Monday, December 28, 2009

Seven AFC teams, two playoff spots, who makes it?

While the NFC playoff teams have already been determined (sorry Giants fans, that pathetic effort against Carolina proves you don't deserve a shot), there are still seven teams sitting at 8-7 and 7-8 with a shot at the AFC Wild Card spots.

After sitting at 4-6 five weeks ago, the Jets have somehow made their way back into the playoff picture and can clinch a Wild Card berth with a win against the Bengals at the Meadowlands, a game that will be played on Sunday night thanks to flex scheduling. New York was ninth in the AFC heading into Week 16, needing a loss by the Jaguars, Dolphins and Ravens to control their own destiny.

The Jets also needed to beat the previously undefeated Colts and, thanks to Jim Caldwell's decision to rest Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and other key starters with a 15-10 third-quarter lead, the Jets picked up a somewhat tainted 29-15 victory. As a Jets fan, I'll be the first to tell you I don't care how they won. A win is a win (is a win).

The Ravens, despite penalizing themselves to the point of exhaustion in their 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh, also control their own destiny thanks to Denver's loss at Philadelphia. Their job: Beat the Raiders to make the playoffs. Sounds easy, especially after the Browns beat Oakland by 14 points, but crazier things have happened.

Denver, Houston and Pittsburgh are also sitting at 8-7, hoping for either the Jets or Ravens to slip up. Denver needs to beat Kansas City and hope either the Jets or Ravens lose. They can also make it with a loss if the Jets, Ravens, Texans, Steelers and Jaguars ALL LOSE. Houston needs to beat the Pats and hope two of the teams ahead of them lose, while Pittsburgh needs three losses from the Jets, Ravens, Broncos or Texans and a win against Miami to get in. Confused yet?

It gets worse. If Jacksonville beats Cleveland and four of the five 8-7 teams lose, they are in. The Dolphins are the team with the worst chance at the playoffs, needing to beat the Steelers and have the Jets, Ravens, Texans and Jaguars lose (Jacksonville can also tie). The Denver-Kansas City result has no bearing on Miami's playoff hopes; if the Dolphins make it at 8-8 the Broncos will be the other Wild Card team no matter what.

Now that we have all the scenarios laid out, let's get to some predictions.

1:00 games:
1. The Steelers struggle on the road (2-5 away, 6-2 home) and were lucky to get past the Ravens, so I'm picking the Dolphins, essentially eliminating both teams. Five alive.
2. Jacksonville rolls Cleveland to keep their slim chances alive.
3. The Patriots have little to play for outside of the third seed, which is meaningless unless the AFC Championship game becomes a 3-4 matchup, and are also just 2-5 on the road. The Texans have everything to play for and, despite their inconsistencies, I can see them sneaking by New England. Houston will have their first winning season ever.

4:15 games:
1. The Broncos take care of the Chiefs at home, considering they beat them 44-13 on the road a few weeks ago. Jacksonville is officially eliminated. Four alive.
2. The Ravens, despite a 2-5 record on the road, go into Oakland and make Charlie Frye look foolish, eliminating the Texans in the process and leaving it a three-team race.

Forgive the homer pick here, but I'm going with the Jets. Like the Patriots, the Bengals have little to play for. Cincinnati is also 3-3 in their last six games, including terrible losses to Oakland and Minnesota. They struggled to beat the Browns and Lions and let the Chiefs stay in the game until the final minutes last week.

These teams follow a similar blueprint: Excellent defense, pathetic offense. On what is bound to be a chilly night in the Meadowlands, I would be surprised if these teams combined for over 30 points. Jets 13, Bengals 10. Denver goes from 6-0 to watching the playoffs at home.

End Result: Jets and Ravens are in, everyone else is out. Jets get the Bengals again as the fifth seed, this time in Cincinnati, while Baltimore travels to New England.

In the NFL, we are taught to expect the unexpected. Just not this week, people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Melky for Vazquez? I LIKE IT

I woke up this morning to the news that the Yankees traded Melky Cabrera and two prospects to the Braves for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan. I proceeded to log onto Facebook, where I saw many of my Yankee-fan friends complaining about the move. Why?

Yankee fans remember Javier Vazquez from his unsuccessful stint with the club in 2004, where he lost Game 7 of the ALCS that allowed the hated Boston Red Sox to reach the World Series after being down 3-0. And since he was in the National League last season, most of these same fans don't realize he posted the best season of his career with 15 wins, a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 219.1 innings.

I don't live in the past. The 2010 baseball season is not the 2004 baseball season. And Javier Vazquez is a much different (read: better) pitcher than he was six years ago. It's difficult to expect a sub-3.00 ERA moving to the American League, but I don't understand why Yankee fans hate this move so much.

As much as I like Melky Cabrera, he is nothing more than an average major-league outfielder. With the trade for Curtis Granderson, Cabrera became expendable. He was slotted to start in left field if the Yankees made no other moves, but his bat doesn't match up to what most teams look for in a corner outfielder.

If the Yankees stand pat and don't sign Matt Holliday or Jason Bay, Brett Gardner is not much of a downgrade from Cabrera. Gardner has game-changing speed that will bring a new dimension to New York's lineup, while Cabrera is solid in many facets of the game but spectacular in none.

The difference between Cabrera and Gardner pales in comparison to the difference between Vazquez and whoever the Yankees would have used as their fourth starter (Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre), assuming they move Joba Chamberlain back to the bullpen.

I also can't agree with the application of the "can't play in New York" label to Vazquez. He was here for one season, and he was awesome in the first half. For those of you who forgot, let's check the splits:

First half: 118.2 innings, 10-5 record, 3.57 ERA, 95:32 K:BB ratio, .233 average
Second half: 79.1 innings, 4-5 record, 6.92 ERA, 55:28 K:BB ratio, .286 average

His first-half production that season represents the kind of season I expect from Vazquez. He has had a sub-4.00 ERA just once in his four seasons in the AL but, like I said before, I don't live in the past. And anybody who follows baseball knows Vazquez is much more 3.57 than he is 6.92. Can you say aberration?

Vazquez looked awesome last season and, while a slight statistical dropoff should be expected, 2010 will not be a repeat of 2004. Excellent trade for the Yanks.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Jets blow golden opportunity, fall back to pack at 7-7

Forty-six minutes, 10 seconds. In a 60-minute football game, that is how long the Jets held a 7-3 lead over the Falcons. Too bad that 46:10 didn't include the final 1:38.

When Matt Ryan found Tony Gonzalez in the endzone on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard-line, it capped what has been a frustrating season for Jets fans. On the play before, Darrelle Revis (who better make the All-Pro team) almost came up with a diving interception to seal the game. And on the ensuing drive, Mark Sanchez was picked for the third time in the game.

Maybe the Jets should've started Kellen Clemens. Their defense was dominant and even though their running game wasn't as punishing as usual, Sanchez's three picks are what ultimately doomed the Jets. At least Clemens took care of the football last week against the Bucs.

The structure of this team is not built for success with a rookie quarterback, and that has been proven game in and game out this season, starting with the Jets' first loss against New Orleans. Although Clemens' bobbled snap on the first of three unsuccessful field goal attempts shows that he wasn't particularly well acclimated to the Meadowlands cold yesterday either.

Kicker Jay Feely and the field-goal unit also had a rough day, as he missed a 38-yard attempt and had another blocked. Just one of those field goals would have made the score 10-10 after Gonzalez's touchdown, and two would have given the Jets a victory.

This will always be a season of what-ifs for the Jets. They lost five games by five points or less, including four in the final two minutes and four within their own division (two to Miami, who is also 7-7 now).

With six teams tied at 7-7 in the AFC, the Jets losing the tiebreakers to most of those teams and matchups with the Colts and Bengals on tap, the playoffs are pretty much out of the question. They may not even reach .500, which would do nothing for him but guarantee a higher draft pick.

Speaking of the draft, what should the Jets look to improve? They are set at the skill positions and along the offensive line, but they could use another weapon in the passing game. The three receivers with first-round potential are Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant (who should go in the top 10), Notre Dame's Golden Tate and Illinois' Arrelious Benn.

The Jets could also look to draft a defensive end, as Shaun Ellis will be 33 at the start of next season and Marques Douglas is far from a world beater. Florida's Carlos Dunlap, Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward may all be available in the middle of the first round.

Any of those three players would give the Jets the ability to rush the passer without blitzing, something they were unable to do this season. An improved pass rush would only improve the league's best pass defense and make the Jets defense even more intimidating.

If New York has given up on Vernon Gholston, they could also look to upgrade at outside linebacker. This seems to be the least likely scenario with their current personnel, but Texas' Sergio Kindle is an intriguing mid-first round prospect who played defensive end for the Longhorns.

I know I'm talking like the season is over while the Jets are still mathematically alive, but football isn't played with an abacus. This team needed help even with a win this week, and that loss showed me that this is not a playoff-caliber team yet.

Give Mark Sanchez another year to develop and add an impact player or two in the draft, and this team could compete for a division title next season. The pieces are all in place for the Jets to be an excellent team, as long as Sanchez can work on limiting turnovers in the offseason. You can't be a successful ball-control offense if you can't control the ball.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 14

1(1). New Orleans Saints (13-0): Up 23-9, the Saints allowed Atlanta to come back and tie the game before winning it with a field goal. They've been making it close since blowing out the Pats, but they keep winning. Expect them to continue Dallas' December woes.

2(2). Indianapolis Colts (14-0): The Colts survived a battle with the Jaguars behind 4 touchdowns from Peyton Manning. It remains to be seen how they treat the rest of the season, in terms of playing their regulars.

3(3). Minnesota Vikings (11-2): Minnesota bounced back against Cincinnati at home, where they haven't lost this season. They shouldn't have much trouble with the Panthers this weekend.

4(5). San Diego Chargers (10-3): The Chargers just keep winning and they get what should be an emotional Bengals team this weekend. I think San Diego is the better team, but don't count out what playing for a fallen teammate can do.

5(4). Cincinnati Bengals (9-4): The tragic death of Chris Henry continues a tough season for Cincinnati, who also lost defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's wife earlier in the year. Emotions will be riding high this week in San Diego, and very few people will be rooting against the Bengals.

6(9). Green Bay Packers (9-4): Aaron Rodgers didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 19 games, but Ryan Grant's 137-yard, 2-touchdown day more than made up for it. They will travel to Pittsburgh next week to face the struggling Steelers, who really have nothing left to play for after losing to Cleveland last week.

7(10). Philadelphia Eagles (9-4): The Eagles, particularly DeSean Jackson, killed the Giants with big plays. This week, they go against a 49ers team that forced 7 turnovers last week against Arizona. A win would go a long way to solidifying their division title hopes.

8(6). Dallas Cowboys (8-5): It doesn't get any easier for the Cowboys this December, traveling to New Orleans on Saturday night to face the undefeated Saints. After losing to the Chargers at home, an 8-6 record seems likely by this time next week.

9(7). Arizona Cardinals (8-5): Arizona missed their chance to clinch the division, turning it over seven times against San Francisco. They should get their offense back on track against the Lions this week.

10(8). Denver Broncos (8-5): If it wasn't for Brandon Marshall and his NFL-record 21 catches, the Broncos would've lost by far more than 12 points. This team needs to beat Oakland at home on Sunday or risk falling back to the pack in the AFC Wild Card picture.

11(11). New England Patriots (8-5): Randy Moss not trying? We've never heard that before, have we? Let's see how Moss responds to the criticism against Buffalo's improved secondary.

12(12). New York Giants (7-6): The Giants fell behind quickly and couldn't make up for it, as the Eagles exposed their holes in the secondary. They still have a shot, but it has to start with a win in Washington this weekend in what promises to be a tough divisional game.

13(14). Baltimore Ravens (7-6): The Ravens have alternated wins and losses since their bye week, meaning the Bears will come into Baltimore and dash the Ravens' playoff hopes by dropping them to 7-7. No, I don't see it happening either.

14(15). Tennessee Titans (6-7): The Titans rolled the Rams but Vince Young got hurt in the process. If he's fully healthy for this week's game against Miami, I think the Titans win at home. If not, Miami is more dangerous than people give them credit for.

15(16). Miami Dolphins (7-6): If the Dolphins can follow up their victory at Jacksonville with another road win in Tennessee, you have to look at them as the favorite for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC, as the Ravens are still inconsistent and the Jets didn't get any help from the scheduling committee.

16(17). New York Jets (7-6): The Jets get the Falcons at home this week and Matt Ryan is slated to play for the first time since Week 12. Too bad he gets to go against the aggressive New York defense. The Jets should shred the Falcons on the ground and if Mark Sanchez can limit turnovers like Kellen Clemens did last week, New York will move to 8-6.

17(13). Jacksonville Jaguars (7-7): They couldn't beat Miami and are staring at a .500 record after losing their first sellout of the season against the Colts. This team does what they have to do to stay in games, but losing their last two by a combined seven points has hurt their shot at the playoffs.

18(18). Atlanta Falcons (6-7): Atlanta will travel to the Meadowlands to try and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Matt Ryan's return gives them hope, but he was inconsistent this year even before he got hurt.

19(20). Houston Texans (6-7): After rolling Seattle, the Texans get another NFC West patsy in the Rams. This one might be worse than last week.

20(21). San Francisco 49ers (6-7): The San Fran defense was impressive in forcing 7 turnovers against Arizona. They will need to do the same thing to the Eagles if they expect to make it two wins in a row.

21(19). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7): Will the Steelers roll over and die, letting Green Bay come into Pittsburgh and win? Or will they show that championship pride and play some football? I'm not convinced the Packers defense won't give that identity-lacking offense fits.

22(25). Washington Redskins (4-9): Don't look now, but the Redskins are playing good football. This week's home game with the Giants will be a good one, and New York better not take Washington lightly if they want to make the playoffs.

23(22). Carolina Panthers (5-8): The talented Carolina secondary took Randy Moss out of the game early, but it seems no one can stop Wes Welker. The more we see of Matt Moore, the more it becomes evident this team will need to draft a quarterback. The only question is who: Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen?

24(27). Buffalo Bills (5-8): The Bills beat the Chiefs. That's all I will say about that game. If Buffalo can manage to beat the Pats this week, it could set up a three-way tie in the AFC East if the Jets and Dolphins take care of business.

25(23). Chicago Bears (5-8): Jay Cutler has a new favorite target: Devin Aromashodu, who was targeted 12 times and caught 8 balls. Cutler will need all the options he can get heading into Baltimore, where the Bears can play spoiler against the playoff-hopeful Ravens.

26(24). Seattle Seahawks (5-8): I said I wouldn't be surprised if they buried the Texans? I don't know why I think this team is any good at times. They're just not, but I don't think Tampa Bay can exploit them for win number two.

27(26). Oakland Raiders (4-9): With Bruce Gradkowski likely out for the season, Charlie Frye will start this week over JaMarcus Russell. I don't think Frye can give this team the same spark Gradkowski did. Denver looks like a great survivor pick this week.

28(28). Kansas City Chiefs (3-10): The Chiefs lost to the Bills, and now they get to play the Browns at home. Will they make it two straight weeks of losing to teams as bad or worse than they are?

And now, I'm imposing a three-win minimum to earn a write-up. Sorry losers.

29(29). Cleveland Browns (2-11)

30(30). Detroit Lions (2-11)

31(31). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-12)

32(32). St. Louis Rams (1-12)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Henry's death sends shockwaves through the NFL

To say Chris Henry had his share of issues would be an understatement. Rich Rodriguez referred to Henry as "an embarrassment to himself and the program" when he was at West Virginia and, after three suspensions and 14 missed games from 2006-08, Henry was cut by the Bengals, the only team that brought him in for a pre-draft visit in 2005.

But the Bengals would give Henry a second (or third, or fourth) chance four months later when they re-signed him, and this time he made a concerted effort to turn his life and his career around. He played in eight games this season and had 12 receptions for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns, giving the Bengals a deep threat they have sorely missed since he broke his arm against Baltimore. Cincinnati has scored just 84 points in the five games without Henry, struggling to stretch the field and make big plays on offense.

Most importantly, he really was turning his life around. He spent more time with his fiancee and three children as well as working out with his teammates. And since his season-ending injury, Henry was in the process of planning his wedding in March. All these things added together are what makes this such a tragedy.

Henry jumped into the back of a pickup truck driven by his fiancee after a domestic dispute and eventually fell out of the back, suffering life-threatening injuries when he was found on the road by police. He died at 6:36 a.m. this morning.

Bengals personnel described Henry as "soft-spoken," "pleasant" and somebody who was comfortable to be around. And despite his trouble with the law, he was well-liked by teammates and ownership alike. Everybody you ask will tell you about the strides Henry had taken as a person and as a player.

Henry was just 26 years old and seemed to be maturing by the day. His death comes just two years and three weeks after the death of Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was shot in his home at the age of 24.

Like Henry, Taylor had been in the midst of the maturation process and was turning his life around as well, spurred by the birth of his daughter 18 months before and his distancing himself from a circle of friends that had gotten him into trouble.

It's always sad to see a life cut short too soon, especially a promising one that seemed to be heading down the right path after years of missteps. One of the truest signs of character is the ability to handle adversity and learn from your mistakes, a concept Henry really seemed to be grasping as the years went on.

It's a true shame that Henry didn't get the opportunity to come full circle and completely atone for the mistakes he made early in his career. Everybody has their demons, and Henry had finally faced them and seemed to be winning the battle.

It's easy to root for somebody like that to continue their transformation into a productive member of society and it's sad that we no longer have that opportunity, the same thing I said when Taylor was shot in 2007. Head coach Marvin Lewis called Henry "a beacon of hope," and it's always a sad day when hope dies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lackey signing makes Red Sox rotation scary

With two studs already in place at the top of their rotation in Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the Boston Red Sox added a less spectacular but very consistent pitcher in former Angel John Lackey. Lackey spent 8 seasons in Anaheim and accumulated 102 wins, including a career-high 19 in 2007.

In the last five years, Lackey's lowest win total was 11 and his highest ERA was 3.83 (both last season). He has missed 15 starts over the past two seasons, but that didn't deter Boston from offering him a 5-year, $85 million contract (slightly more than the Yankees gave A.J. Burnett last offseason) to be their third starter.

With Clay Bucholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield still around to fill the final two rotation spots, the Red Sox will have great depth in case a starter or two goes down with an injury. And their three-man playoff rotation looks daunting: Beckett, Lester, Lackey and either Buchholz or Matsuzaka as their fourth starter.

They could also use that depth to make a trade for a bat, with names like Adrian Gonzalez being floated around in trade rumors. I find Gonzalez more intimidating in the middle of that lineup than Jason Bay, who is all but gone after being offered just a four-year contract by the Red Sox.

While the Red Sox playoff rotation shakes up nicely, making the playoffs out of the AL East won't be an easy task with the last two American League champions residing in the same division. And the inevitable loss of Bay, who was second the AL with 119 RBI and third with 36 home runs, will certainly weaken their lineup if they don't make a move.

But that lineup will not need to produce as many runs as it did last season with the upgrade in the rotation. And if Dice-K can return to his dominant (albeit wild) 2008 form, the Red Sox would likely lay claim to baseball's best pitching staff. With those starters and Jonathan Papelbon waiting in the ninth inning, the Red Sox will be a tough out in the postseason. If they can get there.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jets prepare for playoff push

I haven't written on the Jets in a month, so it's about time I give them their due, especially after three straight wins. Beating the Panthers, Bills and Bucs is nothing to write home about, but in doing so the Jets have positioned themselves for a late-season run at a playoff spot at 7-6 through 14 weeks.

Since a 31-14 loss to New England the Jets defense has stiffened, allowing just 22 points in their last three games against below-average offenses. And with Mark Sanchez on the sideline with a knee injury stemming from his stubborn refusal to slide (even after working with Yankees manager Joe Girardi), it was Kellen Clemens leading the Jets to victory against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Clemens didn't do much of anything, completing 12-of-23 passes for 111 yards, no touchdowns and, perhaps most importantly, no turnovers. He had numerous throws sail high and wide of open receivers and looked like a quarterback who hadn't seen significant game action since the 2007 season.

But Sanchez can learn from Clemens' performance. The Jets defense and running game were dominant against the Bucs, like both have been at times this season. They were so dominant that the Jets really didn't need to get much out of their passing game, outside of solid game management and limiting turnovers. And that is just what Clemens was able to do.

Stubborn Sanchez will likely return for next week's game with the Falcons, and he would be wise to follow Clemens' blueprint for success: Let the running game go to work and don't take unnecessary risks through the air. In his last four games, Sanchez has thrown 7 interceptions and just 3 touchdowns.

Even if Sanchez is able to limit the mistakes that have haunted him this season, the Jets still have an uphill climb in the AFC playoff picture. Winning the division is still an outside possibility, as New England sits just one game ahead of the Jets at 8-5 and Miami is also 7-6.

The problem with the division is both teams hold the tiebreaker over the Jets, as the Patriots have a better record within the division and the Dolphins beat New York twice. The Jets would need to win out, have Miami lose once (against Tennessee, Houston or Pittsburgh) and have New England lose twice (against Buffalo, Jacksonville and Houston).

A Wild Card berth still seems plausible as well, with 9 teams above 7-6 in the AFC. There are four at 7-6 (Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars, Ravens), and right now the Jets rank dead last among them due to tiebreakers. Miami beat both New York and Jacksonville and would fill the final playoff spot if the season ended today, while the Jets lost twice to Miami and once to Jacksonville (head-to-head record between teams tied is the tiebreaker between three or more teams).

The Ravens play Chicago, Pittsburgh and Oakland in their final three games, while the Jaguars play the Colts at home, followed by road games at New England and Cleveland. On paper, the Jets have the most difficult schedule of the 7-6 teams with the Falcons, Colts and Bengals to play.

The Colts have already clinched home-field advantage and, assuming they hand the Jags their seventh loss this weekend, should be in a position to sit regulars like Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai and Reggie Wayne against the Jets. And if Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are unable to play in next week's game, it's possible the Jets can get to 9-6 before a Week 17 showdown with Cincinnati.

At 9-4, the Bengals have a two-game division lead and play San Diego and Kansas City the next two weeks. That looks like at least 10-5 to me, and if Baltimore loses one of their next two Cincinnati will have the AFC North clinched before playing the Jets. And a loss to San Diego would mean they have no chance at a first-round bye, leading to the possibility of Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson and Chad Ochocinco seeing more time on the bench than the field in Week 17.

The teams that can help the Jets the most are Houston and Pittsburgh; If the Texans beat Miami in Week 16 and New England in Week 17, the Jets would need just one more Patriots loss and three wins of their own to win the AFC East. The Steelers can give the Patriots that second loss and/or take out Baltimore, giving the Jets either the division title or the sixth Wild Card spot if they won out (assuming the Colts beat Jacksonville).

While Denver is the other Wild Card team right now at 8-5, we've seen that team collapse before. The Broncos play divisional rivals in Kansas City and Oakland, sandwiched around a visit to Philadelphia, a potential recipe for a 1-2 finish.

There are just three weeks left in the NFL season and there is still a lot to be figured out in the AFC. Left for dead three weeks ago at 4-6, the Jets have stormed back and made things interesting. But so many things have to fall into place for New York to get to the playoffs that it's hard to give them more than a 20-25 percent chance of making it.

That's probably a better chance than anybody gave this team three weeks ago.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 13

1(1). New Orleans Saints (12-0): Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. But you still need both, and the Saints took advantage of the Redskins' miscues to stay undefeated. Robert Meachem continues to impress, with 21 receptions and 6 touchdowns in his last five games. For a team with so many offensive weapons, Drew Brees sure likes to look Meachem's way down the field and in the red zone.

2(2). Indianapolis Colts (12-0): The Colts are two wins away (and possibly even one) from wrapping up home-field in the AFC. Peyton Manning continues his MVP-type season, but this week's matchup with Denver's second-ranked pass defense could be a challenge for the Colts. That game should be one of the finest this weekend.

3(3). Minnesota Vikings (10-2): Brett Favre was bound to make some mistakes sooner or later, but give the Cardinals defense some credit. They shut down the running game, pressured Favre and allowed the ballhawks in their secondary to make plays. Minnesota will need to get back on track quickly for their date with the Bengals.

4(4). Cincinnati Bengals (9-3): The Bengals haven't exactly impressed in their last four games, despite going 3-1 in that stretch. They beat a fading Steelers team by six, lost to the Raiders and beat the Browns and Lions by a combined 19 points. Cedric Benson has run well against strong defenses all season, and they will need him to continue that against the Vikings.

5(6). San Diego Chargers (9-3): The Chargers barely snuck by Cleveland as well, as the Browns seem to actually be putting things together. San Diego will look to stay undefeated in recent Decembers (15-0) against the team that has been bashed for their late-season struggles this decade. Hard to go against Philip Rivers in this one.

6(5). Dallas Cowboys (8-4): Sorry 'Boys, but it's that time of year again. Tony Romo played well last week, but for some reason Dallas feels like throwing the football 70 percent of the time. They can't ignore Marion Barber and Felix Jones this week as the Chargers have the league's eighth-ranked pass defense, but are just 21st against the run.

7(8). Arizona Cardinals (8-4): Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals defense steamrolled the Vikings in primetime, proving that they will not be the team to continue the trend that both Super Bowl teams don't make the playoffs the next season. With another prime-time win against the 49ers on Monday night, Arizona will essentially clinch the division with nine wins, just as many as it took to win last year's NFC West.

8(9). Denver Broncos (8-4): The Broncos dismantled the Chiefs and recent history last week, but going from playing the Chiefs to the Colts is like going from Khloe Kardashian to Kim. If Denver can run the ball against Indianapolis' 18th-ranked rushing defense and control the clock, they have a shot.

9(10). Green Bay Packers (8-4): The Pack won an ugly Monday nighter with the Ravens, but wins are wins and that defense had Joe Flacco confused all night. I'd like to see them run the ball better, but Aaron Rodgers more than makes up for an ineffective running game most weeks.

10(11). Philadelphia Eagles (8-4): The Eagles beat up on a gimpy Falcons squad and the second half became the Michael Vick homecoming show. Thanks Andy Reid and for that, here's a three-year extension. Just don't lose to the Giants this week and make a division title an uphill climb.

11(7). New England Patriots (7-5): Tom Brady may be almost all the way back, but this team is not. Richard Seymour's departure has left a void in that young defense, and they run the ball simply because they can't throw on every play. With the Dolphins and Jets hot on their heels, New England needs to wake up fast.

12(15). New York Giants (7-5): It's put up or shut up time in New York. They took care of Dallas last week and if they can beat the Eagles this weekend (and Dallas loses to San Diego, which I expect), there will be a three-way tie atop the NFC East. With a 4-1 division record, the Giants would control their own destiny thanks to tiebreakers.

13(17). Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5): No one comes to watch them, but they just go out every week and win. I'm still struggling with the notion they're a playoff squad, but they NEED to beat Miami this weekend. If they don't, they're staring at 7-7 after a date with the Colts.

14(13). Baltimore Ravens (6-6): They may be 3-6 in their last nine games, but this team still tantalizes you with their potential. But as the season wears on, it becomes apparent that they are still a year away. Thanks for showing up lately, Joe Flacco!

15(14). Tennessee Titans (5-7): The Titans severely dampened any hope they had at the playoffs with their loss to Indianapolis on Sunday, but they are still playing better football than the teams underneath them on this list. It's not a requirement that I rank teams based on their record, is it?

16(19). Miami Dolphins (6-6): People forget this team won the AFC East last season. They are a physical, well-coached football team that will shove the run down your throat, but they will need to throw to beat the Jaguars and their 23rd-ranked pass defense. Chad Henne and Davone Bess need to have another big day, as Henne really has nobody else reliable to throw to.

17(21). New York Jets (6-6): No Sanchez, no problem? The Bucs are slightly dangerous with Josh Freeman at quarterback, but the Jets defense will pressure him into mistakes all day. Since an impressive debut against Green Bay, Freeman has just 4 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in his last four games. If Kellen Clemens takes care of the football, the Jets should win easily.

18(16). Atlanta Falcons (6-6): Matt Ryan and Michael Turner look like they will miss yet another week, and without them Atlanta has no shot to knock the Saints from the ranks of the unbeaten. Sorry, Chris Redman and Jerious Norwood.

19(12). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7): This is the Pittsburgh team I saw early in the season, when I claimed the Steelers were overrated. They made me look bad by running off four straight wins, but after losing to Cleveland for their fifth consecutive defeat, this team has proven me right once again. Say goodbye to a chance at a repeat and hello to offensive line improvements? Allowing 8 sacks to the Browns is just sad.

20(18). Houston Texans (5-7): The Texans continue to be the biggest tease in the NFL. Their offense has the potential to be unstoppable, but is still plagued by inconsistency. Houston needs to start building inside-out if they want to compete with the big boys.

21(20). San Francisco 49ers (5-7): A win against the Cardinals could temporarily save their season, but I don't see the spread offense working particularly well against an aggressive Arizona defense. If Alex Smith doesn't get the ball out quickly and accurately, this game could look a lot like last week's Arizona victory.

22(22). Carolina Panthers (5-7): Matt Moore was efficient (14-20, 161 yards) and Jonathan Stewart ran wild on the Bucs. Just don't expect a similar effort from either against a Pats team that has to be angry after losing two straight.

23(23). Chicago Bears (5-7): The Bears ran twice as much as they threw against St. Louis, and Jay Cutler was just 8-17 on the day. Like Houston, the Bears should look to bolster their talent in the trenches this offseason.

24(24). Seattle Seahawks (5-7): The Seahawks snuck by San Francisco and basically guaranteed a divisional title for the Cardinals in the process. I wouldn't be surprised if they came out and buried the Texans for good this week.

25(26). Washington Redskins (3-9): They jump the Bills based on a stellar performance against the Saints, a game they would have won if the now-released Shaun Suisham could make a 23-yard field goal. The Redskins have looked good recently (without Clinton Portis) and will get a crack to hurt the playoff chances of the Giants and Cowboys after a matchup with Oakland this week.

26(28). Oakland Raiders (4-8): In his last three games, Bruce Gradkowski has thrown 6 touchdowns and just 1 interception. And he's thrown two game-winning touchdowns late, both to Louis Murphy. I'm not saying he's the answer, but he's showing everybody just how bad JaMarcus Russell is right now.

27(25). Buffalo Bills (4-8): Terrell Owens said he would consider re-signing with the Bills next season. Why, T.O., whyyyyyy?

28(27). Kansas City Chiefs (3-9): Chiefs or Bills? Bills or Chiefs? Tie?

29(32). Cleveland Browns (2-11): Josh Cribbs is just great with the ball in his hands. And Evan Moore looks like a promising pass-catcher. Too bad Brady Quinn managed just 6-19 passing, but at least he didn't turn it over to the Steelers, who needed something of the sorts to liven them up last night.

30(30). Detroit Lions (2-10)

31(29). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-11)

32(31). St. Louis Rams (1-11)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yanks trade for Granderson, solidify center field

The Yankees were involved in the most significant move of baseball's winter meetings, a three-team trade that sent All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson from Detroit to New York.

In return, the Tigers got outfield prospect Austin Jackson and relief pitcher Phil Coke from the Yankees and pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. Arizona also got pitching help, acquiring Edwin Jackson from the Tigers and prospect Ian Kennedy from the Yankees.

I like this move for the Yankees. Granderson will replace Melky Cabrera in center and provide an immediate upgrade, both at the plate and defensively. Despite hitting just .249 last season and .183 against lefties, the lowest in the league, Granderson is a career .272 hitter with 40-home run potential in Yankee Stadium after hitting 30 in spacious Comerica Park last season.

He may never hit .300 again (.302 in 2007), but it's reasonable to expect a .270 average, 35 home runs, 110 runs scored, 80 RBI and 20-25 steals out of Granderson this season. And while his OBP was just .327 last season, his lowest as a full-time player, Granderson is slotted to bat second against righties and towards the bottom of the lineup against lefties, rather than leading off like he did in Detroit last season.

Defensively, Granderson has excellent speed and range in the outfield and makes plays coming in or going back to the wall, sometimes over it. He doesn't possess the arm of Cabrera, who will move to left field, but he improves the Yankees overall outfield defense immensely.

The Yankees gave up Jackson, Kennedy and Coke for the right to acquire Granderson and, while Jackson is a big-name prospect, I think they made out well. The 22-year-old Jackson's potential is similar to Granderson's, expect with a higher batting average and less power. Jackson hit .300 with just 4 home runs in 504 at-bats in the International League last season.

Kennedy will be 25 when the season begins and has less than 60 major-league innings on his resume. A first-round pick out of USC in 2006, his star has faded and with the Yankees rotation crowded over the next few seasons, he became expendable.

He has the talent to rebound from his recent rash of injuries, but at his age he will have to make an impact soon. In Arizona, he should get that opportunity, something he would not have found in New York.

Coke is what he is: An average, replaceable left-handed reliever who fell out of favor to Damaso Marte towards the end of the season. The Yankees shouldn't really miss him much.

Taken in an overall sense, this looks to be a deal that helps all teams involved. The Yankees get more athletic and stronger defensively in the outfield, while the Tigers cut payroll (Granderson - $5.5M, Jackson - $4.5M), added high-upside players in Jackson and Scherzer and added two left-handed relievers to their bullpen.

I've always liked Edwin Jackson, so I also like the trade for Arizona. Scherzer may have a higher ceiling than Jackson, but after a strong 2009 season and two straight years of significant improvement, it's hard to question acquiring a potential ace like Jackson.

He has increased his innings pitched and decreased his walks allowed each of the past two seasons, spinning an impressive 161:70 K:BB ratio in 214 innings last season, not to mention a 3.62 ERA and a 13-9 record on an average team. Moving to the National League, expect his ERA to drop under 3.50; he will be an excellent third starter behind Dan Haren and Brandon Webb, if Webb comes back healthy from shoulder surgery.

Daniel Schlereth gets rocked every time I see him pitch, so acquiring Kennedy and losing him is a win in my book; at least Kennedy has some potential.

In the end, each team should be happy with their end of the trade. As for what this deal does to make the Yankees better in 2010, I will reserve judgment on that until I see where the rest of the offseason takes us. There are still a lot of moves to be made.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chad Ochocinco: PR Genius

Since the Yankees deal for Curtis Granderson hasn't been finalized quite yet, I will hold off on writing about it...for now. Today, I have something else on my mind: The sideline "antics" and Twitter postings of one, Chad Ochocinco.

After scoring this week against the Lions, the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson donned a poncho and a sombrero on the sideline, drawing the ire of the No Fun League and a $30,000 fine. This stunt came just a month after Ochocinco was fined $20,000 for attempting to "bribe" an official.

Many people claim to be getting tired of Ochocinco's act, but don't count me among them. There is great entertainment value in his endzone and sideline celebrations, and their ridiculous nature continues to grow. I say, what's the true harm?

Skip Bayless suggested that the NFL needs to suspend Ochocinco for a game to prove a point. Meanwhile, Cowboys' offensive lineman Flozell Adams, who has been fined four separate times this season for a total of $75,000 for dirty play (two unnecessary roughness fines, one for kicking and one for tripping/kicking), plays on.

The behavior of Adams is far more deplorable than anything Ochocinco does. Adams is a dirtbag, while Ochocinco has fun. And at this point, opposing teams have to realize it's not about showing them up and it never has been.

If Ochocinco comes through on his promise to Adam Schefter this week that he will blow into the Vikings' mascot's horn if he scores, another fine will be sure to come from the league, possibly in the territory of Adams' latest fine ($50,000 for unnecessary roughness).

I am of the belief that no matter what you fine him, Ochocinco will not stop his antics. Five-digit fines will not hit him and his $3.55 million salary in the wallet.

Not to mention that all this fine money has made Ochocinco a cult hero of sorts. If Terrell Owens can get his own reality show by being a crybaby and a prima donna, why can't Ochocinco do the same upon his retirement (or sooner?)

I'm convinced that down the line, Ochocinco will more than make up for the fines he's accumulated by making his way into the world of reality television, making money off of his reputation as a showboat and an entertainer.

After everything he has pulled throughout his career, I don't think I'm alone in saying that I would watch whatever entertainment he creates. As I eluded to in the title of this blog, Chad Ochocinco is a public-relations GENIUS.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The BCS: Blowing College Seasons since 1998

The BCS has been a part of college football for 12 years. Yes, it's really been that long. And again this year, it has proven why absolutely nobody likes it.

With five undefeated teams in the FBS this season, it would be impossible to give all of them a chance at the title under the current system. That is my major argument for an eight-team playoff, but that isn't why I'm writing this right now.

Looking at the bowl matchups, one in particular caught my eye: TCU vs. Boise St. Why, BCS, would you match up the two teams from non-power conferences?

I'll tell you why: Because they're scared of a repeat of the past two seasons. In 2007, Boise State shocked everybody by beating powerhouse Oklahoma in overtime, 43-42, using a variation of the "Statue of Liberty" play on the game-winning two-point conversion.

Last season, Utah finished the regular season undefeated and kept things rolling against Alabama (this year's current #1), building an early 21-0 lead and eventually winning the Sugar Bowl 31-17.

A quick look at the BCS standings will tell you that Cincinnati is third, TCU is fourth, Florida is fifth and Boise St. is sixth. Wouldn't it make sense to match up Cincinnati against TCU in a consolation bowl of sorts, followed up by a defensive-minded Florida team against the explosive offense of Boise St.?

These matchups would be possible, as none would ruin any of the current bowl affiliations. The Rose Bowl has always been the Pac-10 champion against the Big-10 champion, which would remain Ohio St. vs. Oregon. The Orange Bowl has ACC affiliations, and Georgia Tech would still play Iowa.

The Sugar Bowl has SEC affiliations, which could still allow a Florida-Boise St. matchup, while Cincinnati and TCU could play in the Fiesta Bowl, which has Big 12 affiliations (unless the conference champion is playing for the national title, which Texas is).

So again, I ask why not?

Imagine the chaos if TCU beat Cincinnati (I think TCU is the better team). And if Boise St. upended the superhuman Tim Tebow and Florida? The BCS would never hear the end of how flawed the system is, and the clamoring for a playoff would grow even stronger.

So they took the easy way out, pitting TCU against Boise St. and avoiding the potential implications of these two excellent teams proving their worth against the BCS-conference powerhouses. Shame on you, BCS committee. Shame on you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 12

1(1). New Orleans Saints (11-0): Games at Atlanta and home against Dallas look to be this team's only potential roadblocks to an undefeated regular season, barring a letdown against the likes of Washington, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Since they need to keep winning to keep one-loss Minnesota at bay, this team has a legitimate chance at 16-0.

2(2). Indianapolis Colts (11-0): The Colts are less likely to run the table than the Saints, as they will clinch home-field advantage with 14 wins and may sit Peyton Manning and other key regulars in the final week or two. And they could even lose this week against the white-hot Titans.

3(3). Minnesota Vikings (10-1): Brett Favre has 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. No, I still can't get over his unbelievable efficiency this season. This should mark the first time ever where he throws less than 13 interceptions in a full season. His best statistical season to date has surely been aided by weapons like Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and of course, Adrian Peterson.

4(4). Cincinnati Bengals (8-3): Outside of a fluky loss in the opener to Denver and an unlucky fumble that cost them against Oakland two weeks ago, the Bengals could actually be 10-1. Obviously they're not, but that tells you how good this team is. They have three good running backs, a leader at the quarterback position and a good defense. Watch out, Peyton Manning!

5(7). Dallas Cowboys (8-3): Their offense disappeared for two games until resurfacing against the Redskins. Miles Austin had just 5 catches for 67 yards in those two games. Shut him down, and Tony Romo and the Dallas offense will struggle.

6(10). San Diego Chargers (8-3): Since I scolded San Diego for being average and only beating bad teams, all they've done is win four in a row, three against the Giants, Eagles and Broncos. I'm really excited for Week 15: Bengals-Chargers.

7(6). New England Patriots (7-4): They got blasted by the Saints on Monday Night Football; that game was over in the second quarter. Good thing they get Miami, Carolina, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Houston in their last five games. 11-5 is guaranteed and 12-4 is within reach.

8(11). Arizona Cardinals (7-4): The Cards almost beat the resurgent Titans without the services of the ageless Kurt Warner. If this team could solidify their issues in the secondary, they could push for a top-five ranking.

9(9). Denver Broncos (7-4): They're not the 6-0 bunch for sure, but they're also not as bad as their last five games (1-4). They still get to play the Chiefs twice and the Raiders, but a Week 14 game with the Colts should really put this team to the test.

10(16). Green Bay Packers (7-4): With Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Arizona still left to play, I'm not sold on the Packers' playoff hopes just yet. But with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, it's hard to say too many bad things about this team's chances.

11(13). Philadelphia Eagles (7-4): Donovan McNabb should be able to find Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant against Atlanta's shaky secondary, even without the explosive DeSean Jackson. The Giants, 49ers, Broncos and Cowboys follow, and I'm still not sure the inconsistent Eagles are a playoff team after squeaking by Chicago and Washington.

12(5). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5): Pittsburgh stays in front of Baltimore, considering they took the Ravens to overtime with third-stringer Dennis Dixon at the helm. If Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are healthy come playoff time, this team is dangerous.

13(8). Baltimore Ravens (6-5): Another team I'm stuck on. I had them #1 at one point, so you know I like them. If they beat Detroit, Chicago and Oakland (which they should), they need to beat either Green Bay or Pittsburgh again to reach 10 wins. That should be good enough to make the playoffs in the AFC, unless another 6-5 teams runs the table. This is why I love the NFL.

14(23). Tennessee Titans (5-6): I said I was tempted to move them higher two weeks ago, and now I am. Even at 5-6, they probably have a better chance at the playoffs than any of the teams ranked below them.

15(14). New York Giants (6-5): So many enigmas in the 10-15 range, including the Giants. They host Dallas and Philadelphia and travel to Washington in a tough division stretch, not to mention a visit to the Vikings in Week 17, which may be a must-win. I think the Giants end up on the outside looking in.

16(12). Atlanta Falcons (6-5): Another team I had at the top, but this one I have less confidence in now. They're beat up at the skill positions, and their defense is nothing to write home about. 9-7 seems to be their peak, especially considering they won't beat the Saints in two weeks. This team has to be one of the season's biggest disappointments.

17(19). Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5): Outside of games with the Colts and Pats, the Jaguars have winnable games with the Texans, Dolphins and Browns. If the playoffs started today they'd be in but I'm still not a believer. I predict a slip-up against Houston or Miami, leaving this team around 8-8.

18(15). Houston Texans (5-6): The Texans proved why they aren't a legitimate contender with their collapse against the Colts, as a playoff-caliber team would've held on to that 17-0 lead (or at least not fallen behind by 15 afterwards). My bet is that no team outside the top 17 in these rankings will even sniff the playoffs.

19(18). Miami Dolphins (5-6): It's tough for any team to continue to play well after losing their best player. But without Ronnie Brown running the Wildcat, the Dolphins lose that extra weapon they had on offense. And outside of him and Ricky Williams, this team is completely devoid of weapons on that side of the football.

20(20). San Francisco 49ers (5-6): Next year looks promising, with another year under the belts of Alex Smith, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. This year...not so much.

21(21). New York Jets (5-6): If the Jets beat the Bills tonight (which they should), they have an outside chance at the playoffs. No, I'm not getting my hopes up.

22(17). Carolina Panthers (4-7): Paging Matt Moore, paging Matt Moore. Last time he started a game I bet on Dallas -14 and would've won if Terrell Owens didn't get hurt. Let's just say Carolina needs to draft a quarterback next April.

23(22). Chicago Bears (4-7): The Bears need help on defense. It's been a while since anybody could say that. And Jay Cutler needs to cut the turnovers and learn to throw under pressure, something he didn't see much of in Denver.

24(25). Seattle Seahawks (4-7): Justin Forsett struggled against Minnesota (who doesn't), but tore apart the Cardinals and Rams. And his great hands out of the backfield give Matt Hasselbeck another weapon through the air. I like the kid, and I hope that Julius Jones rides pine upon his return.

25(26). Buffalo Bills (4-7): Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson have been a spark for the Bills the last few weeks, but who knows what their future holds with the uncertain nature of Perry Fewell's job. But Buffalo may not attract a big-name coach, leaving the job in Fewell's hands?

And the rest, who don't deserve any words...

26(24). Washington Redskins (3-8)

27(27). Kansas City Chiefs (3-8)

28(28). Oakland Raiders (3-8)

29(30). Detroit Lions (2-9)

30(29). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-10)

31(31). St. Louis Rams (1-10)

32(32). Cleveland Browns (1-10)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The BCS Playoff Problem

(Contributed by Josh Carey)

BCS officials have started a website, as a Public Relations tool to say why the BCS is so great. On the front page of their site they ask a series of questions that are supposedly prohibitive to a playoff. Since they are unwilling to attempt to answer them themselves, I have written this open letter (which was also submitted to their group via their contact form) to describe what a college football playoff would look like.

Who would participate?

All 11 conference champions and five at-large teams in a 16 team, single-elimination playoff.

How many automatic qualifiers?

11, one per recognized conference, just like every other NCAA-sanctioned sport.

What would be the criteria to qualify?

At-large teams would be selected on record, strength of schedule, head-to-hand/common opponents and quality of wins, just as in other NCAA sports. All of these elements can be mathematically defined, if so desired. Like other NCAA Sports, a committee would be formed to make those determinations.

What would be the criteria for seedings?

Same as the criteria for at-large bids.

Where would the games be played?

The first two rounds would be played at the sites of the higher-seeded teams, the final four would be played at current BCS bowls and the national championship would be played a week later at the site of a different BCS bowl. The playoffs would not eliminate the current bowl system.

When would the games be played?

Conferences would be required to finished their schedule by the end of November. The first two Saturdays of December would host the first two rounds. The final four would be played in January as with existing bowls.

If you could resolve all that would everyone be satisfied?

The owners of the website claim the answer to this question is "no", which is technically true. But the question is not "would everybody be happy?" It is impossible to design a system that generated 100% happiness. But this system does get five main groups pleased.

1) BCS conference schools: At-large bids will almost always go to these conferences, so their current advantage is maintained.

2) Non-BCS conference schools: The argument of a meaningful regular season in college football under the current system is not true for these schools who can be assured of no chance of winning a national title under the current system. A playoff enhances the regular season for these teams as they would be able to play for the championship by winning their league.

3) Academic Presidents: The system keeps players as free as other sports' players (basketball, for example) during exams.

4) Athletic Departments: Additional high-profile home games during the playoffs would be a boon for hosting institutions. The playoff system as a whole would allow existing bowls to maintain their status and select either non-playoff or eliminated playoff teams, which would generating additional revenue.

5) Fans: While fans of some teams (those at-large contenders not selected, for example) would be upset, the larger number of teams with a realistic shot at the national championship means a more engaged fan base, which is only beneficial for the sport.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knicks would be silly to sign Iverson

Allen Iverson is an excellent basketball player, if the year was 2007. But it's almost 2010 and the undersized Iverson is now 34 years old.

Averaging over 10 free throw attempts per game four times in his career, Iverson has never been afraid to take the ball to the hoop and put his body on the line. And while I respect that part of his game, all those hits will take a toll on a 165-pound guard.

Anyone who saw Iverson play last season noticed a drop in production. His scoring average dipped almost nine points from the season before and his assists by two. He also averaged barely over six free throw attempts per game, a sign that he was settling for jump shots rather than attacking the basket. His career 42.5 field-goal percentage tells you how "dangerous" of a jump shooter he is.

Disappointed with his role in Memphis this season (12.3 points, 3.7 assists in 22.3 minutes through three games), Iverson took a personal leave of absence and was reportedly considering retirement. I didn't buy it for a second, presuming this was the selfish Iverson we all knew trying to whine his way out of a bad situation. How he didn't see this coming when he signed with the Grizzlies is anybody's guess.

Donnie Walsh has stated serious interest in Iverson, and the Knicks are reportedly going to offer him a contract once he clears waivers. I always considered Walsh to be an intelligent basketball mind, but this move has me questioning that.

Iverson is no longer the superstar he once was. He is not the player to come in and save the Knicks season. Hell, LeBron James couldn't even save this sorry squad right now.

This begs the question: Why sign Iverson? He won't help the Knicks reach the playoffs this season and his presence will retard the development of a player I'd like to see more of, Toney Douglas (who could develop into a poor man's Iverson in the coming years).

The Knicks already have Chris Duhon, Nate Robinson and Larry Hughes commanding minutes in the backcourt along with Douglas. Everyone can see that Duhon is awful, but it would likely be Douglas relegated to the bench upon Iverson's arrival. If I had any faith that Mike D'Antoni would play Douglas over Duhon, I might be on board with this move.

Now, there are reasons to sign Iverson that do deal with basketball. He would instantly become the Knicks best player, a sad commentary on the state of this team at the moment. He would bring a certain attitude and toughness to a team that has absolutely none, and that might rub off on some of the team's younger players like Douglas, Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hill and Wilson Chandler.

An Iverson signing wouldn't complicate the Knicks plans for 2010 and would definitely help put fans in the seats at the Garden, something that will be difficult to do with this 2-9 bunch who have actually played the majority of their games at home so far. And if Iverson helps the Knicks win a few extra games, it might keep them out of the top three in the draft lottery.

For anyone who doesn't know, Utah gets the Knicks' first-round pick if it's in the top three. The Knicks dealt the pick to Phoenix in 2004 as part of the Stephon Marbury trade, and Utah acquired the pick later that season and has held onto it ever since.

Critics will say Iverson is a cancer, but this Knicks squad is already terminally ill. There is no chemistry to ruin and, if D'Antoni made the decision to bench Duhon for Iverson, it's a definite upgrade. I just don't see that happening, and that's the major reason I'm against this move.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 11

1(1). New Orleans Saints (9-0): The Rams gave the Saints a run for their money, but New Orleans clamped down when they had to. A game with the improving Bucs this week should serve as a warmup for a Patriots team that came within 13 seconds of beating the only other remaining undefeated team.

2(2). Indianapolis Colts (9-0): Peyton Manning should thank Bill Belicheat for giving him less than 30 yards to the game-winning score and two full minutes. Not that Manning doesn't march 70 yards down the field and win it anyway, but he must have been licking his chops when he saw Kevin Faulk bobble that ball.

3(3). Minnesota Vikings (8-1): The Vikings took care of Detroit behind almost 500 yards of total offense, but it was actually a one-possession game at the half. Minnesota put it away in the second half though, and anytime Matthew Stafford throws 51 times it's probably a bad sign.

4(6). Cincinnati Bengals (7-2): The Bengals used the game's only touchdown (a Bernard Scott kickoff return) to move to 5-0 in the AFC North and take the season series with Pittsburgh. Now Larry Johnson comes on board as insurance for Cedric Benson, and he should be able to run better behind an excellent Cincinnati line than he did behind a lackluster Kansas City group.

5(4). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3): Pittsburgh couldn't manage a touchdown against the Bengals, but both games were close and the Steelers may be happy to get another crack at Cincy in the playoffs. It's always a difficult proposition to beat the same team three times in one season.

6(5). New England Patriots (6-3): The Pats were one questionable Belicheat call away from knocking the Colts from the undefeated ranks. But the momentum shift that was a fourth-and-2 failure from their own 28 pretty much guaranteed a Manning touchdown.

7(7). Dallas Cowboys (6-3): Dallas couldn't put a point on the board until the final minute against Green Bay as Miles Austin was held without a touchdown for the first time since Week 4. This team should get back on track at home this week against the Redskins.

8(10). Baltimore Ravens (5-4): The Ravens didn't look great against Cleveland and in three games since their bye week, Joe Flacco has thrown for just 525 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. That doesn't bode well for this week's game with the Colts.

9(8). Denver Broncos (6-3): It's very hard to convince me you're an elite team when you lose to Washington, who had beaten just one-win St. Louis and one-win Tampa Bay this season. And if Kyle Orton misses any time, I don't think this team can win with Chris Simms. Especially not with the Chargers coming to town riding a four-game winning streak.

10(12). San Diego Chargers (6-3): I think Philip Rivers and the Chargers are better than the Broncos. But Denver's win earlier in the season keeps them on top of San Diego in the rankings...until next week. Both teams are much different than they were back in Week 6.

11(13). Arizona Cardinals (6-3): The Cards will be looking for their sixth win in seven games against the Rams this week. Does anybody think they won't get it?

12(9). Atlanta Falcons (5-4): Like Flacco, Matt Ryan seems to be regressing. After 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in Atlanta's first four games (3-1 record), he has 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in their last five (2-3 record). And if Michael Turner's high ankle sprain keeps him out of action for any extended period of time, these birds are cooked.

13(11). Philadelphia Eagles (5-4): The enigmatic Eagles have now lost two straight since dismantling the Giants, and Brian Westbrook's second concussion in four weeks may end his season. I love LeSean McCoy, but he's no Westbrook just yet. Philly might fade, but not against Chicago and Washington the next two weeks.

14(14). New York Giants (5-4): A great week for the Giants. Dallas lost, Philadelphia lost, Atlanta lost, and they didn't lose. If Michael Turner doesn't play for Atlanta this week, look for New York to get back on track at the Meadowlands.

15(15). Houston Texans (5-4): Three weeks ago, Tennessee-Houston looked like an awful Monday Night Football matchup. With the Titans sudden resurgence, now I'm intrigued. Tennessee has allowed just 570 yards through the air in their last three games, but Matt Schaub poses more of a threat than either David Garrard, Alex Smith or Trent Edwards ever will.

16(18). Green Bay Packers (5-4): How do you allow 38 points to the Bucs one week and seven to the Cowboys the next? If the Packer defense can build on this performance, they can beat the offensively-challenged 49ers and Lions and stick around in the NFC playoff hunt. Then again, they have been nothing but inconsistent all season.

17(20). Carolina Panthers (4-5): Don't look now, but the Panthers have beaten the Cardinals and Falcons and played the Saints close in their past three games. And with Ronnie Brown likely out for Thursday's game with Miami, they could get back to .500 after starting 0-3. That should tell you how important the season's first three games are (I'm looking at you, 49ers and Jets fans).

18(19). Miami Dolphins (4-5): Miami was really close to being Josh Freeman's second victim in as many weeks, but put together a late drive to set up a game-winning field goal. This team is well-coached and seems to get the most out of what they have. One of the best offensive lines in football will need to open up holes for Ricky Williams this week, assuming Ronnie Brown doesn't play.

19(22). Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4): They're not as good as their record states, as beating the Jets in their current state is not particularly impressive. But 5-4 is 5-4, and Maurice Jones-Drew continues to handle the full load well.

20(21). San Francisco 49ers (4-5): Beating the Bears 10-6 really is no accomplishment. Neither is picking off Jay Cutler five times. So much for the early-season hype machine.

21(16). New York Jets (4-5): Speaking of the early-season hype machine...this week's loss sapped any confidence I had left in this team and their playoff hopes. Tied for 27th in the league with 16 sacks and 22nd with 7 interceptions, this defense has failed to live up to their own lofty expectations. Maybe next year?

22(17). Chicago Bears (4-5): It's hard to tell whether Cutler makes more big plays or more mistakes. I'm sure he misses that Denver offensive line, as well as Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. I wonder if he wishes he was still with the 6-3 Broncos right now. That new contract extension may ease his pain, though.

23(24). Tennessee Titans (3-6): I'm tempted to jump them even further, but let's see how Vince Young plays in the Monday Night spotlight. His passing yards have risen from 125 to 172 to 210 in his three starts, and it helps having the league's only 1,000-yard back in Chris Johnson in your backfield. This game should be good.

24(29). Washington Redskins (3-6): I'm shocked they beat Denver. Shocked. Ladell Betts ran for a team season-high 114 yards, as Clinton Portis had topped that mark just once all year. Is it blasphemous to say this team might be better with Betts in the backfield?

25(23). Seattle Seahawks (3-6): Matt Hasselbeck might be the only thing I like about this team, and he's a sitting duck in the pocket in most games. If this team could protect him, they'd have a chance in most game.

26(25). Buffalo Bills (3-6): Trent Edwards returned this week, not that it mattered. He was pulled after throwing a pick-six in the fourth quarter for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw a pick-six of his own. And if you chose Week 11 in your "when will Dick Jauron be fired?" survivor pool, you win!

27(28). Kansas City Chiefs (2-7): Jamaal Charles gave K.C. their first 100-yard rusher of the season and the Chiefs rolled the Raiders. I asked if anybody cared last week and the 16-10 score confirms that, in fact, nobody did.

28(26). Oakland Raiders (2-7): JaMarcus Russell may finally be benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski. It's about time, since he has completed less than half of his passes in four of his nine games this season. But Gradkowski is far from the answer.

29(30). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8): Josh Freeman had Tampa on the verge of their second straight win before a late Miami drive led to a game-winning field goal. This offense has shown life with Freeman at the helm, scoring 61 points in their last two games.

30(27). Detroit Lions (1-8): The Lions were slowly dominated this week by the Vikings and they have found many different ways to lose this season. Another high pick and a successful draft will go a long way to helping them compete sooner rather than later.

31(31). St. Louis Rams (1-8): The Rams lost to the Saints by just five. And since I'm keeping things positive, that's all I'll say.

32(32). Cleveland Browns (1-8): There's nothing positive to say here. If you saw where Brady Quinn's deep balls landed towards the end of the game, you know why.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jets' struggles continue in 24-22 loss to Jags

This post will be about as short as the Jets playoff hopes after a terrible loss to Jacksonville at the Meadowlands.

Mark Sanchez continued his rookie struggles, as he was intercepted twice including a deep pass on the game's first play. Jerricho Cotchery had a step on Rashean Mathis, but Sanchez was late getting the ball downfield and the throw was well short.

Only four Jets caught passes in the game as Sanchez was just 16-30. Cotchery grabbed six balls, Dustin Keller caught six and Braylon Edwards had three receptions, including a 41-yarder that ended in a fumble. Edwards also dropped a two-point conversion that would've put the Jets up 24-21 with five minutes to play.

Without Leon Washington, the Jets have little to no game-breaking ability on offense and neither Thomas Jones nor Shonn Greene is adept at catching passes out of the backfield. This is part of the reason Keller has 14 grabs in his past two contests, as he has become Sanchez's new safety valve.

Defensively the Jets weren't much better, allowing 347 total yards and letting Jacksonville march 80 yards down the field on their game-winning drive. After the game, Bart Scott quipped that maybe the Jets aren't one of the best defenses in the league like they thought they were.

The loss of Kris Jenkins has obviously hurt the New York defense, as they have allowed 452 rushing yards in their last four games, all of which Jenkins has missed with the exception of the first quarter against Buffalo. The loss of Jenkins hasn't just affected the run defense, however.

The Jets have lost their edge on defense and haven't been quite as aggressive blitzing on passing downs as they were early in the season, possibly due to the fear of getting burnt on the ground without Jenkins clogging the middle. And the Jets who started 3-0 would not have allowed Jacksonville to kill the final five minutes and kick the game-winning field goal.

After losing five of their last six with the only win coming against the awful Raiders, the Jets season is now on life support (at best). With upcoming matchups against New England and the suddenly-hot Panthers, New York could be 4-7 before their second meeting with Buffalo and a date with the one-win Bucs.

Finishing off the schedule with Atlanta, Indianapolis and Cincinnati screams 6-10 at best for this team, who inexplicably gave fans hope after three solid victories to start the season. But this is what you get with a rookie quarterback, a rookie head coach and injuries to invaluable players on both sides of the ball.

No, I'm not giving up on Sanchez. Like all rookies, he shows glimpses of greatness followed by severe struggles. His comfort level has dropped significantly since the Saints rattled him in Week 4, but in time he should become a player. The only question is whether the team around him will still be in place by the time that happens.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Will the Knicks get LeBron? Or Wade? Or even Bosh?

The New York Knicks' 1-8 start this season begs the question: Why would any free agent want to come to New York in the summer of 2010?

Plays like the ball slipping out of Al Harrington's hands on his way up for a dunk against Atlanta seem to summarize the struggles of the Knicks over the past few seasons. Nonetheless, there are still some reasons for players to want to play in New York.

One is the opportunity to play at the World's Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. The prestige and history of the Garden along with an opportunity to play on one of the world's largest stages would be enough to attract any superstar, right LeBron James? Right Dwayne Wade? How about you, Chris Bosh?

The second reason is obvious: Money. The Knicks have just over $27 million worth of contracts on the books beyond this season committed to six players: Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries, Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hill, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas.

The salary cap this season is $57.7 million, down from $58.68 million for the 2008-09 season. Assuming a similar cap number next season, the Knicks will have enough money to offer one maximum contract, not two like is widely believed. Max contracts start at 30% of the salary cap, which would be $17.31 million.

Unless the Knicks get rid of Curry's $11.28 million contract or Jeffries' $6.88 million cap hit, they cannot afford to bring any two-man combination of James, Wade and Bosh to the Big Apple without pulling off a sign-and-trade or getting one to accept a non-maximum contract.

A third potential reason for free agents to want to sign with the Knicks is the fact that they do have some decent young talent to work with. Douglas has scored 60 points in his last three games, while Gallinari is averaging over 15 points per game and showing the aggression that was missing last season when he was dealing with back issues.

Add in the 12 points and 6 rebounds you get every night from Wilson Chandler and this year's first-round pick Jordan Hill, and the Knicks have some exciting young players. None of them will become superstars, but adding a James, Wade or Bosh to the mix would certainly go a long way to seeing this team become competitive again.

The Knicks also play an up-tempo style of basketball under Mike D'Antoni, another potential attraction for big-name free agents to come to New York. Too bad they are so pathetic that, even in a run-and-gun offense, they are just 14th in the NBA in points scored at 99.8 and allow almost 10 more points per game than they score.

Which brings me to the major reason not to play for the Knicks. They are TERRIBLE, and some of their better players (Al Harrington, David Lee, Nate Robinson and Chris Duhon) have expiring contracts. Harrington and Duhon are already gone, but if the Knicks elect not to re-sign Lee or Robinson, the cupboard will be pretty bare, not that it's anywhere near full at the moment.

I know everybody wants LeBron or Wade, but I find it unlikely that either of them will come to New York right now. James has postponed all free agency talk until after the regular season so he can concentrate on the task at hand: Leading the Cavaliers to a championship.

He recently said he cares about winning more than he cares about a maximum contract, whatever that actually means. Unless he pairs up with Wade or Bosh, winning seems less likely in New York than it does in Cleveland.

Same goes with Wade, who has already won a title in Miami and has his team sitting at 6-2 and in first place in the Southeast division. The Heat have plenty of up-and-coming talent with Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers in just their second seasons and look to be a team on the rise for the next few years.

Bosh has already nearly ruled out playing in New York, so it may be time for the Knicks to move on to lower-level targets in the free agent pool. The player that really catches my eye is the Hawks' Joe Johnson.

Johnson is a complete player, averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game this season. He is not a me-first superstar that commands the ball, but rather a team player who is talented enough to get his in the flow of the offense.

Other notable free agents available are Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Manu Ginobili and Tracy McGrady. Stoudemire and Boozer are attractive options for the Knicks, considering their lack of rebounding (outside of Lee) and a need for an interior defender.

Signing Stoudemire would also reunite him with D'Antoni, as the two spent nearly five seasons together in Phoenix. Stoudemire's affinity for the up-tempo style D'Antoni has implemented in New York has led many to believe him and the Knicks may be a good fit.

If the Knicks can't afford to pay out two max contracts, why not re-sign Robinson, Lee or both? It's a possibility that shouldn't be ignored, as both are good players who would help the Knicks maintain some depth in their rotation.

In the end, all the chips will fall into place once James and Wade make their stay-or-stray decisions. There is still a whole NBA season to be played, and there are a lot of different scenarios that can play out. If LeBron wins a title, will that make him more inclined to stay in Cleveland or leave and try to bring a championship back to the Garden? Same goes with Wade. And what if they don't win?

Right now, it's just too early to tell what will happen. But all those Knicks fans banking on signing two superstars this summer should temper their expectations. Otherwise, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Robinson Cano versus good pitching...who wins?

After a postseason that saw him hit below .200 with no home runs, I have heard Yankee fans question whether Robinson Cano can hit good pitching. I figured it was high time to crunch some numbers:

Against teams under .500 in 2009, Cano produced the following line:

.339 batting average (101-298), 53 runs, 16 home runs, 50 RBI

Against teams over .500:

.304 batting average (103-339), 50 runs, 9 home runs, 35 RBI

Against playoff teams:

Regular Season: .306 batting average (48-157), 23 runs, 4 home runs, 18 RBI
Playoffs: .193 batting average (11-57), 5 runs, 0 home runs, 6 RBI
Combined: .276 batting average (59-214), 28 runs, 4 home runs, 24 RBI

What do I take from these numbers? Cano hit a home run every 18.6 at-bats against under-.500 clubs, compared to one every 37.7 at-bats against teams over .500. And that ratio dropped to one homer every 53.5 at-bats against playoff teams.

And it isn't just his power and run production that dropped, as Cano saw his average fall closer to .300 against teams above .500 and well below it against playoff teams. His on-base percentage against playoff-caliber pitching staffs? A measly .308.

Now it would be ridiculous to expect a player to hit good pitching equally as well as he hits bad pitching. Isn't that what defines a pitcher as good or bad: the ability to consistently get hitters out?

But if you extrapolate Cano's numbers against playoff teams to a full season's worth of at-bats, and you get a .276 average(.308 OBP), 84 runs, 12 home runs and 72 RBI. Those are okay numbers for a second baseman, but not what you would expect from a hitter of Cano's ability. That on-base percentage is particular ugly and would rank 12th among American League second basemen with over 400 at-bats (14 players), ahead of just Mark Ellis and Jose Lopez.

In comparison, his season numbers were a .325 average(.352 OBP), 103 runs, 25 home runs and 85 RBI. His on-base percentage of .352 was sixth on that same qualifying list of AL second baseman, still just average but more than made up for by his power numbers that were padded against the league's worst.

The one interesting thing about these stats is Cano's regular-season production against playoff teams. His power and run production were still down, but he still hit .306. If he needs to sacrifice the minimal power he does have just to hit .300 against better pitching, then it's hard for me to believe he will improve his power numbers much if at all in the next few years.

Because of those regular-season numbers, I am slightly inclined to give Cano's awful postseason a pass, like I had done since 2005 with Alex Rodriguez. But Cano was just 12-49 with two home runs in three previous playoff appearances, which makes that a more difficult task. At least A-Rod had been productive in the playoffs with Seattle and in his first season with the Yankees.

Cano needs to hit well over .300 year in and year out to be a consistent producer. When he hit .271 last season, he scored just 70 runs and drove in just 72, pedestrian numbers made even worse by the potency of the lineup around him.

Without a batting-title caliber average, Cano is nothing more than an average offensive second baseman. And he hasn't proven he can produce batting-title worthy numbers against good pitching, which will continue to make him a liability in the playoffs.

I wouldn't package him with Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson for Roy Halladay, since Cano will be just 27 at the start of next season and still has room to grow. His potential as a hitter seems to have no limits, but he has to do it against good pitching too. You can't feast on the Orioles (.478 average) and Mariners (.472) come playoff time. And when you get to the playoffs as often as the Yankees do, regular-season numbers don't mean a thing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 10

1(1). New Orleans Saints (8-0): The Saints found themselves down early again, but it's impossible to hold Drew Brees and company down for 60 minutes this season. And it seems like the defense always finds a way to contribute, with a late fumble recovery in the endzone sealing the deal.

2(2). Indianapolis Colts (8-0): Houston put up a fight and led midway through the fourth, but the Colts managed to pull out a big divisional matchup to stay undefeated. Bring on the Patriots Sunday night!

3(3). Minnesota Vikings (7-1): The Vikings get Detroit, Seattle and Chicago in their three games off the bye week. Their seven wins are almost as many as those three teams combined (8).

4(6). Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2): I was down on them at the start of the season because, let's be honest, they just didn't look good. Five wins later, they look like a team with a legitimate chance to go deep in the playoffs again. After shutting down the Denver running game, the league's best rush defense hasn't allowed 100 yards on the ground since Week 5.

5(5). New England Patriots (6-2): The Pats have won three straight since their overtime loss to then-undefeated Denver. Now they get Peyton Manning and the AFC's lone remaining unbeaten team, the Colts. Could this be a preview of the AFC Championship game?

6(7). Cincinnati Bengals (6-2): The Bengals dominated the Ravens, scoring two first-quarter touchdowns and never looking back. Cincinnati will try to stay undefeated in their division this week at Pittsburgh, in a game that will prove who is the class of the AFC North.

7(8). Dallas Cowboys (6-2): Last month, Dallas was the third-best team in what looked like a strong division. Now, they are atop the NFC East, which looks much weaker than it did four weeks ago after the Giants surprising collapse. Tony Romo has taken care of the ball this season, throwing interceptions in only three of the Cowboys' eight games. When he doesn't throw a pick, Dallas is 5-0.

8(4). Denver Broncos (6-2): Pittsburgh is playing great football right now, so let's not all jump off the Broncos bandwagon so quickly. But one offensive touchdown and 93 rushing yards in two games is worrisome, especially with Kyle Orton struggling to make plays downfield.

9(11). Atlanta Falcons (5-3): After leading 24-3 at the half, the Falcons inexplicably allowed the Redskins to pull within a touchdown. But Michael Turner wouldn't let it get any further, and he now has 38 carries for 317 yards and 3 touchdowns in his past two games.

10(9). Baltimore Ravens (4-4): Ray Rice had 135 of the Ravens 215 total yards this week and caught 8 of the 18 passes that Joe Flacco completed. That can't bode well for the Baltimore passing game.

11(10). Philadelphia Eagles (5-3): A couple of questionable challenges came back to bite the Eagles at the end, when they were unable to stop the clock after the two-minute warning. They travel to San Diego and Chicago in the next two weeks before coming back home for a date with the Redskins, and they need to win at least one on the road to keep their division title hopes alive.

12(16). San Diego Chargers (5-3): The Chargers only beat bad football teams, right? The Giants don't look good right now, but San Diego still won an important game and pulled within a game of division-leading Denver, who has dropped two straight. Deja vu, anybody?

13(18). Arizona Cardinals (5-3): The Cardinals seem to follow the Jekyll and Hyde persona of quarterback Kurt Warner. In Arizona's five wins: 12 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, no multiple-interception games. In their three losses: 4 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, three multiple-interception games. It's hard to be consistent at 38, but if Warner can find his rhythm, this team has a fighting chance.

14(12). New York Giants (5-4): What happened to the Giants? 5-0 and at the top of these rankings just four weeks ago, New York is now hanging with the league's mediocre crowd. Their inability to put the game away with a touchdown inside the five-yard-line cost them a win this week against San Diego, and that is a season-long theme that needs to end if the Giants want to stay in the playoff hunt.

15(13). Houston Texans (5-4): For a second, I thought the Texans had a chance to knock the Colts from the unbeaten ranks. After a bye and a Monday Night tilt with the Titans, Houston will have another shot at it, this time at home.

16(14). New York Jets (4-4): Yes, you can drop two spots on a bye week, I just had nobody to bump ahead of the Jets last week. On the bright side, four of their next five are very winnable and they already proved they can beat New England, who represents that fifth game. Maybe they can earn their way back up with a few wins.

17(15). Chicago Bears (4-4): I said the Bears weren't contenders, and I stand by that after this week. Arizona came out to avenge their awful performance from the week before and stuck it to Chicago, who didn't really start to rack up points until the fourth quarter when the game was already well in hand.

18(17). Green Bay Packers (4-4): I hate to say I told you so. No, I didn't predict a loss to Tampa (and I didn't think it would even be close), but I refused to put Green Bay in the top half of my rankings for a reason. They proved why on Sunday.

19(20). Miami Dolphins (3-5): The Dolphins fight and fight and fight. They are a tough team to beat week in and week out, and their five losses have come against teams who are a combined 32-8, including the undefeated Colts and Saints. They finally get a break with Tampa Bay, Carolina and Buffalo on the upcoming slate. Making it back around .500 is a definite possibility.

20(21). Carolina Panthers (3-5): Carolina, like Miami, jumped out early on the Saints. Also like the Dolphins, they couldn't keep the Saints down for an entire game. I'm not convinced anybody can.

21(19). San Francisco 49ers (3-5): What happened to the 49ers? Seriously though, they just lost to Tennessee. With Vince Young at the helm. Now they have a short week leading into Mike Singletary's first game against his former team. If he can't get his troops fired up for that game, there really is no hope.

22(23). Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4): The Jaguars held off a last-minute surge by Chris Chambers and the Chiefs, as Chambers surprisingly held on to two Matt Cassel passes for touchdowns. The Jets should be a little bit more challenging in Week 10.

23(22). Seattle Seahawks (3-5): A win against Detroit is nothing to write home about. Falling behind 17-0 to a team like the Lions in the first quarter? That's more worrisome than this win is impressive.

24(26). Tennessee Titans (2-6): Vince Young will look for his third straight win since taking over for Kerry Collins against the Bills this week. Something tells me he's going to get it.

25(24). Buffalo Bills (3-5): See above.

26(25). Oakland Raiders (2-6): The Raiders host the Chiefs this week. Does anyone care?

27(27). Detroit Lions (1-7): Matthew Stafford struggled again without Calvin Johnson to nobody's surprise, as there is just nobody else to throw to on this team. Detroit had a big lead early but as I love to say, bad teams find a way to lose. Especially with rookie quarterbacks.

28(28). Kansas City Chiefs (1-7): See: Oakland Raiders.

29(29). Washington Redskins (2-6): Washington gets a Denver team struggling to run the football. Good thing the Redskins are 25th in the league in rushing defense.

30(32). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7): "The battle of the Bays probably won't be very competitive." Yes, that is a direct quote from last week's rankings. Josh Freeman threw a wrench into that statement, throwing for three touchdowns despite completing just 14 out of 31 passes. This offense showed some life with the strong-armed Freeman at the helm, and he should be able to at least keep the Bucs in a handful of games from here on out.

31(30). St. Louis Rams (1-7): The Rams reward for winning? A week off, which probably killed any momentum they had. If that didn't, playing the Saints sure will.

32(31). Cleveland Browns (1-7): Brady Quinn might start again. If that's the case, why pull him in the first place? Anybody associated with this team had to know they were too pathetic to be saved by Derek Anderson, right? Can I ask any more questions?

Monday, November 9, 2009

2004 Quarterback Class in Review

In honor of yesterday's game between the Giants and Chargers, which pitted two quarterbacks drafted in the top five of the 2004 NFL Draft and traded for each other, I will do my own review of arguably the best quarterback class of all-time (with 1983 also in the running). The question: Who from this class is the best quarterback?

The Options (career stats included)
-Eli Manning (1st overall pick) - 56.3% completions, 16,693 yards, 113 touchdowns, 82 interceptions, 77.6 rating
-Philip Rivers (4th overall pick) - 62% completions, 12,942 yards, 92 touchdowns, 42 interceptions, 93.2 rating
-Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall pick) - 63.3% completions, 17,036 yards, 112 touchdowns, 75 interceptions, 90.9 rating
-Matt Schaub (90th overall pick) - 64.6% completions, 8,970 yards, 47 touchdowns, 34 interceptions, 89.6 rating

No, Schaub is not really in the running here. I only included him to prove how deep this class really is, as a case can be made for all four of these quarterbacks to be included in the top ten right now.

The first thing I will do here, to the chagrin of just about every Giants fan I know, is eliminate Eli Manning. In his third season as an NFL starter, Manning won the 2007 Super Bowl. He threw a career-worst 20 interceptions that season, but threw 6 touchdowns and just 1 pick in four playoff games to lead the Giants to victory. And he looked great doing it.

Since then, Manning has only built on his 2007 success and cemented his place among the better quarterbacks in the league. In 2008, he completed over 60% of his passes for the first time and threw just 10 interceptions, the first time in his career he had thrown less than 17 in a season.

His numbers this season look excellent as well, with 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions through nine games. But Manning has regressed in his last four games, throwing just 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions when not facing the likes of Washington, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Oakland.

It's obvious he misses Plaxico Burress, as Manning's regression has gone hand-in-hand with Steve Smith's statistical dropoff. He was sacked just twice during New York's 5-0 start, but has taken 11 since, including five this past week against San Diego.

Segue to Rivers: The only quarterback taken in the first round of 2004 without a Super Bowl ring (sorry J.P. Loserman, you don't count). Rivers is in just his fourth season as the starting quarterback after sitting two seasons behind Drew Brees, an MVP candidate in his own right. In comparison, Manning is in his fifth season as a starting quarterback and Roethlisberger is in his sixth.

The one thing Rivers does better than either Manning or Roethlisberger is take care of the football. He has thrown over 30 fewer interceptions than either quarterback and has lost just three fumbles in his career, all in 2007. You can't score without the football, and Rivers has thrown more than 11 interceptions in a season just once (15 in 2007).

Despite having the mobility of a one-legged mule, a deficiency Manning and Roethlisberger wouldn't understand, Rivers has an innate sense of backside pressure and a quick release that has allowed him to take just 18 sacks in eight games this season. All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson is no longer the threat he once was, and the onus for this offense has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Rivers.

Despite that target on his back, Rivers is on pace for 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season, just a year removed from a 34-touchdown, 11-interception campaign where he was the NFL's only quarterback with a rating above 100.

This week against the Giants, he threw what could have been a costly interception deep in his own territory with just over three minutes to play. But the Giants managed just a field goal to take a 20-14 lead, and giving Rivers the ball back with enough time to win the game proved to be a mistake.

Every quarterback's most important trait is a short memory and Rivers quickly forgot about his mistake, driving San Diego down the field and tossing the game-winning touchdown to Vincent Jackson in the final 30 seconds. The win improved his team to 5-3 and was the first win of the season for the Chargers against a team over .500. Not a bad for a team with no running game and a struggling defense.

The third and final candidate is Big Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger stormed onto the scene in his first two seasons in the league, throwing 34 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in his first 26 games and winning the 2005 Super Bowl. The Steelers were a run-first team then, and Big Ben had less than 300 passing attempts in both seasons.

The next season, Roethlisberger attempted 469 passes and threw just one more touchdown (18) than in the previous two seasons, not to mention 23 interceptions. He would bounce back with an outstanding (dare I say, Rivers-like) 2007, with 32 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 104.1 quarterback rating. A drop in attempts from 469 to 404 was surely beneficial.

After an average 2008 statistically (17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions), Roethlisberger won his second Super Bowl with a late touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes that has been billed as one of the top all-time Super Bowl plays. Like Manning, he has built on this victory and taken his game to a new level this season, leading the now pass-happy Steelers to a 5-2 record and compiling a 102.6 quarterback rating.

Roethlisberger's strength and elusiveness in the pocket make him nightmare for opposing blitzers. The fact that he has taken just 20 sacks in seven games this season is beyond me, as teams know the Steelers are going to throw 35 times every game and their offensive line has struggled at times. But Roethlisberger has developed into a quarterback who can carry an offense on his shoulders, which he was not early in his career.

Now it's time for a decision: Manning, Rivers or Roethlisberger? Statistically, Rivers and Roethlisberger have a significant edge on Manning. In terms of rings, it's Roethlisberger who comes out on top, followed by Manning. My criteria for the best quarterback of the bunch includes both, making it difficult to go against Roethlisberger and his TWO rings, particularly now that he has proven his ability to take a team on his shoulders, something I was not convinced about heading into this season.

From a talent standpoint I still think Rivers is the best of the three, but that is becoming more and more difficult to justify considering Roethlisberger's accomplishments to this point and development into a dominant quarterback. I may have to concede this one for the time being, based on the information at hand. After all, facts outweigh opinions 100 percent of the time.

As for my second choice, give me the steady, fiery and deathly accurate Rivers any day. Roethlisberger and Manning may have stronger arms, but Rivers does the most with the least out of the three and has proven to be the most trustworthy with the football.

I don't see Manning becoming the 30-touchdown playmaker that Rivers and Roethlisberger are, but I will give credit where credit is due. Manning is an excellent game manager who has the ability to make plays when his team needs them. But he cannot carry a football team, at least not at this juncture of his career.

Manning and Roethlisberger both won their titles with unbelievable teams around them. Manning did it against the previously perfect Patriots and for any Giants fans who think I'm trying to discredit what Manning did that season I'm not, so please spare me. But he did have an excellent running game and defense behind him.

Roethlisberger may have two rings, but the Steelers won in 2005 in spite of him (9-21, 123 yards, 2 interceptions against the Seahawks), not because of him. But in last year's big game, Big Ben proved why he is now one of the league's elite quarterbacks.

It's difficult for me to justify ranking these quarterback based solely on championship rings, considering none of them have reached the age of 29 (Roethlisberger and Rivers are 27, Manning is 28). There is still plenty of football to be played for each, and talent prevails in the long run.

Rivers will have his day, probably not this season but down the line. Each of these quarterbacks will probably play another 8-10 seasons, and I'm not convinced Rivers won't end up with just as many titles as Roethlisberger and Manning, if not more during that time. Call it bold, call it blasphemous, call it what you want. Just don't call me when it happens.