will be the one left by Tedy Bruschi, who will miss the 2005 season after suffering a stroke not long after the Superbowl. Here are the major questions and concerns as we begin the 2005 season:
Here are my 2005 NFL Predictions.
|2005 NFL Predictions|
|AFC East||New England||The Jets have been overhyped as usual|
|AFC North||Pittsburgh||They won't be 15-1 but should finish first|
|AFC South||Indianapolis||Will Manning come back to earth?|
|AFC West||Denver||San Diego played over their heads last season|
|AFC WC||Baltimore||A better passing attack to go with the great defense|
|AFC WC||Jacksonville||Playoffs are only possible if Fred Taylor is healthy|
|NFC East||Philadelphia||Team's talent will overcome Terrell's idiocy|
|NFC North||Minnesota||The Vikes will be better without the Moss distraction|
|NFC South||Carolina||Panthers were very good after a terrible start last season|
|NFC West||Seattle||The best team in the NFL's worst division|
|NFC WC||Atlanta||Vick, a nice group of receivers and a decent defense|
|NFC WC||Arizona||Kurt Warner and the new uniform factor will get the Cards into the playoffs|
|AFC Championship||Patriots 20 Broncos 17|
|NFC Championship||Vikings 27 Eagles 26|
|Superbowl||Patriots 31 Vikings 20|
ESPN's expert panel had mixed feelings on whether or not the Patriots will repeat as NFL Champions, or even AFC East Champions. All 12 ESPN panelists agreed that the Pats will be in the playoffs, but two picked the Jets to win the AFC East. Only three picked the Patriots to return to the Superbowl with two saying that they will win it again. The Superbowl Champion picks were: Colts 5, Eagles 3, Patriots 2, Rams 1, Steelers 1. The strangest pick - Joe Theismann has the Redskins in the Superbowl. Yeah, he's not biased. To read all of the picks, please click HERE.
The Patriots bolstered their offensive line and secondary in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. New England chose Fresno State guard Logan Mankins with their first round pick (32nd overall). Belichick and company followed with Iowa State cornerback Ellis Hobbs and Toledo guard Nick Kaczur in the third round and Fresno State safety James Sanders in round four. For a full list of the Patriots 2005 draft picks, please click on the following link: ESPN Draft Tracker - Patriots.
February 3, 2005
Boston College, in case you haven't noticed, is currently 19-0 and ranked 5th in the country. They trail #1 Illinois (the only other undefeated team in Division 1) and three teams that have lost a game or two but that sell a lot of jerseys. The ability to sell a lot of jerseys apparently has more to do with the rankings than actually winning basketball games. Here are a few of Boston College's recent accomplishments:
Why They Have Been Winning
Junior Power Forward Craig Smith is probably the most underhyped superstar in the nation. Smith was great as a freshman and has been solid ever since. Part of the reason for that success is that Smith, who left high school with a bit of weight problem, has become a lean, mean fighting machine (to borrow a quote from John Winger in Stripes). Smith has a knack for getting to the basket and is probably the best ball handler among the BC big men. Smith, who scored just two points in BC's loss to Georgia Tech in last year's NCAA Tournament loss, will be determined not to allow himself to be shut down in this season's version of March Madness. Smith's career numbers (18.5 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, 56.8% field goal percentage) are spectacular. Smith has also improved his free throw shooting this season (up from 57% to 71%).
Jared Dudley is quickly becoming one of the top forwards in the Big East. A not-so-highly touted Sophomore from San Diego, Dudley surprised everyone by averaging 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds last season. This year, he's increased those numbers (16.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and improved his assist to turnover ratio (1.3 to 2.2). BC's "junkyard dog" plays with great intensity and this was most evident against Villanova when he dropped 36 points on the Wildcats. Al Skinner and his staff found a silver lining behind a dark cloud last season when star recruit Dan Coleman withdrew from BC just prior to the start of the 2003-04 school year. They replaced him with Dudley in August of 2003. Coleman is averaging 9.1 points and 3.7 rebounds as a freshman at Minnesota.
Sean Marshall is the third Boston College starter from Southern California (Rialto). The 6'6" Sophomore swingman is BC's best outside scorer. Marshall chipped in with 8 points per game last season and has improved his average to 11.4 ppg this year thanks to a higher field goal percentage (37% to 46%) and three point percentage (29% to 37%). At times, Marshall takes bad shots but all things considered he has been a very nice surprise.
Junior Louis Hinnant has provided the Eagles with steady play at the point guard position. He's currently fourth in the conference in assist to turnover ratio (2.6). Hinnant is another example of a player that wasn't heavily recruited out of high school, but has developed into a solid player thanks to lots of playing time during his first two years at BC. On the down side, Hinnant has not been shooting the ball well this season. After sinking 47% of his three-pointers last season, Hinnant is shooting just 31% from behind the arc this season. If the Eagles want to make a serious run at the Final Four, they will need Hinnant to start making outside shots.
Nate Doornekamp is the only Senior among the Eagles starting five. Doornekamp has improved dramatically over the past two years. The 7'0" Canadian will never be confused with Emeka Okafor but he has provided the Eagles with solid play this season. As a Senior, he has become an adequate defender who tends to be in the right place at the right time (which is a far cry from his first two years at BC). He's played good fundamental basketball this season, only taking shots when he's open and putting himself in good rebounding position on defense. Doornekamp's scoring and rebounding averages have both risen with increased minutes this season. He's also improved his free throw shooting to 69% this season after shooting under 60% in each of his first three years at BC.
Jermaine Watson, unlike the rest of the Eagles, was highly-touted coming out of high school. A disappointment early in his BC career, Watson has improved steadily in each season and his stats and minutes reflect just that (points: Fr - 3.6, So - 5.1, Jr - 6.8, Sr - 10.6 / rebounds: Fr - 1.8, So - 2.5, Jr - 2.8, Sr - 3.7). Watson is BC's best dribble penetrator and best free throw shooter (84%). One can't overestimate the value of a senior that can handle the ball and make free throws. One of the major reasons why the Eagles are still undefeated is Watson's ability to drain free throws in the final two minutes with the Eagles ahead. Watson is not a true point guard and his turnovers have risen since replacing Steve Hailey as the backup point guard.
Freshman big man Sean Williams has given the Eagles a shot blocking presence that they haven't had in about two decades. Williams is averaging 2.7 blocks per game despite playing only 19 minutes per contest. When he's not blocking shots, he's affecting them or at least making the offensive player aware that he's in the vicinity. Like most freshman, Williams is out of position on defense quite often and has been turnover prone which is why the more polished Doornekamp has seen most of the minutes. Williams' 16 point, 10 rebound effort against Providence might be a sign of things to come. By next season, Williams will be a starter and possibly an ACC superstar.
The last man in the Eagles eight man rotation is Sophomore Steve Hailey. Hailey, the Eagles backup point guard, sprained an ankle against West Virginia and has missed the past five games. Hailey is an excellent ball handler though he is prone to turnovers. Having Hailey back in the lineup will be a huge bonus for Al Skinner because it will allow him to extend the rotation back to eight, have a true point guard on the floor at all times and give Louis Hinnant more rest.
Sat Feb 5 at Seton Hall 7:30 Tue Feb 8 at Notre Dame 7:00 Wed Feb 16 Rutgers 7:30 Sat Feb 19 (8) Syracuse 7:30 Wed Feb 23 at (24) Villanova 7:30 Sat Feb 26 Seton Hall 12:00 Mon Feb 28 (16) Pittsburgh 7:00 Sat Mar 5 at Rutgers 7:30
January 26, 2005
Well, they have done it again. The Patriots are back in the Superbowl for the third time in the last four seasons. They are now one win away from achieving official dynasty status. They would join the 1960s Packers (five NFL titles in seven years), 70s Steelers (four Superbowl titles in six years), 80s 49ers (4-0 in Superbowls between 1981 and 1989) and 90s Cowboys (three titles in four years) in that category. Not bad for an organization that didn't win a single playoff game between 1963 and 1985. What's truly amazing is how they have done it. Despite the absence of three defensive starters they held one of the most potent offenses in NFL history to only three points in the divisional playoffs. On Sunday, the Patriot offense put up 34 points against the best defense in the league .. on the road .. in single-digit temperatures. I know better than to chalk up another Superbowl victory, but the Eagles are in deep, deep trouble.
Beating the Steelers to reach the Superbowl was extra sweet for several reasons:
Given the way that the Patriots cornerbacks have played, I'd say that the odds that Ty Law will be in a New England uniform next season dropped from about 5 to 1 to about 50 to 1. Asante Samuel is ready to assume a starting role full time and Randall Gay appears to have enough talent to be a starter in the near future. Troy Brown's play at cornerback this season has been nothing short of miraculous. Cornerback remains the team's biggest weak spot, but a great defensive scheme and some hard work by the players has kept the loss of Law and Poole from becoming a disaster.
Sunday's loss to the Patriots marked the fourth time in five chances that Bill Cowher has lost the AFC Championship Game at home. Cowher would be 0-5 at home in AFC title games if the Colts' Aaron Bailey had been able to grab a pass in the endzone on the last play of the game in Pittsburgh's 20-16 win in the 1996 AFC Championship. I've always thought that Cowher was a pretty good coach, but he's getting dangerously close to becoming Marty Schottenheimer, Jr. Like Schottenheimer, Cowher is tremendously successful in the regular season but his teams inevitably collapse in the playoffs. The fact that so many of those seasons have ended at home has to be especially upsetting to the Steelers faithful.
I'm hardly a fan of the City of Philadelphia, but I was happy to see the Eagles finally get the proverbial monkey off their backs. The sports fans of Philadelphia have not witnessed a professional championship since Dr. J and Moses Malone led the 76ers to a championship in 1983. Since then, their teams are a combined 0-6 in championship rounds (Flyers 0-3, Phillies 0-2, Sixers 0-1). The Eagles have been in one Superbowl. That was in January of 1981 (Superbowl XV) .
Corey Dillon came dangerously close to hitting a fan with a football that he fired against the wall behind the endzone following his third quarter touchdown. Throwing fastballs against the back wall is the latest craze among touchdown-makers in the NFL. I have been waiting all season for one to get away and nail a spectator. Dillon's toss on Sunday nearly did. Don't be surprised if that type of celebration becomes an automatic 15 yard penalty next season.
It's hard to make a prediction for the Superbowl without knowing the health of two key players: Terrell Owens and Richard Seymour. Seymour is very important to the Patriots defense, but Owens means everything to the Philadelphia offense. If Owens does play, he may not be very effective. Even if Owens can run, his gimpy leg may not allow him to employ the physical style that is the basis for so much of his success. My early prediction is Patriots 31, Eagles 20 with Corey Dillon taking home MVP honors. If Owens doesn't play at all, the Patriots should win this game by a lot more.
I've always had problems confusing actors Dylan McDermott and Benjamin Bratt. I guess they don't look that much alike, but they are both on lawyer shows, are about the same age and have the same hair color. I know that one of them dated Julia Roberts (but then again, who hasn't?). To make matters worse, they have both (a) grown their hair long (b) grown beards and (c) appeared in NFL commercials. I may never figure it out. Don Cheadle is also appearing in several new NFL commercials .. or was that Tim Meadows?
The Boston Celtics improved to 20-22 with a big win over the Indiana Pacers tonight at the FleetCenter. Amazingly, the win propelled the Celtics into first place in the Atlantic Division. In fact, the Celtics just may be the favorites to win the Atlantic. The Knicks are in a free fall, the Nets have been decimated by injuries and the Raptors are just plain awful. The Sixers are probably the toughest challenge in a division where 38 wins could be enough to finish first. At present, the Celtics are the only team in the division that has scored more points than they have allowed. If the Celtics can finish first in the Atlantic they would be guaranteed no worse than the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. If the playoffs started today, the 6 seed (#6 plays #3 in the first round) would be Orlando. Chicago is not far behind at #7 though it is likely that Indiana will move up now that Jackson and O'Neal are both back from suspension. Cleveland and Washington are also likely first round opponents for the Atlantic Division champ. So, despite a terrible first half, the Celtics stand a very good chance of not only winning the division, but advancing to the second round of the playoffs. To do that, though, they will need to be better in the second half. Here is a brief status report:
Al Jefferson and Tony Allen -- Only a few precincts have reported, but BostonSportsHub is projecting that the Celtics 2004 draft was a great success. The horror show that was the 2001 draft will haunt Celtics fans a while, but I believe that last year's draft will restore some faith in the organization. Both Allen and Jefferson have superstar written all over them. Jefferson, the 20-year-old rookie, is averaging around 7 points, 5 rebounds and a block while playing only 16 minutes per game. Like most 20-year-olds (everyone but LeBron I guess), he has a lot to learn but C's fans can't help but be giddy with what they have seen. The same goes for Tony Allen, the 23-year-old rookie out of Oklahoma State. The rook already has NBA defensive skills and will eventually be a big time scorer. He's been inconsistent on the offensive side but his game is coming together. He was 9 for 11 from the field and scored 20 points in Atlanta last weekend. Due to injuries, we really haven't seen much of Delonte West, but most Celtics fans believe that he will be a major contributor down the road as well.
Home Sweet Home -- The Celtics have played outstanding basketball on the FleetCenter parquet this season. Boston is 14-6 at home (11-2 in their last 13). Granted, the home schedule hasn't been very tough but it is great to see the Celtics winning at home again. It's still a far cry from the old days, though. The Celtics were 50-1 at home in 1985-86.
Trivia: Speaking of 1986, can you name the one team that beat the Celtics at the Garden that season? (answer below)
The Mixed News
Paul Pierce -- Many writers have pointed out that Paul Pierce isn't particularly happy with the present situation in Boston and there is a remote possibility that he will be traded this season. Pierce appears to be going through a Nomarification of late and it surely concerns the Celtics brass. It would be difficult, however, for the Celtics to part with Pierce because without him they would no longer be competitive. Trading Pierce at midseason doesn't make too much sense because the Celtics have already won 20 games and even without him they would not end up with a high lottery pick. Dealing him at the beginning of the season would have made more sense because the Celtics would have been lousy enough to have a shot at one of the top three picks in the 2005 Draft. Pierce's numbers have been solid as usual (21.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), but he appears to have peaked about three years ago.
Gary Payton -- Gary Payton's play can best be described as average. At times, he's been great but more often than not he looks like a player whose best days are well behind him (it is hard to believe that Payton is just two years removed from a season where he averaged 20 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds). It doesn't help that Payton doesn't want to play for Celtics and has been quite vocal about that fact. I will be very surprised if he is still wearing Celtic green after the February 24th trading deadline.
Raef LaFrentz -- I suppose that Raef LaFrentz's 10.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg could be described as a pleasant surprise only because no one expected anything from a guy who, along with Mark Blount, seems to have destoyed the Celtics salary cap situation through the rest of the decade. LaFrentz has been giving Doc some decent minutes but it is not nearly enough to justify his $10 million salary ($55 million through 2009).
Ricky Davis -- Ricky "Mr. Inconsistency" Davis has been predictably unpredictable this season. At times he's been a superstar. The best example is a game in LA in December when Davis almost single-handedly beat the Clippers (34 points). Two weeks ago, he scored a combined 52 points in back to back games against the Raptors and Hawks. Then there's the other Ricky. The one that scored a total of six points on back to back nights in Dallas and Memphis. Boston is Ricky's fourth stop in seven NBA seasons and it wouldn't be shocking to see him in City #5 sometime in the next year. On the other hand, he is only 25 years old and seems to fit the Rivers/Ainge style of play so it just might be worthwhile for the Celtics to keep him around.
The Bad News
Mark Blount -- Mark Blount is a 250 pound, $40 million paperweight. After getting double-doubles in 15 of his last 25 games last season and finishing second in the NBA to Shaq in field goal percentage, Blount has been non-existent this season. He's averaging just 5.5 rebounds per game and has been in double-figures in boards only twice. To be honest, most of the time I'd rather have a drunk Vin Baker out there. The best phrase I can come up with is unmitigated disaster.
Road Woes -- The Celtics have been flat out abysmal on the road this season. They are now 6-16 away from the FleetCenter after a respectable 5-7 start on the road. Just the other night, they blew a 17-point lead in Atlanta and were beaten by the 7-30 Hawks. The best way for the Celtics to improve in the second half of the season is to start winning a few road games, especially the ones against bad teams like Atlanta.
Trivia Answer: The Portland Trailblazers
If you would like a more detailed analysis of the Celtics, don't forget to read Steve Vinci's Notes
January 14, 2005
The Patriots will certainly have their hands full on Sunday when they face Peyton Manning for the second time this season and the fourth time in two years. Manning has not had much success against Bill Belichick/Romeo Crennel defensive schemes in the past but this weekend may be different because of the injuries suffered by the Patriots defense. Manning is deadly against healthy teams. This weekend, he will face off against a defensive backfield filled with a wide receiver, a linebacker, two rookies and a guy who joined the team a week ago. Meanwhile, the Patriots best defender, All Pro Richard Seymour, is questionable for the game. If the Colts score less than 30 points, it would be a tremendous feather in the caps of Belichick and Crennel. If the Patriots beat the Colts, it will undoubtedly be a high scoring affair. Injuries have depleted the New England defense, but the Patriot offense is much better than it was last season at this time. Corey Dillon is a weapon that the Colts will have a difficult time stopping. Indy is 29th in the league in total defense but more importantly they rank dead last in the league in opponent completion percentage and only Arizona has allowed opposing teams to gain more yards per carry. Colt opponents have averaged 4.6 yards per rush in 2004. Here are my Patiots Keys to the Game:
Just when you thought that Randy Moss couldn't possibly disgrace the NFL any more than he already has, he took his idiocy to a whole new level. Last weekend, he pretended to "moon" the good fans of Green Bay after scoring a late touchdown (he was limping around the field, but somehow had no limp when he was doing his TD celebration). The Terrell Owens (sharpie) and Joe Horn (cell phone) endzone celebrations were obnoxious but they weren't done at the expense of the opposing fans. Moss's celebration was one of the most tasteless, classless act I have ever seen on a football field. The NFL fined Moss a measly $10,000 for the incident (that's like fining me a penny) when they should have suspended him for this weekend's game against the Eagles. Playoffs or not, Moss and the Minnesota Vikings should be punished for his vile actions. The NFL has done a good job (and may have even gone overboard) penalizing players for illegal or late hits. What they haven't done successfully is punish players for boorish behavior that reflects badly on the league. Moss is a first class scumbag. The league, the Vikings ownership and Mike Tice should be ashamed of themselves for letting Moss get away this type of behavior time after time. Any parent who allows their child to wear a Moss jersey should also be ashamed. Most of all, Randy Moss should be ashamed but I guess people without a soul or a conscience don't feel shame. At the very least, he could have saved his moon for the unruly fans of Philadelphia.
The Jets-Chargers contest was one of the most exciting playoff games of the past few years but it was also one of the most poorly played postseason games I've seen. The Jets resume included:
The Chargers "brilliant" display of football included:
Last week proved that there are only four truly good teams in the NFL: New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. At least one of those four will be eliminated this week.
Boston College beat North Carolina 37-24 in the Continental Tire Bowl to secure their fifth bowl victory in five years, an accomplishment unmatched by any other program. Though the Eagles haven't won ten games, finished in the top ten or played in a BCS game over that time, they have been one of the more consistent programs this decade. Here is a list of the 19 schools that have won at least 40 games since 2000:
Speaking of Boston College, the university's men's and women's basketball programs are a combined 25-1 this season. Both squads are ranked in the top 15 in the nation. The two BC basketball programs and men's hockey are a combined 38-4 this season. Congratulations to the coaches: Skinner, York and Inglese.
Earlier this week Randy Johnson shoved a New York cameraman who "had the nerve" to point his camera in Johnson's direction. Only one day in pinstripes and Johnson is already fitting in perfectly with the egomaniacal Yankees. My guess is that Randy is about three steroid injections away from being named team captain.
The BostonSportsHub award for the worst name for a college basketball arena goes to ... The Jenny Craig Pavilion, home of the University of San Diego Toreros. I know what you are thinking: (a) are the seats there wider than those in the average arena? and (b) do the drink vendors sell Slimfast instead of beer and Pepsi?
January 3, 2005
The Red Sox completed their Christmas shopping with the signing of new captain Jason Varitek to a four-year $40 million contract. This followed the losses of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts and the acquisition of David Wells, Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria and Jay Payton. The important question is: are the Red Sox stronger or weaker than they were last season? Here are some numbers:
Martinez/Lowe vs Wells/Clement:
|Starting Pitchers (2004)|
|Starting Pitchers (2002-04 Averages)|
Based on the 2004 numbers, the Wells/Clement combination is big improvement for the Red Sox. Lowe and Martinez won nine more games last season, but that is largely a result of the Red Sox powerful offense (certainly in Lowe's case). The Wells/Clement combo had an ERA nearly a run better than Pedro/Lowe and an extra 0.5 strikeout per walk surrendered. When we examine the three year averages Martinez and Lowe have the edge, but not by a whole lot despite the fact that Lowe's 2002 aberration is included. There is also the fact that Martinez will cost the Mets nearly as much as Wells and Clement combined, even if Wells meets all of his incentives.
Cabrera vs Renteria:
|AVG||HR||RBI||Runs||Walks||On Base Pct||Slugging Pct|
|Shortstops (2002-04 Averages)|
|AVG||HR||RBI||Runs||Walks||On Base Pct||Slugging Pct|
Edgar Renteria will end up costing the Red Sox $2 million more per year than Orlando Cabrera will cost the Angels. Based on the numbers above, that $2 million difference is just about right. The 2004 and 2002-2004 average both show that Renteria has a little more pop in his bat than Cabrera. Renteria's batting average was 23 points higher in 2004 and 33 points higher over the three year period. Renteria is also good for another 10 runs and 20 or so RBIs per season. I suppose that's worth about two million bucks per year. Defensively, the two players are very comparable. Renteria made four fewer errors last season and had very slight advantages in fielding percentage (.983 and .978) and in "Range Factor" and "Zone Rating" as calculated by Stats, Inc.
The Red Sox also added pitchers John Halama (7-6, 4.70), Matt Mantei (5-4, 2.62, 29 saves in 2003) and Wade Miller (7-7, 3.35). Both Miller and Mantei battled arm injuries in 2003. Playoff hero Dave Roberts was traded to the Padres for Jay Payton (.260, 8 HR, 55 RBI) and a couple of other players.
In my humble opinion, the Red Sox roster is slightly better with the changes. This, of course, assumes that the team remains relatively healthy. If David Wells is healthy enough to make 25-30 starts, the Sox should have a better rotation in 2005. Pedro Martinez is still a great pitcher, but each season he's a little less effective than the season before. Derek Lowe was sensational in the playoffs but that doesn't erase his terrible 2004 regular season and mediocre 2003 season. If Wade Miller returns to his pre-injury form, the Sox will be even better. The setup/closer situation will remain the same and Matt Mantei could be a huge addition if he's healthy. The Red Sox lineup will have only one change (Renteria) and that change will actually improve one of the best lineups in baseball history.
The problem, of course, is that the Yankees are definitely better. The Yankees have already shelled out $33 million per year for starting pitchers and they have their eyes on Carlos Beltran, the prize of the 2005 free agent class. The Yankee mottos remain the same: if at first you don't succeed, buy, buy again and if you can't beat 'em, outspend 'em.
I am so happy that Theo Epstein decided to hold onto Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Youkilis. Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox do not have unlimited funds so it is important that they develop a few young (aka inexpensive) players that can contribute on a regular basis. Youklis should be ready to take over third base full time in 2006 and Arroyo should have a spot in the Sox rotation for years to come.
Derek Lowe's $12 million per year asking price is probably the most ridiculous contract demand I've ever heard. Lowe foolishly turned down a three year, $27 million contract from the Red Sox last Spring. I wonder who convinced Derek Lowe that back to back seasons with ERAs of 4.47 and 5.42 should get him virtually the same amount of money as Curt Schilling. Lowe won't get his $12 million per year but he will probably get a few million more than he deserves. Baseball owners, despite crying poverty at every turn, continue to shell out big bucks to players that haven't accomplished a whole lot. Here are some examples from this offseason:
Most of us knew that Pedro Martinez would follow the money and this time it led directly to the New York Mets. For some inexplicable reason the Mets offered Pedro $54 million over four years (the Sox three year offer was pushing it, but four??). I will always appreciate what Pedro did for the Red Sox and the fans. He will be remembered as one of the ten greatest Red Sox of all time. Sadly, he will also be remembered as one of the greediest, most spoiled players in Red Sox history. Pedro actually had the nerve to criticize the Sox for not offering him a four year contact. To Pedro, the Red Sox "disrespected" him. What they did was "disrespect" him to the tune of $90 million over seven years (including $12.5 million in 2001 when he only gave them only 18 starts). I can understand when a young player negotiating his first blockbuster contract goes for the biggest payoff and the longest contract. This does not apply to Pedro, who has already earned more than $100 million in his career. He took the Mets offer only because of ego and greed. Sadly, that's the type of guy Pedro Martinez is. The Red Sox were smart not to match the Mets offer. In fact, they probably shouldn't have offered him a third year. Pedro's skills are declining as Peter Gammons points out in his December 14th column on ESPN.com.
The Patriots have a bye next weekend but Pats fans will have a team to root for: the Denver Broncos. The Broncos are the only thing standing between the Patriots and Peyton Manning. Normally, I would welcome a matchup with the Colts, a team that the Patriots have owned over the past several years. This year, however, is different because New England's secondary is in such bad shape. Ty Law will probably play in two weeks, but he will be will not be anywhere close to 100% and will not be in game shape. Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson are banged up and Tyrone Poole is unavailable. Rodney Harrison is the only healthy veteran defensive back. The thought of Peyton Manning going up against a secondary with a receiver at cornerback, a linebacker at safety and another hobbled cornerback sends chills up my spine. I feel very confident about New England's chances against either San Diego or the Jets, two teams that feature the run. New England's front seven is pretty healthy and they dominated the Jets two weeks ago.
It wasn't that long ago that the NFC was the dominant conference in the NFL. How things have changed. Here are some of the playoff teams that the NFC has to offer:
Congratulations to Detroit Lions President and CEO Matt Millen. His team won six games this year and actually won a road game for the first time in three years. Detroit's record with Millen in charge now stands at 16-48. The Lions even beat one team, Atlanta, with a winning record. Who knows, under Millen's leadership the Lions might have a chance to win seven games next season. Matt Millen is lucky that the Ford's are very, very patient. If he worked for George Steinbrenner, he would have already been fired three times.