Thursday, January 28, 2010

Some late Thursday night links for your reading pleasure

It's been far too long, blogosphere. As you already know and can tell, I haven't been posting with the ferocity that I was in, say, the summer. But on this Thursday night, after watching the latest Knicks debacle of a loss, I feel compelled to bring you some links before you all dig in for the weekend.
- Our friend Bob Mantz has more on the Newsday paywall and its lack of success. As you may have heard, the New York daily has only added 35 subscribers in the three months since going to a pay model. Page views are also significantly down.

- PastaPadre has some new screenshots from MLB 10: The Show, which hits store shelves the first Tuesday in March. The game was incredible last season and only promises to get better this year.

- The NFL has put its foot down on local New Orleans business people selling shirts with the Saints' "Who Dat" phrase.

- The NBA announced reserves for the upcoming All-Star game. Surprisingly, Gilbert Arenas was not among those who will be playing in Dallas.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: NFC Championship Game - Vikings at Saints

After the AFC Championship Game, FOX picks up coverage at 6pm ET live from New Orleans. The game kicks off half an hour later from the Superdome.

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints, 6:30pm ET, FOX
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth. Chris Myers and Pam Oliver on the sidelines.

The Saints absolutely destroyed the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, showing that their defense is just as strong as their offense. Now they take on a Vikings team who put on a similarly dominating performance against the Cowboys.

These teams are so evenly matched and this is the showdown everyone has been waiting for since about Week 6. New Orleans and Minnesota can both run the ball extremely well, pass with the best of them, and hold their opponents on the defensive side.

The key to the game may end up being quarterback play. Drew Brees is one of the most prolific passers in the league. On the other side is Brett Favre, the gunslinging, Wrangler-wearing, "always having fun out there" guy that we're all sick of hearing about.

The one thing Favre has a tendency to do, aside from all his touchdowns, is throw careless interceptions. The Saints' secondary is full of ball hawks and that could be the tipping point. In a game that's a toss-up, I'll basically flip a coin and take the Saints at home.

Prediction: Saints 27, Vikings 24

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: AFC Championship Game - Jets at Colts

Championship Sunday begins with CBS' pregame coverage at 2:00pm ET, live from Indianapolis. Immediately following the pregame show, the Jets will battle the Colts for a chance to go to Super Bowl XLIV in Miami.

New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts, 3:00pm ET, CBS
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth.

The Jets are certainly the Cinderella of this ball, the only team playing for a chance at the Super Bowl that didn't have a first round bye. The team is clicking on all cylinders, behind a coach that is full of arrogance and confidence, which is translating to his squad's on-field play. They shocked the world when they beat a Chargers team that many thought could win the Super Bowl and will try to do it again Sunday.

But the Colts will be ready. San Diego played undoubtedly their worst game of the season last Sunday when they fell flat against New York. The Colts have something to prove. Not only do they want to show the Jets that it will be much harder to stun the world in Indy, but they also want to shut up everyone who said resting the starters was a bad idea and would backfire.

While Darrelle Revis is the star of the Jets' defense and will be charged with shutting down Reggie Wayne, the Colts have other receiving weapons. Pierre Garcon has emerged as a legitimate top target for Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the game. I see an outcome similar to when Revis absolutely locked down Randy Moss earlier this year, but Wes Welker still caught 15 balls for almost 200 yards.

Mark Sanchez will be forced to do something in this game. So far, the "Sanchise" has only had to manage the action, but if the Jets fall behind it will be up to the former USC QB to carry the load. It's been a great year for the rookie, but I don't think he's ready for that type of pressure. We've seen what happens when he starts forcing passes and it could be much of the same on Sunday for the Airplanes.

Prediction: Colts 35, Jets 17

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pucci's NFL Mock Draft, Version 1.0: Picks 11-20

Returning is Senior NFL Draft analyst Michael Pucci, who brings us the second of a continuing series of posts previewing the 2010 NFL draft class. In this mock, Pucci tells us who will be drafted with picks 11-20.

11. Denver Broncos (from Chicago) – Dan Williams, NT
This may seem as a little bit of a reach here and many believe Alabama’s Rolando McClain is going to be the Broncos' pick come April. Last season the Broncos made the switch to a 3-4 defense. They started off playing very well in the trenches but as the season went on their group of underachievers faltered, leading to their 26th overall ranked rush defense. Take a look at the Ponies' starting defensive line from a season ago; defensive ends Ryan McBeam and Kenny Peterson (combined 1 sack, 1 FF, 65 tackles) along with veteran nose tackle Ron Fields who added 37 tackles but was consistently pushed back in the run game down the stretch. Coach McDaniels couldn’t help but notice the effect a dominate NT can have on a game when he was in New England and don’t be surprised if he makes the push to bring in either Williams or Alabama’s Mt. Cody. At 6’3 and 320 pounds Williams is a high effort player who possesses the strength and mean streak needed to become a premium nose tackle in the NFL. While Williams does need to work on his quickness, his ability to gobble up blockers on the inside will be coveted this spring. With teams like the Steelers, Chargers and Jets all in the market for a nose tackle, Dan Williams stock will rise considerably.

12. Miami Dolphins – CJ Spiller, RB
A pass rusher is also a strong possibility here as Bill Parcells has taken six linebackers in the first round since 1993, but the Fins won't be impressed by Michigan’s Brandon Graham or USF’s Jason Pierre-Paul enough to use their 12th overall pick on either prospect. Ricky Williams is going to be 33 and Ronnie Brown is in a contract year after another season ending injury, thus opening the door for the elusive Clemson product, CJ Spiller. The Dolphins run the ball more than any other team in football and I foresee them using this pick to land this drafts most explosive playmaker at the running back position. Spiller is dynamite with the ball in his hands and can break off a huge play from anywhere on the field. CJ has excellent speed and pass catching abilities which will set him apart from Miami’s other backs. Even if they choose to bring back Ronnie Brown I don’t see the Fins passing up on the Clemson speedster.

Fantasy Impact – CJ spiller will be coming into a good situation with a run heavy scheme and a top notch offensive line, and will contribute in PPR formats no matter what the Dolphins do with Ricky and Ronnie. If the Fins bring back Ronnie Brown I wouldn’t put much stock into Spiller in 2010, but he would be a must own player for anyone who uses a 3rd or 4th round pick on Brown. Look for him to go around pick 120 in standard formats. If they don’t re-sign Ronnie Brown, CJ jumps into the 5th or 6th round and can be expected to produce 800-1,000 yards from scrimmage and 5-7 touchdowns. For Dynasty leaguers expect Spiller to go around pick 40 in all league formats.

13. San Francisco 49ers – Brandon Graham, DE/OLB
Last year the 49ers made great strides on the defensive side of the ball under Coach Singletary but they did rank 21st against the pass, so look for the 49ers to land a top pass rusher here. Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson played very well but only managed to record 11.5 sacks combined in 2009; Michigan’s Brandon Graham will immediately increase sack production from the OLB position. Graham was a relentless pass rusher at Michigan, and consistently beat double teams to record 10.5 sacks for the Wolverines last season while forcing two fumbles. Graham has a powerful burst off the snap and fights until the play is called dead which will appeal to defensive minded Coach Singletary. At 6’2 and 265 pounds, Graham has shown the athleticism needed to succeed as an OLB in a 3-4 set or as a DE in a traditional 4-3. Brandon Graham should contribute right away as an edge pass rusher. Concerns about his lack of height may hurt his draft stock, but he has the talent to be a top 5 pick. As a result the 49ers will pass over an offensive tackle with this selection for the explosive Graham. Also, if Dan Williams is still available here he’ll end up in the city by the bay.

14. Seattle Seahawks – Bruce Campbell, OT
In 2009 the Seahawks' offensive line was unable to protect their quarterbacks; I believe Matt Hasselbeck is still having nightmares about the beating he took. They allowed 41 sacks and that number needs to decrease if they plan on having a successful passing attack. Bruce Campbell is extremely athletic at the tackle position with excellent footwork. While he does need to increase his body mass he has the prototypical frame too do so at 6’6, 310. Campbell is a natural pass protector and his draft stock could rise with a stellar combine making him a possible top 10 pick. A long list of injury concerns and lack of experience should allow the Seahawks to snag their anchor LT with the 14th overall pick in this year’s draft. If the Seahawks aren’t convinced Campbell can stay healthy I still believe this pick will be used on the offensive. Look for Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga to go here or uber talented wide receiver Dez Bryant.

15. New York Giants – Rolando McClain, MLB
When Steve Spagnuolo left the Giants prior to the 2009 season there was talk of a fall off in the G-Men’s production. That subsided when Jerry Reese brought in free agents DL Chris Canty, WLB Michael Boley, DT Rocky Benard and 2nd round draft pick OLB Clint Sintim. So what happened to the Giants defense that led to a ranking of 30th in defensive scoring giving up just shy of 27 points per game in 2009? It doesn’t matter who is at fault now but many issues must be addressed for the Giants to contend in the cut-throat NFC East. Choosing Alabama’s Rolando McClain with their first round pick is a start in the right direction. As a three year starter for the Crimson Tide this junior middle linebacker firmly entrenched himself as the nation’s most dominant presence in the middle. McClain is highly instinctual and can play sideline to sideline, matched with his rare blend of size and speed (6’4 253 and a projected 4.5 40 yard dash) McClain projects as the replacement for Antonio Pierce even though he can play all linebacker spots. While he must work on his pass coverage and block shedding, McClain has great study habits and is highly cerebral, easily making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Tom Coughlin will be ecstatic to land his future defensive field general in Rolando McClain, and he would be a starter for the Giants defense from day one. There is a good chance McClain will increases his draft stock leading up to the 2010 draft and he may end up in Denver or Miami. If so, look for the G-men to target Florida MLB Brandon Spikes or UCLA DT Brian Price with this pick.

16. Tennessee Titans – Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
The Titans are getting very old and losing production from the DE position. Kyle Vanden Bosch is 31 and is coming off a season where he recorded only three sacks and William Hayes is not the answer. As a team the Titans only produced 32 quarterback sacks and ranked 31st in pass defense a year ago, so look for the Titans to address the DE position with this pick in April. Jason Pierre-Paul has some room to grow at 6’6, 260 pounds, and has more upside than anyone at his position in this year’s draft which will cause the Titans to skip over Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan. Pierre-Paul is a natural pass rusher with an explosive first step and makes good reads at the line of scrimmage making him a constant disturbance in opposing teams passing and running attacks. At times Pierre-Paul struggles with double teams and needs to work on his pass rushing moves, but defensive line coach Jim Washburn will help to develop those particular skills. While Pierre-Paul only played one season at USF (after a stellar junior college career) his potential will catapult him into the mid-1st round and he should make an immediate impact on the Titans' front seven.

17. San Francisco 49ers (from Carolina) – Bryan Bulaga, OT
In my eyes Joe Staley is the only notable lineman on the 49ers squad, and they struggled mightily when he went down last season. By addressing the pass rush with the 13th overall pick the 49ers can find their bookend tackle to pair with Staley. Bryan Bulaga would have been the second tackle taken in this year’s draft if not for his thyroid condition that plagued him for the first couple games of the Hawkeye’s 2009 season. At 6’5, 315 pounds, Bulaga has shown great footwork, leverage and reach from the left tackle position, easily manhandling defenders in the pass game. While Bulaga must improve on his run blocking, he has a serious nasty streak and his game should easily translate into the NFL. Bulaga played LT at Iowa and projects as a LT in the NFL but the 49ers would use him on the right side of their offensive line which may take some time getting used too. If the 49ers stick with their spread offense, Bulaga will be a perfect fit as he is light on his feet. He moves well laterally, so expect him to start right away at the RT position for Coach Singletary’s offense.

18. Pittsburgh Steelers – Terrence Cody, NT
Casey Hampton will be a free agent this offseason and has shown signs of age recently. This being said, the Steelers will be targeting a replacement at the nose tackle position with this pick. Hampton will be leaving a huge hole in the steel curtain; at 6’5, 360, Alabama’s Terrence Cody should fill that void rather easily. Mt. Cody is dominating at stopping the run; he consistently takes on double teams and has shown the ability to make lateral adjustments to make the tackle. While Cody can push back an offensive line, don’t expect him to record many sacks or play on 3rd down. At this point he will be most effective in Pittsburgh’s base 3-4 scheme and find playing time on running downs and on the goal line. Nose tackles with Mt. Cody's size and strength don’t come along very often but they do carry risk; many players of Cody’s stature have had problems staying healthy and contributing in passing situations, and the impressive Mt. Cody will be no exception. He has had issues with his weight in the past and will need to work harder with his conditioning to reach his full potential. All in all this is a great pick for the Steelers; they get a proven winner with great potential who fits their defensive scheme perfectly.

19. Atlanta Falcons – Brian Price, DT
The Falcons took a step back last year, they need to improve on the defensive side of the ball and UCLA’s Brian Price is the best defensive player available at this point in the draft. While secondary help is the dirty birds' most glaring need, there will be an ample amount of solid corners available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of this year’s draft, making this choice quite easy for GM Thomas Dimitroff. At 6’2, 300 pounds, Brian Price is very much like current Falcons defensive tackle Jordan Babineaux and together they will wreak havoc on the interiors of opposing offensive lines. Price has very good agility for his size, displaying excellent footwork and a very high motor. While Price has a powerful initial burst which generates ample leverage he can get caught up on blocks and will need to improve his strength to become a dominate defensive tackle in the NFL. Price fits the Falcons defense very well and will be plugged into the starting line up early in 2010, if not right out of training camp. If Texas’s Earl Thomas impresses at the combine he is a strong possibility here.

20. Houston Texans – Earl Thomas, DB
The Texans' offense has become a juggernaut and should be a top five unit next season, but to get over 10 wins and reach the playoffs they will need to improve their defense, and secondary is a glaring need. Houston gave up too many big plays last season and Bernard Pollard is their only playmaker back there, seeing that Dunta Robinson forgot how to play football while he was holding out for more cash. Earl Thomas is a perfect fit for Houston; he’ll be an instant fan favorite as he is a former Longhorn and has the ability to be a playmaker at both cornerback and safety. From the strong safety position last season Thomas recorded 71 tackles with five of them being of the yards lost variety. He also snagged eight interceptions while defending 24 passes, making himself a finalist for the Thorpe Award. Thomas combines great speed and change of direction skills with above average hands to be a constant disturbance in offense’s aerial attacks. He has solid tackling technique but may struggle in the NFL tackling larger backs and tight ends and can get lost in the crowd when playing by the line of scrimmage. For these reasons I foresee Thomas making the switch to cornerback (he certainly has the skills too) or playing at the free safety position. With a strong combine and pro day Thomas may find himself going in the top 15. If so, look for Houston to trade down to a team salivating over Dez Bryant.

A few lucky breaks aside, Jets have earned their spot in AFC title tilt

The Jets shocked the San Diego Chargers and stunned pretty much every non-Jets fan in the country when they went to Southern California and won yesterday, advancing to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1998.

You have to give credit where it is due, so I’ll heap some praise on rookie head coach Rex Ryan, whose “bravado” has certainly inspired his team and given them a new attitude. Granted, all that trash talk and confidence means nothing when you don’t back it up on the field but the Jets have done that and playing with a chip on one’s shoulder is never a bad thing.

What’s perhaps funniest about Ryan’s arrogance, though, is that just a few weeks ago he stood in front of reporters and said that the Jets had no shot at making the playoffs. The team had just lost to Atlanta thanks to a late Mark Sanchez interception and Ryan thought New York was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Then he said the Jets should be favorites to win the Super Bowl.

But now we can throw all that out the window. The Jets, as unlikely as it is, are headed to Indianapolis to challenge a Colts team that is largely responsible for “Gang Green” even being in the playoffs in the first place. It was in Week 16 that Colts head coach Jim Caldwell pulled his starters in the second half of a game against the Jets, forfeiting a shot at a perfect season. The Jets won, then pummeled a Bengals team in Week 17 that also rested their starters, locking up a playoff berth.

In a rematch between the two, the Jets squashed the Bengals in the first round of the playoffs. Then the Chargers played their worst game of the season yesterday; full of questionable play calls and decisions by San Diego coach Norv Turner. That’s not to take anything away from the Jets, whose defense is on par with the Vikings and Saints, but the Chargers had plenty of opportunities to put the Jets away in the first half and couldn’t capitalize.

Coming into the season with a rookie quarterback with only 16 college games under his belt and a first-year head coach, no one could have thought the Jets would be one game away from the Super Bowl. But the Jets are there, mostly because they’ve taken advantage of the opportunities they’ve been given. We’ll see if the Colts are so generous this time around.

Friday, January 15, 2010

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Divisional Round – Jets at Chargers

The 2010 NFL Playoffs continue this weekend with action Saturday and Sunday. After a 2-2 performance in predicting last weekend’s results, I’ll gaze into my crystal ball once again and try to prognosticate the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. CBS takes over Sunday’s coverage with the final game of the weekend as the Jets head out west to take on the Chargers.

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers, 4:40pm ET, CBS
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth.

With all the “bravado” and talk spewing out of head coach Rex Ryan’s mouth, you would think the Jets were the 2007 Patriots. I understand firing up your team, but let’s be serious here, Rexy. The Jets were handed the playoffs after two teams laid down for them and then beat a full-strength Bengals squad that wasn’t very good anyway.

The Jets can certainly run the ball, there’s no denying that, and the Chargers aren’t great at stopping the run. When the Jets have been good, though, it’s been despite Mark Sanchez, not because of him. In last weekend’s victory over the Bengals, the “Sanchise” – as the often idiotic New York media dubbed him after winning three games – was very Trent Dilfer-esque. He was incredibly efficient, completing 12 of 15 passes, but didn’t have to do much.

The Chargers will find ways to make Sanchez win this game. Knowing that Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene will be carrying the load for the Jets, San Diego will key in on the rushing attack and force the Airplanes to pass the ball. That could spell disaster for the J-E-T-S, Jets Jets Jets.

Sanchez finished the regular season with a QB Rating of 63 and tossed three interceptions or more in a game four times, with one of those games being a five pick effort against the Bills. The Jets have a strong defense but with all the weapons San Diego boasts, they should be able to score on Gang Green. It will be up to New York’s rookie quarterback to win the game, and I don’t think that will happen.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Jets 14

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Divisional Round – Cowboys at Vikings

The 2010 NFL Playoffs continue this weekend with action Saturday and Sunday. After a 2-2 performance in predicting last weekend’s results, I’ll gaze into my crystal ball once again and try to prognosticate the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Sunday’s coverage kicks off at noon with FOX NFL Sunday, followed by the Cowboys and Vikings from Minnesota.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, 1:00pm ET, FOX
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth. Pam Oliver and Chris Myers on the sidelines.

After ending their 14-year journey to win a playoff game, the Cowboys are looking like one of the strongest teams left in the dance. Tony Romo is finally playing as well as everyone claimed he was capable of for the past few years and all is well is Jerryland.

Last week, “America’s Team” crushed an Eagles squad that many, including myself, thought was capable of going to the Super Bowl. But now Romo and Company head to Minnesota, where one of the best defenses in the NFL awaits. And lest we forget about that fun-loving, gun-slinging quarterback that plays with a childlike enthusiasm and always has fun out there, Brett Favre.

Get ready for the myriad comparisons between Romo and Favre that the media will pound into our heads. The two are similar, basically because they both scramble a lot and throw careless interceptions, but it’s okay because they’re just trying to make a play. And don’t ever forget how much fun they have!

Rant aside, the Vikings are a more complete team than the Cowpokes. Both Dallas and Minnesota have big weapons at wide receiver, but the group of Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian might be better than Miles Austin, Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams. The Cowboys defense is no joke, but the Vikings are a bit better. Both have threats on special teams.

One of the keys, though, will be the running game. The Cowboys have shifted to a pass-first offense thanks to Romo’s more consistent play and young receivers stepping up. While the Vikings are pass-heavy, (duh, they have the GUNSLINGER!) they feature one of the best running backs in the game in Adrian Peterson. If Minnesota head coach Brad Childress is smart, he’ll pull the reigns in and try to win this one on the ground and not let his quarterback make any of his Favre-ian mistakes, like throwing a crucial pick while having so much fun out there.

Prediction: Vikings 27, Cowboys 24

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Divisional Round – Ravens at Colts

The 2010 NFL Playoffs continue this weekend with action Saturday and Sunday. After a 2-2 performance in predicting last weekend’s results, I’ll gaze into my crystal ball once again and try to prognosticate the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Following the early Cardinals-Saints game on FOX, CBS takes over with the Ravens and Colts, preceded by pregame coverage in studio.

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts, Saturday, 8:15pm ET, CBS
Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf in the booth.

The Baltimore Ravens have been on a hot run thanks to the legs of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee. Their defense isn’t too shabby either and Joe Flacco doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. If there is one way to beat the Colts, it is by trying to outscore them because we’ve seen over the years that Peyton Manning is like a great prosecutor… no defense can stop him.

Lame puns aside, this will be an interesting matchup between teams with contrasting styles. The Ravens are an old-school style squad, relying on defense and the rushing attack to win. The Colts, on the other hand, are a pass-first offense with a defense that isn’t great but can hold its own. While Baltimore has a young quarterback who is very good at managing the game, the Colts feature four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

I would expect Ray Rice to run all over the place on Indy’s defense. But the game will likely be in the hands of Joe Flacco if the Ravens are trying to come from behind. The unibrowed one certainly has the experience but I think it will come down to who will perform better in the clutch. That almost assuredly will be Peyton Manning.

Prediction: Colts 31, Ravens 21

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Divisional Round – Cardinals at Saints

The 2010 NFL Playoffs continue this weekend with action Saturday and Sunday. After a 2-2 performance in predicting last weekend’s results, I’ll gaze into my crystal ball once again and try to prognosticate the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Saturday’s coverage begins on FOX with their FOX NFL Sunday pregame show beginning before the Arizona-New Orleans contest.

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints, Saturday, 4:30pm ET, FOX
Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston in the booth. Tony Siragusa on the field.

The Arizona Cardinals were an offensive juggernaut in their wild victory over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. Even though they won the game with a defensive touchdown, for the most part their defense was offensive.

The Cardinals allowed Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball at will and had no answer for a Green Bay offense that was absolutely on fire until they finally forced a fumble in the overtime. That could spell trouble heading into New Orleans, where the Saints and Drew Brees led the league in scoring this season.

The Saints match a strong offense with an impressive defense. The Cardinals were able to do almost anything they wanted against Green Bay, with Kurt Warner throwing five touchdown passes with only four incompletions. Things may be different this time around, though. The Saints were 3rd in the NFL with 26 interceptions this season and have an intimidating secondary.

It will certainly be an interesting battle between the efficient and prolific Kurt Warner and the Saints’ strong defense. What will probably tip this one in favor of New Orleans is the advantage their offense has over a weak-looking Arizona defense.

Prediction: Saints 34, Cardinals 24

Binghamton area Time Warner subscribers now receiving NBA TV HD

Perhaps you've noticed by now but if you happen to be living in the “Greater Binghamton area” and are a Time Warner Cable subscriber, NBA TV HD can now be found on channel 800. It will be included in the package that cable subscribers with a cable box receive.

The channel was previously only available on digital channel 558 for subscribers to Time Warner's Sports Tier. The high definition channel was made available after an agreement between the network and Time Warner to include it on the provider's basic digital cable service.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pucci's NFL Mock Draft, Version 1.0: Picks 1-10

Please welcome Senior NFL Draft analyst Michael Pucci, who brings us the first of a continuing series of posts previewing the 2010 NFL draft class. In his first mock, Pucci tells us who the top ten teams will select.

1. St. Louis Rams – Jimmy Clausen, QB
While Ndamukong Suh is a great talent, the St Louis Rams have strayed far from their days of the greatest show on turf. The first overall pick has become a very large investment in recent years combine that with Marc Bulger’s poor play and this choice becomes easier than it may seem. A new quarterback will spark some life into the fan base and hopefully this young football team, and the Rams need a quarterback with a big arm to stretch the field and open up holes for the ever courageous Steven Jackson. Clausen has a big arm and has played in Charlie Weis’s pro system at Notre Dame, many scouts consider him the most pro ready quarterback prospect in this year’s draft and that’s exactly what this team needs. The Rams only scored 17 touchdowns last season, forcing the hand of management to bring in the quarterback of the future.

2. Detroit Lions – Ndamukong Suh, DL
Quietly the Hello Kitty’s of the NFL have put together a potentially potent young offense. With last years first overall pick Mathew Stafford and reliable targets in Brandon Pettigrew, Kevin Smith and the always dangerous destroyer of worlds Calvin “Megatron” Johnson the Lion’s front brass can look away from the offensive side of the ball with this pick and take the most disruptive defensive player in this year’s draft class in the form of Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. While some may say left tackle is a glaring need for the Lion’s they seem to be confident in Jeff Backus protecting Stafford’s blind side, and there aren’t any enticing wide receiver prospects so this becomes a no brainer for the Lions as this boy named Suh will make an immediate impact on a defense that ranked last in the NFL.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Eric Berry, S
Last year the Bucs' defense was porous at best, ranking last in run defense, so Gerald McCoy is also a possibility here but Raheem Morris is their head coach. He is a former defensive backs coach, so do you really think he’ll pass on his very own Ed Reed? I don’t think so. Berry is projected to have 4.3 speed to go along with great instincts and some sticky hands, not to mention he can lay some lumber. Look for Berry to contribute immediately at both safety and cornerback as a rookie.

4. Washington Redskins – Russell Okung, OT
This pick will tell us a lot about what’s going on in Washington. Dan Snyder has been a pesky owner but has also shown that he wants to win which is a plus. If Snyder has completely handed over personnel decisions to Bruce Allen, the Skins’ first GM in 11 years, then no doubt about it Okung is the pick here. If Mike Shanahan wants to be successful implementing his zone blocking scheme the offensive line of the Skins’ must be addressed early and often in this years draft. Okung has size, speed, and good footwork at 6’5 305. Okung projects as the starting left tackle replacing veteran Chris Samuels. Okung will be Coach Shanahans choice, and the Ram’s will make this decision easier by taking the best quarterback prospect off the board in Jimmy Clausen. Russel Okung is the obvious choice over Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford.

5. Kansas City Chiefs – Taylor Mays, S
The Chiefs were hoping Okung would still be available here; offensive line is their most glaring need as they struggled to protect their 60 million dollar investment last season, quarterback Matt Cassel. Branden Albert would have also benefited from a move back to his natural guard position. As a result look for the Chiefs to try trading down a couple of picks in the 1st round to snag the likes of Rutgers Anthony Davis or Maryland’s Bruce Campbell. None the less, Mays is a worthy consolation prize, when head coach Todd Haley was a member of the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff he was around physical prototype safety Adrian Wilson who has a very similar stature and playing style as USC’s Taylor Mays. At 6’3 and about 230 pounds Mays runs a 4.4 40 yard dash and will sparkle at the NFL Combine and his Pro-day causing his stock to increase dramatically leading up to this years draft.

6. Seattle Seahawks – Sam Bradford, QB
Pete Carroll is leaving USC at the right time, and just so happens he’s ending up in the right place. The NFC West is weak, and if Kurt Warner retires the division will be up for grabs. Usually new regimes mean new quarterbacks. Bradford is a smart play caller with a quick release but will need to learn how to read and react to defenses at the line of scrimmage to succeed in the NFL. The Seahawks will be wise to retain veteran Matt Hasselbeck who has one year remaining on his current contract for about 5.75 million, he may very well be he highest paid teacher in America next year. While Bradford's Oklahoma teammate Gerald McCoy is the best player available the Hawks’ will not pass up on their next franchise quarterback.

7. Oakland Raiders – Carlos Dunlap, DE
No doubt about it, Jemarcus Russell will be a casualty of the upcoming uncapped season. This being so undead AL is going to want a new signal caller, but the crypt keeper missed out on both Jimmy Clausen and Sam Bradford, He’s obviously having a temper tantrum in his war room at this point. Now we all know how irrational Mr. Davis can be, especially when he doesn’t get his way so this pick shouldn’t come as a surprise. Gerald McCoy should be the obvious pick here and Maryland’s Bruce Campbell is also a possibility but this isn’t an organization that makes good decisions. Because undead AL doesn’t have character concerns when building his minion army he will be bedazzled by Dunlap’s physical tools and he’ll be giddy with delight when his scouts tell him that Carlos Dunlap could be his very own version of Mario Williams. Of course they found this information by reading sports blogs and internet scouting reports.

8. Cleveland Browns – Gerald McCoy, DL
In Mike Holmgren's first draft he gets a gift in the form of disruptive defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. Oklahoma’s star lineman at 6’4 296 pounds is very versatile and can play DE in the browns current 3-4 alignment or DT in a traditional 4-3. With both quarterbacks off the board Holmgren is able to take the best player available and McCoy will help a unit that was 28th in the league against the run a year ago. McCoy is a natural leader and a hard worker which will make him a favorite of coach Eric Mangini who has been known to have an no nonsense approach.

9. Buffalo Bills – Anthony Davis, OT
Last year the Buffalo Bills ranked 30th in passing, managing barely over 16 points per game, their offensive line was mostly to blame. While most of the nation were lucky enough to never have to watch the Buffalo Bills play football, unfortunately many of us in the north east had to endure the sights and sounds that were the Buffalo Bills offensive getting bullied around every Sunday. Davis is shooting up draft boards and is very athletic at 6’6 320 pounds, Davis is very aggressive and drives defenders into the ground in the run game, he consistently finishes plays. Too reach his pro bowl potential he’ll have to improve his technique, he’s very susceptible to double moves. Davis will join Brandon Wood (28th overall) and Andy Levitre (51st overall,) last years early draft picks, building the foundation for a very serviceable Offensive line.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars – Joe Haden, CB
Ya didn’t see that one coming did ya? Many people think the Jags’ will take a Florida Gator in the 1st round. Well I agree, but this gator won’t be kissing babies and preaching to convicts, this gator will be putting wide receivers behind bars for real. No need to panic you 243 Jaguar fans out there you’ll get your savior in the 2nd round, no need to rush. In a conference where you’ll be playing against Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub at least twice per season, secondary play will be key to success. Joe Haden is this draft class’s closest thing to a shut down corner, with projected 4.3 speed, great leaping ability, and solid tackle technique, Haden may very well outplay his draft slot. Dez Bryant or Rolando McClain are also strong possibilities here, but hedging their bet with a Florida guy will take away some of the sting if the Jags can’t land Tebow in the 2nd round, but if they can snag both players, 50% stadium capacity is doable.

Mark McGwire admits he took steroids, also reveals the world is round

Mark McGwire finally admitted today in a statement that he used steroids for the majority of his playing career. If you are in any way surprised by this “revelation” then you must be a complete idiot.

McGwire says in his statement that, “I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago. I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected. I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize.” It’s funny because he was able to do this five years ago, but he chose not to when in a congressional hearing he said he wasn’t there to talk about the past, even though the exact point of the hearing was to talk about the past.

I’ll let that one slide, though, because it’s mostly a mistake in word choice. He probably regrets not just coming clean during the hearings. But then he, like so many others, blames the atmosphere of the game instead of himself.

After saying that he regrets taking steroids and that it was a mistake, he adds, “Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.” So now he’s basically blaming his actions on the era he played in. Does that remind anyone of A-Rod’s “loosey goosey” talk?

In the end, this admission likely won’t change McGwire’s Hall of Fame chances since he’s already far away from the doorstep. Some would make that case that honesty and remorse can go a long way, but not when you’ve been ignoring it for a decade and acting as though you were totally clean.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reports: Reds close to landing Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman

Sources are reporting that the Cincinnati Reds are close to signing cuban defector Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $30 million deal. The pitcher had been linked to the Blue Jays, Red Sox Marlins and Angels, but never the Reds, until today.

While many agree that Chapman has the stuff to be a big league success, including a 100+ MPH fastball, others think his control will be a major issue.

$6 million per year is certainly a lot to give an unproven pitcher who is only 22 years old. But for Cincinnati it is a good move. It could definitely blow up in their faces, but it's a worthwhile risk for a franchise that desperately needs to improve.

Friday, January 8, 2010

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Wild Card Weekend – Packers at Cardinals

The 2010 NFL playoffs begin this Saturday. I’ll gaze into my crystal ball and try to predict the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Sunday, CBS starts things off with NFL Today at noon, followed by their coverage of the Ravens and Patriots squaring off, while FOX gets things going with FOX NFL Sunday at 4pm before the Packers-Cardinals game.

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, 4:30pm, FOX
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the booth. Pam Oliver on the sidelines.

If my earlier prediction of the Eagles beating the Cowboys holds true, the table will already be set by the time this one gets underway. The storyline will have been jammed down our throats that, should the Packers win, they’ll head to Minnesota to face Brett Favre and the Vikings one more time.

The Packers shellacked the Cardinals last week. Once considered one of the worst in football, Green Bay’s offensive line has improved drastically, allowing Ryan Grant to actually look like a real running back again. Aaron Rodgers has been spectacular all season and is making Ted Thompson look smart for not taking Brett Favre back after he waffled on the Cheeseheads in 2008.

The injury to Anquan Boldin will play a big part in this game for the defending NFC champions. Boldin isn’t expected to play but even if he does, he won’t be at 100%. Steve Breaston hasn’t been the same receiver that he was in 2008, which will all amount to extra defensive pressure on Larry Fitzgerald.

So get ready for Favre against the Packers Part III, because Green Bay should win for the second week in a row against the Cardinals.

Prediction: Packers 35, Cardinals 20

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Wild Card Weekend – Ravens at Patriots

The 2010 NFL playoffs begin this Saturday. I’ll gaze into my crystal ball and try to predict the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Sunday, CBS starts things off with NFL Today at noon, followed by their coverage of the Ravens and Patriots squaring off, while FOX gets things going with FOX NFL Sunday at 4pm before the Packers-Cardinals game.

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots, Sunday, 1:00pm, CBS
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth.

The Patriots suffered a huge loss when Wes Welker was injured last Sunday against the Texans. While Julian Edelman can run Welker’s routes, he can’t do all the same things. Welker is fast and agile, and earns a lot of yardage after the catch. He’s basically made a living in the NFL running crossing routes just beyond the line of scrimmage.

It will be interesting to see how New England adjusts without Welker, their leading wide receiver. Randy Moss is obviously their biggest threat but the Ravens’ defense can focus more on him with Welker missing. The running game will likely be important for the Patriots, with Laurence Maroney playing great and Fred Taylor returning from an injury he suffered at the hands of this same Baltimore defense.

The Ravens have played sort of an up-and-down year. At times, they’ve looked great with a dominating defense and an incredible run game. Other times, they’ve looked sloppy, with an old defense and weak receivers.

Lately, though, we’ve seen Ray Rice emerge as one of the game’s best runners and Willis McGahee return to the same form as early in his career, when he too was one of the best in the business. Derrick Mason is again having a good but underappreciated season and Joe Flacco, when on point, does not make many mistakes.

While it’s always crazy to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, I think I’ll do just that. The Patriots defense isn’t as mighty as it once was and the Ravens, although a little older and less dominating, are still one of the better defenses in the league. I could see Baltimore’s two-headed rushing attack running through New England and on to the second round.

Prediction: Ravens 17, Patriots 14

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Wild Card Weekend – Eagles at Cowboys

The 2010 NFL playoffs begin this Saturday. I’ll gaze into my crystal ball and try to predict the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Saturday’s coverage starts at 4pm with NBC’s Football Night in America before a doubleheader on the network.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys, Saturday, 8:00pm, NBC
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth in the booth. Andrea Kremer on the sidelines.

Coming into last weekend’s matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys, I thought the Eagles were the best team in the NFC and my favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. Then the Cowboys squashed Philadelphia.

While the Cowboys have shaken their December ghosts, they still haven’t won a playoff game since Troy Aikman was under center. Tony Romo’s playoff memories include botching the hold on a field goal attempt, which is once again a duty of his this year, and tossing a crucial interception against the Giants two seasons ago. But this Cowboys team is different than any in the last few years. It’s not about their big stars, like Roy Williams and Marion Barber. It’s been more, this year anyway, about guys like Miles Austin and a team effort.

The Eagles are also a bit different. Brian Westbrook hasn’t been what makes the team go. For a good chunk of the season, Westbrook was injured and the Eagles shifted their game to more of a big play offense. Desean Jackson added an explosiveness that Philadelphia hasn’t had, both returning kicks and as a wide receiver. Michael Vick, while receiving plenty of media coverage, was mostly a non-factor but has been a bigger part of the Eagles’ offense in the latter parts of the season.

The Cowboys have beaten the Eagles twice this season. The old adage claims that the hardest thing to do in football is beat the same team three times in a season. I think that will hold true and the Eagles come out on top in the House That Jerry Jones Built.

Prediction: Eagles 34, Cowboys 27

2010 NFL Playoff Preview: Wild Card Weekend – Jets at Bengals

The 2010 NFL playoffs begin this Saturday. I’ll gaze into my crystal ball and try to predict the outcome of each game, while also providing you with an in-depth preview and broadcast information. Saturday’s coverage starts at 4pm with NBC’s Football Night in America before a doubleheader on the network.

New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, 4:30pm, NBC
Tom Hammond, Joe Theissman and Joe Gibbs in the booth. Tiki Barber on the sidelines.

We all saw what happened Sunday night when these two faced in the regular season finale. The Jets absolutely dominated the game from start to finish, but for the most part it was the Jets’ first string doing so against the Bengals’ bench players. Carson Palmer and the rest of Cincinnati’s offense did not look good while they were out there but the team may have been saving some of its best stuff for a rematch with the Jets, which they knew would happen if the Jets won.

Now we get the real thing.

The Jets have one of the best defenses in the National Football League and one of the best cornerbacks in the game in Darrelle Revis. Cincinnati’s game, however, doesn’t revolve around the passing attack anymore. Sure, Chad Ochocinco is still a big threat but the 2009 Bengals have been all about Cedric Benson and the rushing game. The key to their success on Saturday will be if they can get Benson and his backfield mates Larry Johnson and Bernard Scott going.

One of the problems for the Jets this season has been their passing game, more specifically the inconsistent play of Mark Sanchez and the usual ball-dropping by Braylon Edwards. When the Jets have looked good it’s because Sanchez has played smart, not throwing careless picks and protecting the ball, while letting Thomas Jones do the heavy lifting.

As much as Sanchez can be the ultimate rookie in terms of making mistakes, he does seem to play well in the big game situations. He beat the Patriots in his first shot at them early this season then stumbled under the weight of high expectations. All he needs to do now is manage the game, the infamous quarterback credo, and allow the defense and running backs to do the hard work.

As good as the Bengals are and as much adversity as they’ve overcome as a team, they’ve also played very poorly against some bad teams. While Cincinnati swept the Steelers and Ravens, they lost to the Raiders and barely beat the Chiefs, Lions and Browns. I’m sure the Bengals will play much better than they did last week but I see them coming up short in Cincinnati.

Prediction: Jets 21, Bengals 17

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A look ahead and some shameless promotion

Thursday I will have previews and predictions of the two Saturday NFL playoff games, Jets @ Bengals and Eagles @ Cowboys. Friday will bring a look at the Sunday games, Ravens @ Patriots and Packers @ Cardinals.

While you're waiting in eager anticipation of my prognostications, don't forget to follow me on Twitter or join the Facebook page, complete with its new URL.

If you're a futbol enthusiast, make sure you check out our Los Angeles correspondent and Senior Soccer Analyst Josh Garcia's 2010 World Cup Preview series.

Six Picks for Sunday - 2009 Final Results

Another year has come and gone for our Six Picks for Sunday competition. The grand champion, Stuart Millstein, already had it locked up coming into Week 17 but we didn't pull our starters and we played out the meaningless finale. Here are the results from last week:

Tony's Picks

Stuart's Picks

The Rooster's Picks

The Rooster led the way with a 4-2 week while Stuart and I came in at 3-3. Here are the overall standings and final results for the season:

Stuart (64-32) CHAMPION
The Rooster (54-42)
Tony (44-52)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

World Cup 2010: Volume 2 - The Group of Death

Our old friend and Senior Soccer Analyst Josh Garcia is back with the second of a continuing series examining the 2010 World Cup.

In every world cup drawing, there is almost always a “group of death.” This group usually consists of four very strong teams that could easily contend and go deep into the tournament. For South Africa, it’s Group G, which consists of Portugal, North Korea, Ivory Coast, and five-time World Cup champion Brazil.

North Korea is probably the weakest team on paper but in their only other tournament appearance they reached the quarterfinals in a Cinderella-type run, beating Italy in what some people consider the biggest World Cup upset ever. The North Koreans are a hard-nosed group who provide flashes of excitement with Hong Yong-Jo and Mun In-Guk.

Speaking of flashes of excitement, Group G is home to one of the most exciting players to watch in South Africa. Christiano Ronaldo, who is a lightning rod in the world of soccer, will try to bring Portugal to the forefront. Love him or hate him (for most it’s the latter) Ronaldo is a show on his own. The Portuguese have no shortage of talent and their coach is the former coach of host nation South Africa. It will be a heated contest when the Portuguese face their rivals, Brazil. This will be an exciting one to watch with a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs.”

Brazil is to the World Cup as the New York Yankees are to baseball. They win, period. Brazil is the only country to qualify and compete in every world cup amassing a 64-14-14 record. Of course Brazil is favored to win it all for the sixth time, but that’s like saying Roger Federer is a favorite at Wimbledon. (I mean, duuhhh.) They have a team full of stars and they can only beat themselves or have a really bad day.

The surprise of the group might just be the Ivory Coast, who in my eyes are the most dangerous African team in the tournament. They will have home field advantage, which makes them a group favorite. Les Elephantes have a handful of stars including one of the best strikers in the world, Didier Drogba. This is definitely a team to keep your eye on and their match against Portugal on June 15th might be one of the best matches of the group stage and might determine who moves out of group play along with Brazil.

Monday, January 4, 2010

NFL Power Rankings: Final edition

The final week of the 2009 NFL regular season is in the books and with it comes the final NFL Power Rankings of the year. The Colts hold on to the top spot while the Chargers slide up to number two.

1. Colts (14-2) [1]
2. Chargers (13-3) [3]
3. Saints (13-3) [2]
4. Vikings (12-4) [6]
5. Packers (11-5) [8]
6. Cowboys (11-5) [9]
7. Eagles (11-5) [4]
8. Cardinals (10-6) [5]
9. Patriots (10-6) [7]
10. Bengals (10-6) [10]
11. Ravens (9-7) [12]
12. Texans (9-7) [13]
13. Jets (9-7) [14]

I can’t drop the Colts because they’ve lost two in a row because they weren’t playing their first team for most of yesterday’s loss to the Bills and for half of the game against the Jets… The Saints slip because they’ve lost three in a row, two of which they were fighting hard to win. I know it seems to contradict my thoughts on the Colts but the Saints, to me, were the weaker of the two teams all season long and ending their year in that fashion can’t be good heading into the playoffs… Part of me wanted to slide the Chargers all the way up to number one but then the “resting their starters” thing popped into my head again. San Diego, though, may be the favorite to win the Super Bowl right now… The Vikings bounced back, albeit against a pathetic Giants squad… The Packers are rolling and could face the Vikings in the playoffs if they beat Arizona this weekend and Philly beats Dallas, which would allow the mainstream media to rehash
all the tired “Brett against the Packers” storylines… The Cowboys have shaken their December ghosts and looked good again against the Eagles yesterday. They’ll host the birds this weekend in a rematch… Coming into this week I thought the Eagles were the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps it’s the Vikings or Packers… The Cardinals got stomped by Green Bay and will get their shot at vengeance this weekend when they host the Cheeseheads in Arizona… The Bengals looked terrible but may have been keeping some tricks up their sleeves for when they play the Jets again in the first round of the playoffs… I kept the Texans above the Jets for the simple reason that the Airplanes were handed a spot in the playoffs, facing a Colts team that laid down and then a Bengals team that basically did the same.

14. Steelers (9-7) [11]
15. Falcons (9-7) [16]
16. Titans (8-8) [17]
17. Panthers (8-8) [18]
18. 49ers (8-8) [22]
19. Broncos (8-8) [15]
20. Giants (8-8) [19]
21. Dolphins (7-9) [20]
22. Jaguars (7-9) [21]
23. Bears (7-9) [23]
24. Bills (6-10) [25]

The Steelers dropped because they were on the outer cusp of the playoffs and would have needed so much help to get in, even though they won this week… The Titans went 8-2 after a sad 0-6 start, but Chris Johnson made history. Vince Young has supplanted himself as the starting quarterback going forward… The Broncos and Giants were both world class disappointments this year. After great starts they both fell flat down the stretch… The Bills looked great yesterday but did it against the Colts’ second string team.

25. Browns (5-11) [26]
26. Raiders (5-11) [24]
27. Chiefs (4-12) [30]
28. Seahawks (5-11) [27]
29. Buccaneers (3-13) [28]
30. Redskins (4-12) [29]
31. Lions (2-14) [31]
32. Rams (1-15) [32]

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Six Picks for Sunday - Week Seventeen

Even though the standings are wrapped up for our Six Picks for Sunday competition, we're still going at it for the final week of the 2009-2010 season. As you know, these are determined by the six games with the closest spreads, although the games will be predicted straight up. Feel free to post your own picks in the comments section and for the up-to-date results and standings, click here.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Cleveland Browns - Browns
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys - Eagles
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions - Bears
Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Buccaneers
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals - Cardinals
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Miami Dolphins - Steelers

It's a hard week to pick games because of teams resting players, but some of these games involve playoff positioning... I'll take the Browns since they're hot... I think the Eagles are simply better than the Cowboys and both are still playing for a first-round playoff bye... The Bears should beat the Lions after their nice victory over the Vikings... Give me the Bucs, coming off their big win against the Saints... Packers and Cardinals is another game involving playoff positioning and a potential first-round bye, so I'll take the Cards at home... The Steelers are still fighting for an unlikely playoff spot, so I think they'll win but fall short of their ultimate goal, which is a spot in the tournament.