Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 8

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1(1). New Orleans Saints (6-0): The Saints found themselves behind for the first time this season, but also found a way to pull out the victory. This team has a lot of ways they can beat you.

2(3). Indianapolis Colts (6-0): The Colts came out and stomped the Rams to remain undefeated. Peyton Manning is locked in a battle with Drew Brees for the MVP through seven weeks, and the return of Bob Sanders will be a huge addition for the Indianapolis run defense.

3(4). Denver Broncos (6-0): There are just three undefeated teams left, but the Broncos get to travel to Baltimore this week in a game that could leave us with just two unbeatens.

4(2). Minnesota Vikings (6-1): The Vikings finally lost a game after flirting with defeat multiple times this season. Brett Favre's mistakes led to points for the Steeler defense, and I doubt this will be the last time this season that Favre's mistakes hurt the Vikings.

5(7). New England Patriots (5-2): I know they beat the Titans and Bucs the last two weeks, but they have looked as good as they should doing it. Now they get an extra week to prepare for the Dolphins and the Wildcat. Something tells me they'll be ready.

6(9). Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2): All the Steelers have done lately is win and they finally did it against a good team. The return of Troy Polamalu makes this defense even more imposing and if Rashard Mendenhall can work out his fumble issues, Pittsburgh will be a complete team once again.

7(8). Cincinnati Bengals (5-2): The rejuvenated Cedric Benson got revenge against his former team and Carson Palmer's five touchdowns added up to a rout of the inconsistent Bears. The Bengals will get an extra week to try and take another game from division rival Baltimore, which would put them in the driver's seat for at least a Wild Card berth.

8(5). New York Giants (5-2): Losing to the Saints is one thing, but the Cardinals? This team will continue to miss rising star Kenny Phillips, and Eli Manning is just 33-68 in his past two games with four interceptions.

9(15). Dallas Cowboys (4-2): Dallas just looks better than Philly right now and they beat Atlanta, who falls below them. Romo-to-Austin looks like it might become a dangerous combination.

10(6). Atlanta Falcons (4-2): The Falcons allow over 250 passing yards per game and Romo took advantage with 311 yards and three touchdowns. Atlanta is outside the top 20 in run defense as well, and their explosive offense can't carry them every week.

11(10). Baltimore Ravens (3-3): Hopefully Baltimore used the bye week well to prepare for the undefeated Broncos. Falling under .500 after a 3-0 start would be a tough pill to swallow.

12(11). Philadelphia Eagles (4-2): Outside of a few big plays, the Eagles weren't that impressive against an awful Redskins team. This team has speed to burn on offense, but against teams that can match their speed (like Oakland), they will struggle.

13(13). New York Jets (4-3): The Jets looked much better against the Raiders than the Eagles did, but for now they stay below them in the rankings. It's hard to trust Mark Sanchez more than Donovan McNabb at the moment, and losing Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington in the last two weeks will deal a serious blow to the Jets on both sides of the ball.

14(16). Arizona Cardinals (4-2): The Cardinals secondary had another good week against the Giants and it looks like Ken Whisenhunt wants to involve Beanie Wells in the running game more. Balance on offense could light a fire under a passing game that hasn't been as explosive this season.

15(17). Green Bay Packers (4-2): Like the Giants a few weeks ago, the Packers will go from playing some of the league's worst teams to one of its better ones. The rematch against Favre at Lambeau will provide enough storylines for SportsCenter, but can Aaron Rodgers split the season series with his mentor? If so, the Packers will be just a half game out of first.

16(18). Houston Texans (4-3): Houston jumped out to a big early lead against the 49ers, who benched Shaun Hill in favor of Alex Smith, who may have led them to a comeback given a few more minutes. The Bills may help Houston move to 5-3 and start to legitimize all that pre-season playoff talk.

17(14). San Francisco 49ers (3-3): Alex Smith gave the San Francisco passing game a jolt this week and will have the opportunity to build on that success. With talented options like Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, this team will be especially dangerous if they can beat teams through the air, as well as on the ground and with their defense.

18(12). Chicago Bears (3-3): Thanks for showing up, guys! Jay Cutler in three wins: 7 touchdowns, 1 interception. Jay Cutler in three losses: 4 touchdowns, 9 interceptions. And his three multi-interception games this season have all been losses. If Cutler doesn't improve his consistency, this team will be looking up at Minnesota and Green Bay all season.

19(19). San Diego Chargers (3-3): The Chargers showed some life this week, beating up on a Kansas City team that was at least trying the two weeks before. It's worrisome that LaDainian Tomlinson couldn't get things going against one of the league's worst run defense.

20(20). Miami Dolphins (2-4): The Dolphins are playing a lot better than their record indicates and they were the first team to lead the Saints this season. Of course, bad teams find a way to lose and good teams find a way to win, which explains the end result.

21(22). Seattle Seahawks (2-4): The Seahawks travel to face the Cowboys this week off their bye, and we will see if the two weeks of preparation does anything for them.

22(23). Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3): The Jags will get to face Vince Young in his first start this season. Sounds like a recipe for victory to me.

23(24). Buffalo Bills (3-4): Ryan Fitzpatrick is still awful (11-22, 123 yards and a touchdown). But he took care of the football and the Bills defense kept Carolina out of the endzone until the fourth quarter. If he doesn't turn it over, Fitzpatrick might at least give Buffalo a chance in some games.

24(21). Carolina Panthers (2-4): Jake Delhomme will remain the starter after three interceptions this past week dashed any hope of victory. If this team had a legitimate backup (sorry Matt Moore), Delhomme might already be riding pine.

25(25). Oakland Raiders (2-5): Richard Seymour said the Raiders would make the playoffs during the week. They probably need to finish 8-1 to make that happen. The combination of JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski might struggle to go 1-8, let alone 8-1. Let's not forget their two wins were by scores of 13-10 and 13-9.

26(26). Detroit Lions (1-5): Calvin Johnson is likely still out and Matthew Stafford looks like a game-time decision. Could the Lions help the Rams end their losing streak? This could be in the running with Browns-Bills and Chiefs-Redskins for the worst game of the year.

27(27). Kansas City Chiefs (1-6): Finally we won't have to watch Larry Johnson and his pathetic 2.7 yards-per-carry. I'm excited to see what Jamaal Charles can do after a Week 8 bye.

28(28). Washington Redskins (2-5): Another bye that couldn't come at a better time. That's not to say I think it will help, however.

29(29). Tennessee Titans (0-6): Vince Young will start against Jacksonville this week. We'll see if he's anywhere near ready against the only NFL team that allows over 300 passing yards per game.

30(30). Cleveland Browns (1-6): The good: Derek Anderson completed more passes (12) than he had in his previous two games (11). The bad: Anderson was still just 12-29, and this team can't run the ball or stop anybody defensively. They're lucky they even have a win.

31(31). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7): Ready or not, here Josh Freeman comes! After Josh Johnson handed him the job by saying he wouldn't be surprised if he was benched, Freeman will get an opportunity to try and move this pathetic offense. The talent is there, but we will see for sure how raw Freeman is against the Packers in Week 9.

32(32). St. Louis Rams (0-7): The Rams have lost 17 straight games and play the banged-up Lions this week, who had lost 19 straight until a win against the Redskins earlier this season. If the Rams can't win this week, they may eclipse Detroit's losing streak with games against New Orleans and Arizona following their bye in Week 9.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yanks, Phillies set to showdown at the Stadium

The 2009 World Series, known to bitter Met fans as "the worst World Series ever," will be upon us in less than four hours. And it's difficult to argue that it doesn't pit the American League's best against the National League's best.

The Yankees swept the Twins and jumped out to a 3-1 lead against the Angels, eventually winning the series in six. The Phillies have also gone 7-2 so far in the playoffs, rolling the Rockies in four in the NLDS and dominating the Dodgers in five. Neither team has seen themselves behind in either series or faced a deciding game.

The upcoming series will undoubtedly provide a bigger challenge for both teams than any they've faced so far. The Yankees have not faced a lineup as potent as Philadelphia's, which boasts four 30-home run hitters (Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley).

However you could say the same thing about the New York lineup, as seven Yankees hit 20-plus home runs during the regular season. Just four teams hit over 200 home runs this season and the Yankees (244) and Phillies (224) were first and second, respectively.

Both lineups are outstanding and will face pitching staffs that have some holes. The Phillies rotation behind ace Cliff Lee is less-than-stellar, as Cole Hamels has been unable to match his performance from last year's playoffs. Pedro Martinez is slated to pitch Game 2 for the Phillies, and he is coming off a seven-inning shutout of the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS. But he is nowhere near the Pedro Martinez of old.

The Philadelphia bullpen has been much-maligned all season and, while Brad Lidge has been lights out in the playoffs so far, he hasn't seen a lineup with as many clutch bats as the Yankees. Ryan Madson hasn't been his dominant self either, and Philadelphia lacks other reliable options outside of Chad Durbin, who has thrown four scoreless post-season innings.

These are just a few reasons why I believe the pitching advantage in this series goes to the Yankees. Both teams have a horse at the top of the rotation in Lee and C.C. Sabathia, but Martinez and Hamels don't match up to A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, who will start Games 2 and 3 respectively for New York. Burnett was roughed up in his last start, but pitched well in his first two post-season outings, while Pettitte has thrown a quality start each time out and has been a great post-season pitcher throughout his career.

The Yankees also known what they're going to get out of closer Mariano Rivera at the back end of their bullpen. Phil Hughes has had his issues as has Alfredo Aceves, and Joba Chamberlain has allowed seven hits in three-plus innings of work, but the Yankees starters go deep enough into games that Girardi can mix-and-match guys like Phil Coke, David Robertson and Brian Bruney, who was added to the roster for this series.

Overall, the Yankees are deeper both in the rotation and in the bullpen. It's hard to give an advantage to either lineup, so we can call that a push. And the fact is that it's extremely difficult to repeat as champions and the Yankees have been hungry all season, seemingly for the first time in years.

In my book, all this adds up to the 27th world championship for the New York Yankees, although this series will pose more of a challenge to them then either the Twins or Angels could. I was there when the Yankees swept the Braves for their 25th title and I have tickets to Game 6 this time around. Hopefully I will witness yet another title celebration, and I predict that I will.

Prediction: Yankees in six

Welcome to the worst World Series ever

As if the 2009 season couldn't get any worse for Mets fans, we now are faced with the worst possible scenario: A Phillies vs. Yankees World Series. Considering how big of a trainwreck the Mets' season was this year, combined with the Phillies and Yankees cruising to division championships, this seemed inevitable since July. 

As this disaster of a World Series took shape, Mets fans were faced with a terrible dilemma: Who do you root for? This is like deciding between getting hit by a bus or a train; you wouldn't ever want either of them to happen. It's the Steinbrenners vs. the team with the trashiest fans in baseball. Shoot me now.

As difficult of a decision as this is, Mets fans have to go for Philly. It's not like we'll be able to celebrate either team winning this disaster of a series, but it will be more fun if the Yankees lose. Here's some reasons why:

- The Phillies won the World Series last year. Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and the rest of the Phils that Mets fans love to hate already have their rings, so seeing them get another one can't be that bad.

On the other hand, many Yankee stars including Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Mark Teixiera and C.C. Sabathia have never won a World Series ring. It's best to keep it that way. Can you think of anything worse than A-Rod winning a World Series? I didn't think so.

- Philadelphia fans are the scum of the earth. They hate everyone and anything and they let you know it. That being said, they are extremely loyal, and suffered through many rough years. Last year was only their second championship in team history.

Yankee fans, on the other hand, are the biggest bandwagoners in the world. You find Yankee fans all over the country, for no particular reason except "they're always good." People from North Carolina to North Dakota buy Yankee hats in October and celebrate when they win, even though they can't even name five players on the team. 

- The Steinbrenners always outspend everyone else in the league, but they treat their fans who try to go to their games like crap. Prices at the new Yankee Stadium have been astronomical, and it seems that the only ways to get a ticket to a World Series game in the Bronx are to have a ridiculous amount of money or to work for a corporation with a lot of money.

Yankee fans were told that there were World Series tickets available and started camping out outside of the Stadium around 6 a.m. Monday morning. Yankee officials let these fans sit outside the stadium until this morning, hours before Game 1, to tell them that there were no tickets available. Stay classy, Steinbrenners.

Plus, as disappointing as it is that he never lived up to his contract with the Mets, it would be fun to see Pedro Martinez beat the Yankees again. Go Phils. 

And that's (hopefully) the only time I'll ever have to say that.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jets roll Raiders, lose another key player for season

This week, the Jets did what most thought they would do last week against Buffalo: bounce back with a big victory against a sad football team. Their 38-0 drubbing of the hapless Raiders proved that the Jets are not quite as bad as they've looked over the past few weeks, but didn't prove much beyond that.

It will still be difficult for the Jets to get back to their early-season success without Kris Jenkins and Leon Washington. Jenkins was lost for the season last week, while Washington broke his fibula against Oakland and was placed on injured reserve.

While the Jets have no legitimate backup for Jenkins, rookie Shonn Greene filled in admirably for Washington, running for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, as the Jets ran for 300 yards for the second straight week.

Greene, however, does not possess the game-breaking ability that Washington does and is nowhere near as proficient catching passes out of the backfield or returning kicks. The loss of Washington will hurt the Jets dearly, especially considering Mark Sanchez will lose a very valuable safety valve. Greene's presence will help soften the blow of losing Washington, but he is a much different player than the diminutive ex-Seminole and a less-effective compliment to the skill set of Thomas Jones.

Back to the game for a quick second, though. Two early turnovers by JaMarcus Russell set the Jets up inside the Raiders' five-yard-line, which New York converted into an early 14-point lead. The Jets proved that they could move the ball as well with their first drive of the second quarter, which went 93 yards and ended in Greene's first career touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

The Jets were able to dominate the Raiders on the ground, running 54 times for 316 yards. Sanchez threw just 15 passes all game, completing nine for 143 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing). Sanchez looked much better in the pocket this week despite being without Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith again and David Clowney made an impact, with four catches for 79 yards and an impressive touchdown grab.

The Jets defense kept the Raiders passing game in check, just like everybody else this season. Russell was pulled in favor of Bruce Gradkowski, whose claim to fame in this game was a 20-yard scramble for a first down, which he emphatically signaled despite a huge deficit (Donnie Avery's ridiculous endzone celebration last week, anybody?). The Raiders ran for 119 yards on just 19 carries, a 6.3-yard average, and the Jets might continue to struggle against the run without Jenkins clogging the middle.

The Jets get a rematch with the Dolphins at home next weekend and come out of their bye with another home tilt against the Jaguars, both of which I will be in attendance for. If I witness two victories (and stopping Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Maurice Jones-Drew will be tough with no run defense), the Jets will go into their Week 11 rematch with the Patriots 6-3 with a chance to beat New England for the second time this season and take the tie-breaker.

But if the Jets struggle to stop two teams that rely heavily on the running the football, they could enter that game 4-5 with their season hanging in the balance. Most Jets fans are hoping it won't come to that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Carter's career day leads Orange past Akron

All week, the questions surrounding Akron's visit to the Carrier Dome involved the Orange's iffy quarterback situation.

The way things went Saturday, it might not have mattered who took the snaps for Syracuse, as long as they could hand the ball off.

Delone Carter ran for a career-high 170 yards and three touchdowns as the Orange avenged last year's embarrassing loss to the Zips with a 28-14 victory.  Carter also set a career high in rushing attempts, carrying the ball 30 times, most of them coming in the second half as Syracuse wore out the Zips' defense.

With Syracuse having an open date the previous week, it gave the fans and media around the team plenty of time to ponder head coach Doug Marrone's decision on who to start under center for the rest of the season.  While Greg Paulus got the coach's official vote of confidence, freshman Ryan Nassib's increased playing time over the past two games gave people plenty of reason to wonder if he wouldn't take over by season's end.

Paulus started and played the entire game Saturday, but it was clear that Marrone and the offensive staff took the bye week to change the game plan and shift the focus onto Carter and the running game.

Paulus finished the game 12-17 for 105 yards and a touchdown on an 11-yard strike to Marcus Sales in the third quarter to give Syracuse the lead for good at 21-14.

Carter stole the show after the opening kickoff, but a bigger story was made before the game when Syracuse announced the one-game suspension of star wideout Mike Williams for a violation of team rules.  Williams was sixth in the nation with 118.7 receiving yards per game and seventh in the nation in receptions per game at 7.5.  The university would not give any specifics about Williams' infraction, but they expressed that it was only for Saturday's game.

Williams, Paulus, Carter and company will host the fifth-ranked team in the country, the Cincinnati Bearcats, on Halloween next weekend.  Kickoff is scheduled for noon and Syracuse is expecting their biggest crowd at the Dome in years, as the Orange have a chance to end the national-championship dreams of the undefeated Bearcats, who will be playing without starting quarterback Tony Pike for the second straight week.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rangers' new additions key fast start

Despite dropping their past two games to the Sharks and Devils at home, the New York Rangers are off to a fast start this season. Before Monday's loss to the Sharks, the Rangers had won seven straight games since falling to the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the season opener.

GM Glen Sather made several risky and questionable moves in the off-season, most notably acquiring high-scoring but injury-prone winger Marian Gaborik as a free agent from Minnesota. Gaborik has been earning his contract so far, with 13 points in the first 10 games.

His 7 goals are two behind league leader Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals. Gaborik has given the Rangers the big offensive threat that they have lacked for many seasons; the question now is whether or not he will be able to stay healthy for the full season.

Wingers Ales Kotalik and Vinny Prospal were both questionable signings during the off-season as well, but both have been surprisingly productive. Kotalik has 10 points in the first 10 games, and his rocket of a shot has found the net four times.

Prospal is reunited with coach John Tortorella, who coached him in Tampa Bay. Prospal and Tortorella did not always see eye-to -eye in Tampa, and Prospal was pegged as someone with a lot to prove this season. He has delivered so far, with 3 goals and 9 assists for 12 points on the season. 

2008 first-round draft pick Michael Del Zotto has already had a huge impact in his rookie season. Del Zotto came to training camp this season unsure if he would even make the team, but the 19-year-old defenseman has delivered so far.

With 4 goals and 5 assists, Del Zotto is tied for the league lead in points by a defenseman and is one goal behind Calgary's Dion Phaneuf for the league lead in points by a defenseman. The Rangers hope that Del Zotto will continue to improve along with rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy and young defenders Daniel Girardi and Mark Staal to form a solid core of blue-liners for the future.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been solid in net, as usual. This year he has finally been receiving consistent offensive support, and the combination has led the Blueshirts to a 7-3-0 record. Although the Rangers started out strong last season as well, they struggled down the stretch and barely made the playoffs as the seventh seed in the East.

But so far this year, the Rangers have shown more promise. During last year's quick start, the team was giving away many late leads and holding on to win in overtime and shootouts. This year's team is much more focused and has enough players who can put the puck in the net when it matters most.

If Gaborik stays healthy and the defense holds up, Madison Square Garden might finally get to host some late-round playoff games next May.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A-Rod, C.C. put Yanks on cusp of World Series

After losing Game 3 on a controversial bullpen decision by Joe Girardi, the Yankees bounced right back in Game 4 to all but put away the Angels in the ALCS, opening up a 3-1 series lead with a 10-1 blowout victory.

This may remind some Yankees fans of the 2004 ALCS, where New York took a 3-0 lead on Boston with 19-8 victory in Game 3, only to lose the next four and watch the Red Sox sweep the Cardinals in the World Series.

This result seems less likely this time around, with the Yankees playing their best baseball in years at the right time and the Angels struggling to keep the potent New York lineup in the ballpark.

The Yankees have hit eight home runs in four games this series, including two in Game 4. Smoking-hot Alex Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to extend the Yankees lead to 5-0 and Johnny Damon hit one in the eighth to push the Yankee advantage to 7-1. C.C. Sabathia allowed just one earned run over eight innings, winning on three-days rest.

The game was marred by multiple mistakes by the umpires, particularly third-base umpire Tim McClelland who missed two important calls that luckily didn't affect the outcome. Since this game, there has been talk of bringing instant replay to baseball, which will only be accelerated if the umpiring blunders continue.

This win came after the Yankees found themselves in their second straight extra-inning battle in Game 3. After getting six-plus innings from Andy Pettitte, Girardi used Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte and Phil Coke for one out each leading up to Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera, who got the Yankees through 10 innings.

With just three pitchers left in the bullpen, including Chad Gaudin who was being held back in case he was needed to start Game 4, Girardi was short-handed in case the game went longer than 11 innings. His saving grace was the presence of Alfredo Aceves, who has shown the ability to go anywhere from three to five innings out of the pen.

After David Robertson retired the first two Angels on 11 pitches, Girardi made the move to Aceves to face Howie Kendrick, a fastball hitter. Aceves is more reliant on his off-speed pitches than Robertson, who likes to use his fastball to retire hitters. On paper, this seemed like a decent move. But they don't play baseball on paper.

Aceves got into a fastball count against Kendrick and allowed a single up the middle and the next batter, Jeff Mathis, ripped a 1-0 pitch off the left-field wall which plated Kendrick to give the Angels a walk-off victory.

The questions began for Girardi, who took out an effective pitcher after just 11 pitches to go to what could have been the last man standing in his bullpen. This was a classic case of overmanaging by Girardi, who seemed to make his decision based on pitch statistics rather than the flow of the game, which dictated that Robertson was pitching well enough to finish the inning.

The hope is that Girardi learned his lesson from that game, and we will see if he has in the games upcoming. But for now, the Yankees have a chance to put the Angels away on the road and advance to the World Series for the first time since 2003, when they lost to the Marlins.

The way A-Rod has played throughout the postseason, including three straight games with a home run and numerous big plays in the field and on the basepaths, this team looks stronger the deeper they go in the playoffs. If Rodriguez continues to play out of his mind, the 2009 playoffs may just be remembered as "A-Rod's Redemption."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 7

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1(3). New Orleans Saints (5-0): Drew Brees ripped up the Giants for 369 yards and four touchdowns, exposing a secondary which hadn't faced a good passing offense all season. This was also their third game scoring more than 45 points, not to mention they haven't won by less than 14 points. It will be tough to score like that on the road as the season wears on, but home-field advantage in the playoffs could get this dome team to Miami.

2(2). Minnesota Vikings (6-0): My top team loses again, and the second-ranked team stays there? The Vikings got lucky to escape the Ravens this week, much like they were lucky to beat the 49ers a few weeks ago. They could very easily be 4-2 and the Saints have dominated every opponent, including the Jets and Giants.

3(4). Indianapolis Colts (5-0): The Vikings beat a good football team and go nowhere, while the Colts are idle and move up a spot. Go figure, right?

4(5). Denver Broncos (6-0): The Broncos stay undefeated thanks a big day on special teams for Eddie Royal, who didn't catch a pass but returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. Kyle Orton continues to look great with the help of the Denver offensive line and athletes like Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler, while the defense sacked Philip Rivers five times, including a forced fumble.

5(1). New York Giants (5-1): The Giants are still a very good football team, but their patsy schedule looks to be the major reason for their undefeated start. It's hard to go from playing the likes of the Bucs and the Raiders to facing Drew Brees and the Saints. They'll have to fix their secondary issues with Arizona coming to the Meadowlands next week.

6(6). Atlanta Falcons (4-1): Matt Ryan got the best of his battle with Jay Cutler, as neither team's star running back played particularly well (Matt Forte: 23 yards, Michael Turner: 30 yards). Ryan just had too many weapons, and he will look to find them all again against the struggling Cowboys next week, who own the 26th-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

7(10). New England Patriots (4-2): The Patriots keep bouncing up and down in these rankings, and a 59-0 dismantling of the hopeless Titans bounces them back up this week. Tom Brady looked like, well, Tom Brady, and it has been his inconsistency at times this season that has cost the Pats. They rely so heavily on him, but if Laurence Maroney can give New England a running game with Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris hurt, this team will still be very dangerous.

8(7). Cincinnati Bengals (4-2): Andre Johnson caught more passes than the previous five top receivers who faced the Bengals and Matt Schaub threw for almost 400 yards. The Bengals and their 28th-ranked pass defense get Jay Cutler and the Bears next week, and both teams will be looking to rebound from losses this week.

9(14). Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2): Two straight wins against Cleveland and Detroit vault the Steelers back into the top 10, as much as they didn't win either game convincingly. I think we have learned that there are a handful of very good teams in the NFL and about twice as many awful ones. Everybody else is just stuck in the middle, starting with the Bengals above and bleeding down to the Chargers at 19.

10(11). Baltimore Ravens (3-3): The Ravens jump ahead of the Eagles and Jets despite a loss to undefeated Minnesota. They should have won the game if not for Steven Hauschka's last-second missed field goal, and they were much more impressive than either Philadelphia or the Jets, who looked pathetic losing to teams in the bottom third of these rankings. Ray Rice is an absolute animal and is quickly becoming one of my favorite backs to watch.

11(8). Philadelphia Eagles (3-2): Philadelphia may still be the second-best team in the NFC East, but that division took a huge hit this week. You can't lose to the Raiders and stay in the top 10. This could be the same up-and-down Eagles squad that we've seen over the past few seasons after all.

12(12). Chicago Bears (3-2): Cutler and the Bears may have lost to Atlanta, but they were close all game and proved they can play with upper-echelon teams in the league. If they can ever get Matt Forte going, they could sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card.

13(9). New York Jets (3-3): If you thought the Miami loss was bad, just look at last week's debacle against Buffalo. Rex Ryan said he considered benching Mark Sanchez, who threw five interceptions, and I was calling for backup Kellen Clemens early in the fourth quarter. Sanchez is still the future (and the present), but he did not deserve to finish that game the way he was playing. And the Jets didn't deserve to win.

14(13). San Francisco 49ers (3-2): The 49ers will try to bounce back after getting ripped apart through the air before their bye week. Too bad Matt Schaub and the high-powered Texans offense awaits this week. Let's see how good of a coach Mike Singletary really is.

15(15). Dallas Cowboys (3-2): No game, no movement. Pretty simple. The Falcons will be a tough matchup at home this week, and it will be interesting to see how Miles Austin follows up his other-worldly performance against the Chiefs.

16(17). Arizona Cardinals (3-2): The Cardinals were able to shut down a Seattle passing offense that accounted for four touchdowns a week earlier, a performance that surprised many (myself included). They put constant pressure on Matt Hasselbeck, recording five sacks and Hasselbeck completed just 10 of 29 passes. It won't be that easy against the Giants next week.

17(18). Green Bay Packers (3-2): The Packers disposed of the injury-plagued Lions as they should have and this week, they get to warm up for a rematch with the Vikings against Cleveland, who is just as bad as Detroit in the secondary.

18(23). Houston Texans (3-3): Did I say bad matchup for Houston? Well I was very wrong, as somehow the Texans held Cedric Benson to 44 yards on 16 carries. The Texans were able to open up a double-digit lead before the fourth quarter to make Cincinnati one-dimensional, and two late fumbles cost the Bengals. Let's see if the Texans can explode once again against a solid San Francisco defense.

19(16). San Diego Chargers (2-3): In the special teams game of the week, the offenses struggled more than the 34-23 score would indicate. Rivers struggled to get going, as I predicted, and proved once again that the Broncos are for real defensively. The Chargers defense is average at best without Jamaal Williams and with an underperforming Shawne Merriman. This team is way too reliant on Rivers.

20(20). Miami Dolphins (2-3): The Dolphins get to host the Saints this week, and even the extra preparation from a bye week probably can't help them against Brees and company.

21(21). Carolina Panthers (2-3): They beat the Redskins and the Bucs, great job Carolina! And they get the Bills this week, who allowed over 300 rushing yards to the Jets. The Panthers ran for 267 yards this week and should be able to beat the Bills on the ground. Now if they could only figure out what's wrong with their passing game...Jake Delhomme, cough.

22(19). Seattle Seahawks (2-4): After a 41-0 win, the Seahawks follow with a 27-3 loss. Their offensive line and running game are too inconsistent for this team to contend, even with the explosive playmakers they have in the passing game. The NFC West may be have a nine-win champion again this season, but it won't be Seattle.

23(22). Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3): Two of the Jaguars' three wins are against the winless Rams and Titans. After their Week 7 bye, they get the Titans again and the Chiefs. After Week 9, they could be the most fraudulent 5-3 team in league history.

24(26). Buffalo Bills (2-4): Did the Bills really win this week, or did the Jets lose? Buffalo did everything they could to let the Jets escape unscathed, but New York refused to take what the Bills were handing them. This team still have serious issues and Ryan Fitzpatrick is not the answer. Bills fan who were calling for him after last week's game will soon realize this. He is something awful.

25(29). Oakland Raiders (2-4): No hope in sight? After beating the Eagles the Raiders actually look like they can challenge the Jets, who may again be facing multiple injuries to their receivers. With Nnamdi Asomugha likely locking down Braylon Edwards, Sanchez may not have anybody to throw to. We saw what happened last time he had no options...

26(25). Detroit Lions (1-5): No one expected the Lions to play Green Bay close without Matthew Stafford or Calvin Johnson. They can use the bye week to get healthy and prepare for the Rams, who should help Stafford and Johnson get re-acclimated pretty quickly.

27(30). Kansas City Chiefs (1-5): The Chiefs have looked much better the past two weeks, which isn't saying much. They kept it close with an average Dallas team and won a field-goal battle with a pitiful Washington squad. I'm curious to see if they can stay in the game with the Chargers, who are nothing special themselves.

28(27). Washington Redskins (2-4): This team would be below Tennessee if it weren't for their two terrible wins. Jason Campbell got benched (finally!) last week and Todd Collins might even be worse. I think that's the only reason Jim Zorn would stick with Campbell. After all, he really has no better options

29(24). Tennessee Titans (0-6): Calling Vince Young, calling Vince Young. If Young isn't off galavanting without his cell phone, we should see him as the starter this week. He's due a roster bonus in March, so it's time for Tennessee to see what they have (or don't have) in the former first-round pick. With average receivers, no defense and an overall hopeless situation, I don't know how much success anyone can really predict for Young.

30(28). Cleveland Browns (1-5): Derek Anderson completed less than half of his passes for the second straight week, and he is 11-41 in his past two games. Brady Quinn may have been throwing five-yard passes, but at least he could complete them.

31(31). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-6): The Bucs are surely looking forward to their Week 8 bye, considering they have no chance this week against the Patriots. I wonder if Josh Freeman is going to be ready to play by Week 9, because Josh Johnson is not the answer. He just may have to be for the time being.

32(32). St. Louis (0-6): The Rams get Peyton Manning and the Colts this week, who could put up enough first-half points to watch the second half from the sideline. A Week 8 matchup with Detroit gives this team some hope that they can win a game in the first half. It's a true shame that Steven Jackson's prime years are going to waste with this team.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bills shock Jets as Sanchez struggles

The Buffalo Bills are not a very good football team. At all. Apparently, the Jets aren't much better.

After a 3-0 start with a rookie quarterback who looked poised beyond his years, hopes were sky-high for the Jets heading into an undefeated battle with the Saints. But the Jets have been exposed in their past three games, allowing 446 rushing yards while Sanchez has thrown one touchdown and eight interceptions, including FIVE against the Bills.

These aren't the Jets' only issues of the moment, either. Nose tackle Kris Jenkins, a vital piece of the New York run defense, suffered a potentially-serious knee injury late in the second quarter. If Jenkins is forced to miss any time, the Jets will continue to struggle to stop the run without a solid replacement (sorry, Sione Pouha).

Back to the football game, however, at least for as long as I can talk about it. This game was sorry on both ends and at times rivaled the boredom that was the Bills-Browns game from last week. The only touchdown of the first half came on a 71-yard run by Thomas Jones, who broke the Jets single-game rushing record with 210 yards on 22 carries.

The score was 13-3 in favor of the Jets at halftime and it looked like New York was going to finish off the Bills and move to 4-2, like everybody expected. But Sanchez was intercepted on the first three drives of the third quarter and Buffalo capitalized on the final two mistakes, kicking a field goal and tying the game with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Lee Evans. Fitzpatrick replaced Trent Edwards in the second quarter, as Edwards left with a concussion.

Once Buffalo tied the game, it seemed like neither team had any desire to win. The Bills started the final drive of regulation at the New York 49-yard-line, but mustered just 21 yards and left the game on the foot of Rian Lindell, who missed a 46-yard field goal as time expired.

The Jets got the ball and came out strong in overtime, as Sanchez seemed determined to redeem himself for his four interceptions. Jones ran for a first down inside the Buffalo 20 on third-and-four, setting up the Jets for an opportunity at a short game-winning field goal from Jay Feely.

Instead, a holding penalty from backup tight end Ben Hartsock nullified the run and pushed the Jets back beyond the 30. Feely came on to attempt a 50-yard field goal, but punter/holder Steve Weatherford couldn't handle the snap and was forced to roll out, throwing an interception that gave the Bills the ball.

The teams exchanged punts before Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Dwight Lowery, giving the Jets possession near midfield. But Sanchez threw his fifth pick of the game running forward in the pocket, trying to force a pass to Braylon Edwards into triple coverage rather than running when he had an open lane. The Bills proceeded to drive 29 yards from their own 42 into field goal range, and Lindell didn't miss this time around from 47 yards out with just under three minutes left in overtime.

This game really deserved to end in a tie, as neither team showed a strong desire to win. And as many times as the Bills tried to hand the game to the Jets, New York seemed reluctant to take it. Despite rushing for 318 yards the Jets couldn't hang on to the football, and they always say you can't score without the ball.

The Jets allowed over 140 rushing yards for the third consecutive game and get the Raiders next week, who ran for 116 yards in their 13-9 win over the Eagles this weekend. Sanchez will get the pleasure of trying to throw against a secondary that features Nnamdi Asomugha, one of the league's better cover corners, after a week where he completed just 10 of 29 passes for 119 yards.

The way the Jets are playing right now, this could be a tough game. Sanchez struggled without Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith this week, as David Clowney proved to be an underwhelming second receiver. If Cotchery and Smith can't get healthy next week and Asomugha locks down Edwards, Sanchez and the Jets could struggle much the same way they did against Buffalo.

With this loss, the Jets fell a game behind the 4-2 Patriots in the AFC East. They will play New England again after the Raiders and a rematch with the Dolphins, two games that looked a lot easier two weeks ago than they do now.

The Jets need their receivers to get healthy to have a chance and without Jenkins in the middle of the defensive line, it will make matters tough on Bart Scott and the rest of the defense to stop the run and create pressure on opposing quarterbacks. After a 3-0 start gave Jets fans hope, the last three games have all but sapped that hope away, at least in the short-term. Things look to be getting worse before they get better.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 6

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1(1). New York Giants (5-0): Finally, my top team holds its ground. That may not be the case this time next week with a trip to the Superdome to play the Saints on the slate. Ironically, Eli Manning has been more accurate throwing downfield than Drew Brees this season.

2(2). Minnesota Vikings (5-0): Like the Giants, the Vikings did what a top team is supposed to against a pathetic one: Run up the score. This week's matchup with the Ravens will be much tougher, but the Vikings have the passing game to beat the Baltimore secondary, which has struggled allowing big plays.

3(3). New Orleans Saints (4-0): Coming off their bye week, the Saints are locked up in the game of the week with the Giants. New Orleans needs to get Pierre Thomas going against a defense that allows 4.5 yards-per-carry, which will open up passing lanes for Drew Brees.

4(4). Indianapolis Colts (5-0): The Colts better be 6-0 after their game with Tennessee this week...just saying.

5(10). Denver Broncos (5-0): I said they would be close to the top five if they beat the Pats, and here they are. They've earned it too, and it's hard not to believe this defense is legit. They may not keep this up, but Kyle Orton is a great quarterback to have when you can play defense and run the football. He has become one of the better game managers in the league.

6.(8). Atlanta Falcons (3-1): Last week's game with San Francisco wasn't even close. Roddy White finally woke up and they have so many impact players on offense. Defensively, they still need work. Their ability to control the ball on offense is their best defense.

7(12). Cincinnati Bengals (4-1): The one week I don't blog my picks, I win my weekly pick 'em league. I did have the Bengals, knowing they would keep it close against the Ravens. That was a big win, and Carson Palmer-to-Andre Caldwell is becoming a clutch combination. If they're for real, they'll handle Houston at home this week. They've allowed just five catches to opponents' top receivers, so watch out Andre Johnson!

8(11). Philadelphia Eagles (3-1): The Eagles are establishing themselves as the second-best team in the NFC East, because the Cowboys are a mess. They survived without Donovan McNabb and now with him back, they will continue to roll against Oakland and Washington.

9(5). New York Jets (3-2): That was a bad loss to Miami, especially for the defense. The Jets were exposed a bit against the run, but let's not forget why the Dolphins wildcat is more effective than everybody else's: Ronnie Brown is just that good. Buffalo should be a nice bounce-back game for a team that could use one.

10(6). New England Patriots (3-2): Bill Bellicheat was bested by Josh McDaniels, who was just a little bit too happy afterwards. But Denver is good and Brady STILL isn't back, so this team won't be too close to the top until that happens.

11(7). Baltimore Ravens (3-2): My top team from Week 3 loses two in a row? Ouch. The Ravens are a good football team but they've been susceptible to the big play and 3-3 might be in their future unless they can do what no one else has this season: Beat the Vikings.

12(13). Chicago Bears (3-1): This will be a telling game for Chicago. They should be able to score against the Falcons, but can they outscore them? Jay Cutler has been great and his receivers got healthier during the bye week, so there's a chance.

13(9). San Francisco 49ers (3-2): Like the Jets, the 49ers were let down by a defense that had been their rock all season. Every team has a bad day, but San Francisco looked really bad last week. Good time for a week off.

14(14). Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2): Beating Detroit by just a 28-20 score doesn't impress me enough to move up. Troy Polamalu's return this week should help this team look better on defense again.

15(15). Dallas Cowboys (3-2): Dallas doesn't move up either, needing overtime to beat the Chiefs. Miles Austin looked like a superstar with 250 yards and two touchdowns, outside of dropping a couple other touchdowns. Will he be the new T.O. in this offense?

16(16). San Diego Chargers (2-2): Coming off a bye week, the Chargers have had two weeks to prepare for Denver, which might be necessary the way the Broncos are playing. With Jamaal Williams out for the season, they will continue to struggle against the run, which is a recipe for disaster against the Broncos. Unless Philip Rivers puts in another great performance against an impressive defense, this game will be tough.

17(18). Arizona Cardinals (2-2): Arizona won their shootout with Houston last week, thanks to a defensive score from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Cardinals will still get thrown on all day by the Seahawks, and this should prove to be another shootout. Who wins is anybody's guess.

18(17). Green Bay Packers (2-2): Aaron Rodgers against the Detroit secondary should be fun to watch. If you're a Packers fan. This one could get ugly, especially with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson unlikely to play for the Lions.

19(23). Seattle Seahawks (2-3): The Seahawks threw all over the Jaguars and you really see the effect a quarterback like Matt Hasselbeck has on a team. We'll see if he can get the better of Kurt Warner this week, who has had his shares of struggles.

20(28). Miami Dolphins (2-3): Big jump, but I was impressed with how their offense rolled over the Jets. Chad Henne showed flashes, and if he can play close to that level every week, this team will be okay. Just not a playoff team.

21(24). Carolina Panthers (1-3): I know a win over the Redskins is nothing to write home about, but this team has more potential than the rest. It just shows how many bad teams there are this season.

22(21). Jacksonville Jaguars (2-3): The Jaguars looked awful last week. Maurice Jones-Drew couldn't get it going, and David Garrard isn't much more than a better version of Jason Campbell. And that defense...

23(22). Houston Texans (2-3): Arizona didn't even have to run the ball against the Texans to win the game. Cedric Benson and the Bengals will not give this run defense a break this week. And Matt Schaub will need to look for other options if Leon Hall and the Bengals secondary can keep Andre Johnson in check. Bad matchup for Houston.

24(19). Tennessee Titans (0-5): Seems like an 0-3 start really got to this team. They have played terribly the past two weeks and get Tom Brady this week, who should rectify his "struggles" this season against the league's worst pass defense. If Vince Young isn't starting by midseason, I don't know what the Titans are doing.

25(25). Detroit Lions (1-4): Detroit kept it close with Pittsburgh this week, but outscoring Green Bay without their starting quarterback or best wide receiver doesn't seem likely. This one won't be as close as last week.

26(20). Buffalo Bills (1-4): The Bills lost to a team whose quarterback completed two passes. All game. T.O. has gotten lost in Buffalo and on a one-year deal, the Bills would be wise to ship him for anything, since he won't help them win this season and seems unlikely to re-sign. If Trent Edwards doesn't improve soon, this team's next quarterback might be Sam Bradford.

27(27). Washington Redskins (2-3): Washington lost to Carolina, proving to anybody who thought their 2-2 record meant something that it really didn't. They get the Chiefs this week, so 3-3 looks like a strong possibility. But with only Oakland as a patsy game the rest of the way, 3-3 could easily become 4-12.

28(31). Cleveland Browns (1-4): So Derek Anderson really isn't much better than Brady Quinn after all. But now Quinn is selling his house? That's about the most interesting storyline surrounding this team, even after a win. Pretty sad.

29(26). Oakland Raiders (1-4): No hope in sight until their Week 9 bye: Eagles, Jets, Chargers.

30(29). Kansas City Chiefs (0-5): After playing Dallas close last week and leading much of the game, Kansas City has another chance for their first win against a lesser NFC East opponent. They have to get it eventually, and Jacksonville in Week 9 also looks like a chance if they don't get it done here.

31(30). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5): I wonder which is going to be a worse game, Tampa Bay-Carolina or Washington-Kansas City? And can either of them match last week's Bills-Browns boredom?

32(32). St. Louis (0-5): Rams-Jaguars could also be in the running for week's worst, but I have a feeling Jacksonville might show up. And even if the Rams do, they don't stand a chance, even against the Jaguars.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

MLB Championship Series Preview

The ALCS and NLCS have been set, and I was three-for-four on my picks, missing on just the Cardinals over the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a better baseball team, but I was very surprised that the top of the Cardinals rotation couldn't hold up in a short series. Once Carpenter lost Game 1, that series was over in my book. But as it ended up, the four best teams in baseball remain.

Yankees vs. Angels

The big news heading into this series is the Yankees plan to use a three-man rotation consisting of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. This means Sabathia will pitch Games 1, 4 and 7, throwing Game 4 on three-days rest and Game 7 on four-days rest. Burnett and Pettitte will both be pitching on four-days rest.

This is nothing new for Sabathia, who carried the Brewers to the playoffs last season pitching his final three starts on three-days rest, as well as Game 2 of the division series against the Phillies. He allowed two earned runs in the regular-season starts, but was hit hard for five earned in 3.2 innings in the playoffs.

The Yankees have been using him on regular rest recently so fatigue should not be an issue for a horse like Sabathia, like it may have been in last year's playoffs. The Angels will be using a standard four-man rotation, with John Lackey facing Sabathia in Game 1 followed by Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir.

Both teams have excellent lineups from top to bottom, and the Yankees lack of a fourth starter won't come into play if they go with the three-man rotation. This allows the Yanks to keep Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, where he really does seem more comfortable.

With Chamberlain potentially available for the sixth and seventh innings leading up to Phil Hughes in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth, the Yankees have a significant edge over the Angels in the bullpen. With the lineups and rotations being as even as they are, this slight edge might make the difference in this series for the Yankees. As the old adage goes, bullpen and bench wins in the playoffs. And the Yankees are deeper than the Angels in both those areas.

Prediction: Yankees, 4-3

Dodgers vs. Phillies

The Dodgers are the best team in the National League, in my humble opinion. After what they did to a dangerous short-series team in the NLDS against the Cardinals, I'm convinced they will be a very tough out. While the Phillies have a great lineup and good starting pitching, their bullpen scares me.

Brad Lidge had two saves against the Rockies but struggled with his control, walking two batters in 1.1 innings of work. I'm not convinced he won't blow a game in this series, which could be the difference against a very good Dodgers team.

People may question the Dodgers rotation, but Vicente Padilla has been phenomenal for them over the past month, while Clayton Kershaw was very effective in Game 2 of the NLDS. Even if their rotation falters, the Dodgers' deep bullpen will be an asset all series, as will as a bench that includes Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Mark Loretta (who had a walk-off hit in Game 2) and Juan Pierre.

Cliff Lee has been a great pickup for Philadelphia, but beyond him there are question marks in the Phillies' rotation. Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ did not pitch well in the division series, and Pedro Martinez has not pitched in over two weeks. Hitters like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth will keep this series from getting out of hand, but in the end I see Joe Torre and the Dodgers playing his former team in the World Series. What a story that would be.

Prediction: Dodgers, 4-2

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The curious case of Syracuse's QB "controversy"

You're the head coach of a Division-I BCS football program.  You're 2-4 at midseason.  Your bowl chances are going down faster than Kanye West's career.

You've got a senior QB, on his way out at the end of the season.  He's been struggling with turnovers and a lack of production in your last two losses, both in conference play.  He's your leader and has been the face of the team since season's beginning.

You've also got a redshirt fresman.  A newcomer.  He's played well in spot duty all year and threw two touchdowns in last week's game in the second half of a blowout.  He's the next face of the team.

What do you do?

Well, anyone in their right mind would choose the second option, wouldn't they? That's where it gets complicated for Doug Marrone and the rest of the Syracuse football coaching staff.

Not only is the QB a senior and the face of your team, he's Greg Paulus.  Yes, that's right.  The Greg Paulus.  You know, that guy from Duke.  A national story in and of himself.  An All-American boy both in personality and basketball prowess.

Paulus has provided so much to the Orange in terms of promotions, ticket sales, marketing, advertising and recruiting, there is no way Marrone can bench him, right?  Attendance is at a high not seen since the turn of the century and fan excitement is up at similar levels.  Sure, some of it is due to an exciting new head coach and the return of a national star in receiver Mike Williams, but Paulus sure has a lot to do with it as well.

And it's not even as if Paulus' season has been that bad. He is 108-169 for 1187 yards, eight touchdowns and ten interceptions in 2009.

The problem lies in the fact that Paulus' case is so different, so exceptional, so riddled with questions that no one at Syracuse or sitting in the Carrier Dome stands on Saturdays knows the correct strategy to play here.  He's a freshman in playing time, experience and football IQ, but he's a senior in leadership, moxie, and maturity. It's a one-of-a-kind situation, and not necessarily in a good way.

Ryan Nassib, on the other hand, is a redshirt freshman who was tagged the starter before Paulus' name ever came up in Central New York.  Nassib is 11-21 for 150 yards and two scores on the season, while not turning the ball over at all.  Nassib is clearly penciled in as the starter for the foreseeable future, but when does that future start?

Marrone has stated publicly that there is no controversy, no decision to make, no considerations to take in.  Paulus is the starter.  Case closed.

I'd have to agree with Marrone for now.  Riding out the Paulus train until the end of the season is the right move, even with a few five-interception games here or a 5-9, 30 yard, one-interception half there.  Paulus has brought an identity and a national focus to an Orange team that had lacked any semblance of talent for nearly ten years.  He deserves the opportunity to play out his career and do what he came to Syracuse to do.

If it miraculously ends in a bowl game, fantastic. But it's not a necessity to deem the experiment a success.

Paulus has put Williams on the NFL map by feeding him footballs constantly.  He has single-handedly drawn visits from NFL scouts and media figures alike, all wanting to see a piece of this otherworldly exhibit.

Ryan Nassib will have to wait his turn, for now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Edwards shines, defense struggles to slow down Dolphins and Wildcat

It's fitting that the Dolphins scored the game-winning touchdown on a direct snap to Ronnie Brown from the Wildcat. Miami ran 16 plays out of the formation for 110 yards on Monday night, as the Jets just couldn't find an answer for Brown, Ricky Williams and even Pat White, who ran for a first down on second-and-four on the final drive.

Not only did the Jets struggle to stop the Wildcat, but Chad Henne was more effective against their pass defense than either Drew Brees or Tom Brady was earlier this season, going 20-26 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. That had a lot to do with the Dolphins underrated offensive line and the effectiveness of their running game, as the Jets couldn't let the dogs loose against the Dolphins' run-heavy gameplan and the line did a great job picking up the blitz when it came.

On the bright side for the Jets, it looks like they made a shrewd move in trading almost nothing for Braylon Edwards, who reverted back to his 2007 form in his first game with his new team on the big stage. He caught a three-yard touchdown from Sanchez early to tie the game at seven, snatching the ball out of the air in the back of the endzone and showing surprising strength with his hands.

Edwards also made an acrobatic 34-yard catch in the fourth quarter on third-and-21, as Sanchez pump-faked to the right to freeze the safety just long enough for Edwards to beat his man down the left sideline. Sanchez put the throw where only Edwards could make the catch and he did, for what looked to be a touchdown. After a review, they ruled him down at the half-yard-line, but Thomas Jones punched it in to put the Jets back on top, 20-17, after a Henne touchdown to Anthony Fasano on the previous drive.

The Dolphins would march right back the field, as Henne connected with speedster Ted Ginn for a 53-yard touchdown. Ginn put a double move on Jets corner Darrelle Revis, who it seems hadn't been beat all season until last night. The throw from Henne was right on the money as Ginn outraced three Jets to the endzone.

After the teams exchanged punts, Sanchez found pre-season star turned regular-season inactive David Clowney 53 yards downfield and the Jets went 63 yards in just four plays to take the lead back at 27-24 on Jones' second touchdown of the game. But the Dolphins would essentially run out the clock with a 13-play, 70-yard drive that culminated in Brown's two-yard touchdown with just six seconds to play on third down.

The way the fourth quarter was going, it looked like the team to have the ball last was going to win the game, and that's exactly what happened. Sanchez had to air the ball out on the final play from Miami territory and his throw fell incomplete around the 10-yard-line as time expired. If the Jets had at least a minute to put a drive together, the result may have been different.

Give credit to the Dolphins though, as their offense controlled the game with the run. That was especially true on the last drive, where they ran the clock down to the end to keep the Jets from answering. The Dolphins set up the pass with the run well all night, keeping the Jets defense confused and off-balanced.

The return of Calvin Pace didn't do much for the Jets defense as a whole, but Pace finished with five tackles (one for a loss). Sanchez finished 12-24 for 172 yards and a touchdown, while Edwards had 64 yards on five catches. Ronnie Brown led the Miami ground attack with 74 yards on 21 carries and Ricky Williams had a big day, running 11 times for 68 yards and catching three balls for 70 yards, including a beautiful executed 59-yard screen play in the first quarter.

Even without Chad Pennington, the Dolphins are a well-coached football team that can run the football with the best in the league. And if Chad Henne plays like this every week, teams will have a lot more trouble with the Dolphins than they did with Pennington at the helm.

The Dolphins head into their bye 2-3, while the Jets will host the 1-4 Bills at the Meadowlands. After this loss and the Bills' awful effort against Cleveland, I expect a bounceback next week from what should be an angry Jets defense. Trent Edwards should watch his head.

-Jerricho Cotchery was extremely limited due to a hamstring injury, catching just one ball for four yards in limited action. Edwards' ability to pick up the offense quickly combined with Cotchery's injury issues were likely the major contributors to his absence, but he should be back in full force next week to team up with Edwards and give the Jets the dangerous receiving combination they haven't had since the days of Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A-Rod and Yanks sweep Twins, set up ALCS matchup with Angels

The Yankees had no trouble disposing of the Twins in the ALDS, outscoring Minnesota 15-6 in the series. The pitching was stellar and the hitting was timely, just like both have been all season for New York.

But perhaps the biggest positive that came out of this series was the play of Alex Rodriguez, who may have finally erased his past post-season failures from the minds of Yankees fans. His two RBI in the Yankees' 7-2 Game 1 win was just the start of his heroics.

In Game 2, Rodriguez tied the game at one apiece with an RBI single to left field to score Derek Jeter. But when the Twins pushed two across in the eighth against the typically lights-out Phil Hughes, it looked as though New York was going to let Minnesota steal one at the Stadium. Rodriguez refused to let that happen.

Mark Teixeira led off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Twins closer Joe Nathan, who had 47 saves in the regular season and a 2.10 ERA. Known as one of the best stoppers in the game, Nathan met his match when Rodriguez hit a shot over the center-field wall to tie the game at three and send Yankee Stadium into a frenzy. I know I was going nuts in front of my TV, screaming things like "Who said A-Rod wasn't clutch?!?!?"

Two innings later, it was Teixeira ripping a line drive just over the left-field fence to give the Yankees a 4-3 extra-inning victory, just a day after fellow off-season signing C.C. Sabathia exercised his own playoff demons and shut down the Twins offense in the opener.

Rodriguez wasn't finished after just two games, however. After former Yankee bust Carl Pavano held New York to just three hits in the first six innings and the Twins took a 1-0 lead into the seventh, it was Rodriguez again igniting the Yankee offense.

A-Rod showed how locked in he truly is right now, launching a pitch on the outside half of the plate over the right-field wall to tie the game. Jorge Posada followed with a home run of his own two batters later to put the Yankees ahead for good.

For the series, Rodriguez was 5-11 with two homers and six RBI, driving in almost half of the runs the Yanks scored in the series. If he struggles in the ALCS nobody will remember how he carried the Yankees to an ALDS sweep, but he has really carried over the momentum from his two-homer, seven-RBI game in the season finale and is as locked in as he's ever been in a Yankee uniform.

However, there are still questions for the Yankees heading into the ALCS. Joba Chamberlain looks much more comfortable in the bullpen, throwing 1.2 scoreless innings in the ALDS and attacking hitters from the get-go. Will the Yankees leave him in the bullpen and let Chad Gaudin be their fourth starter (with Chamberlain in long relief if Gaudin struggles), or do they throw Joba back to the wolves with the hope he can translate his aggression out of the bullpen to the rotation?

The other question surrounds who will catch A.J. Burnett, who allowed just one earned run in six innings in Game 2 despite five walks. Burnett is obviously much more comfortable with Jose Molina behind the plate, but Posada proved his importance to this lineup by going 4-11 with a big home run and two RBI. I think Girardi should stick with Molina catching Burnett for now, because if it ain't broke don't fix it. But that's why he gets paid the big bucks, not me.

Unlike the series with the Twins there will be no room for error against the Angels, a well-coached team who won't make the same mistakes the Twins did, such as overrunning bases. Joe Girardi will need to push the right buttons to see his team reach the World Series, as I think the Angels pose a bigger challenge to the New York's title hopes than any of the National League teams remaining.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jets trade for Edwards to jumpstart downfield passing game

The news broke early Wednesday morning that the Jets had made yet another trade with Eric Mangini's Cleveland Browns, shipping Chansi Stuckey, Jason Trusnik, a conditional third-round pick and a fifth-round pick to the Browns for Braylon Edwards, a talented yet enigmatic receiver.

Since catching 80 balls for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2007, Edwards has struggled mightily, recording barely over 1,000 yards in his next 20 games and dropping as many passes as any receiver in the league. The hope is that a fresh start and stability at the quarterback position will help Edwards regain his 2007 form.

On paper, this looks like another steal for the Jets as they upgraded their second receiver position without giving up another starting-level player or a first-day draft pick. The Jets also made a trade with the Browns on draft day to land the fifth overall pick and quarterback Mark Sanchez without trading a starting-level player and losing just their first and second-round picks.

It seems like Mangini still likes some of the players he coached with the Jets, and Stuckey is a young, talented receiver who was a serviceable second receiver and still has room to grow. But by no means is he the threat that the 6-3 Edwards is, especially in the red zone.

But Edwards doesn't come without baggage. His 2007 season is the only one in his career where he has topped 1,000 yards or six touchdowns and the NFL is looking into an alleged assault by Edwards outside a Cleveland nightclub Monday morning, as Edwards is accused of punching a promoter who happens to be friends with LeBron James. James called Edwards "childish" after hearing of the incident, but had no comment on the trade to New York.

If Edwards can move past these allegations and learn the Jets playbook in a short period of time, he will give the Jets the down-field receiving threat they sorely lack and allow Sanchez to hurt teams deep when they stack the box, like the Saints did on Sunday. Rex Ryan said Edwards will start Monday night against the Dolphins, but expect to see plenty of Brad Smith as well while Edwards gets used to the Jets' offensive system.

If recent history is any indication, it will be difficult for Edwards to make a huge impact in his first season with the Jets. The Cowboys gave up a king's ransom for Roy Williams at the trade deadline last season, only to watch him catch just 19 balls for 198 yards and one touchdown in his nine games in Big D. Williams also had to battle Terrell Owens and Jason Witten for touches, while Edwards will be competing for the ball with Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller, a lesser version of the Cowboys combination.

Like Edwards, Williams had one breakout season in 2006, catching 82 balls for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns. Williams has never been able to match that season, and the Jets are hoping Edwards doesn't follow the same path.

If Edwards can keep his head on straight and establish a rapport with the developing Sanchez, he should be able to make plays and help the Jets open up their offense. If it works out, this acquisition will make the Jets a more complete team, and one that can challenge the Ravens and Colts for supremacy in the AFC.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MLB Division Series Preview

Now that the regular season has finally come to a close after a great one-game playoff won by the Twins, it's time for my post-season predictions. But first, we will recap my All-Star break predictions.

In the American League, I was half right on Boston and New York. I had them both in, but I had Boston winning the division and boy, was I way off on that. But for once, I'm extremely happy about being wrong.

I had the Angels in the West as well but went with Chicago in the Central. That was more of a knock on the Tigers than anything else, as I didn't think they were a good enough team to make the playoffs (and they didn't). It just happened to be the Twins who caught them, as the Tigers couldn't hold a seven-game September lead, much like the Mets in 2007.

On the National League side, I was right on the Phillies in the East, the Dodgers in the West and the Rockies taking the Wild Card. But I whiffed badly on my NL Central pick of Milwaukee, who finished under .500 and a whopping 11 games behind the Cardinals.

I guess six-for-eight isn't too bad, but most of them were rather easy picks (missing the Cardinals annoys me). Hopefully I can do better with these playoff predictions.

American League

Yankees vs. Twins

Looking at the pitching matchups on paper, this series should be over even before Minnesota ace Scott Baker takes the hill in Game 4, as he was needed against Detroit to get the Twins into the playoffs. The Yankees should take Game 1 easily with C.C. Sabathia on the mound against Brian Duensing and his nine career starts, not to mention the 12-inning marathon the Twins had to endure last night, as their flight reached New York just 15 hours before tonight's first pitch.

Game 2 will be very interesting, as Joe Girardi has decided to catch Jose Molina with A.J. Burnett on the mound. Jorge Posada and Burnett have struggled to get on the same page this season and this will be a controversial move if the Yankees lose this game, taking Posada's bat out of the lineup (Hideki Matsui is likely to DH). Nick Blackburn will oppose Burnett for Minnesota.

Game 3 pits playoff veteran Andy Pettitte against former Yankee bust Carl Pavano, who was shelled in his last outing against the Tigers. Sabathia will return for Game 4 against Baker, if the series even gets that far.

In the end, the Yankees are just too good for the Twins. What Minnesota lacks in star power they make up for with scrappy players who play the game the right way, but the Yankees offense and starting pitching will be too much for the small-market Twins to handle.

Prediction: Yankees, 3-0

Angels vs. Red Sox

As a Yankee fan, I will actually be rooting for the Red Sox in this series, as the Angels always hurt New York in the postseason. That probably won't matter in the end though, because the Angels are the better team and they will win this series.

Game 1 will pit Jon Lester against John Lackey. Lester hasn't faced the Angels this season, while Lackey pitched 7.2 innings against Boston and allowed just two earned runs. I like Boston to take Game 1, but Jered Weaver looms in Game 2, and he has dominated Boston in two starts this season (13.2 innings, one earned run).

The Angels' solid top-to-bottom lineup will be too much for the young Clay Buchholz in Game 3 and with a 2-1 lead, Los Angeles will win one of the series' final two games to move on and face the Yankees.

Predictions: Angels, 3-2

National League

Phillies vs. Rockies

I like the Rockies, I really do. I just don't think they're good enough to beat the Phillies. Combine the average Rockies starting pitching with the potent Philadelphia lineup and you have a recipe for disaster.

Game 1 provides an intriguing matchup, with Cliff Lee facing Ubaldo Jimenez. Lee has struggled after a hot start following his trade from the Indians, while Jimenez is enjoying a breakout season that saw him win 15 games with a 3.47 ERA. Jimenez pitched well in the 2007 playoffs, throwing 16 innings and allowing just four earned runs, including a 6.1-inning, one-run performance to close out an opening-series sweep of the Phillies.

I like the Rockies in Game 1, but Game 2 and 3 will belong to the Phillies. Game 2 starter Cole Hamels posted a 3.32 ERA and 40:8 K:BB ratio in September and the Philadelphia offense should be able to score a few runs against Aaron Cook. The Phillies are unsure at this point who they will throw in Game 3 against Jason Hammel, but I don't see Hammel keeping their offense down.

The one chink in the Phillies armor' this season compared to last is their bullpen. Brad Lidge went from lights out in 2008 to lit up in 2009, and Ryan Madson has proven his inability to close this season on numerous occasions. These late-innings issues will come back to haunt Philadelphia eventually, just not in this series.

Prediction: Phillies, 3-1

Cardinals vs. Dodgers

The Dodgers enter the playoffs cold, having lost five of their last seven games and seven of eleven. But the Cardinals have won just two of their last ten games, with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright picking up the only two victories in that stretch.

The Dodgers' suspect rotation will be exposed against Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and the Cardinals lineup, who also have the luxury of throwing Cy Young candidates Carpenter and Wainwright in the first two games of this series against Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers bullpen is excellent with Jonathan Broxton, Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill, but they may not see an opportunity to hold a lead in the first two games. L.A. has a fighting chance against Joel Piniero in game three, but I don't see this series going the distance.

Prediction: Cardinals, 3-1

Pressure mounts on Jauron as Bills lose in ugly fashion to Dolphins

After three consecutive 7-9 seasons in Buffalo, it was clear that it was "put up or shut up" time for the Dick Jauron regime in 2009.

So far, it seems the "shut up" is coming sooner than anyone could have expected.

The Buffalo Bills fell to the Miami Dolphins 38-10 on Sunday afternoon, suffering the second-worst defeat of the Jauron era and being dominated in all facets of the game in the process.

Let's look at some figures:

- The Bills surrendered 250 rushing yards to the Dolphins, with plenty of them coming out of Miami's vaunted "Wildcat" formation.  It was the most yards given up on the ground by Buffalo since they gave up 289 to the eventual-champion New York Giants on December 23, 2007.  The Bills should have noted that Miami led the league in rushing  coming into the game and gameplanned against it.

-The Bills' patchwork offensive line, young and already riddled with injuries, surrendered six sacks to a defense playing without it's best pass rusher in Joey Porter.  They have now allowed 16 on the season, second-worst in the league.

-Bills' QB Trent Edwards stats in the first two weeks, a close loss at NE and a win over Tampa Bay: 36/56, 442 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT

...and in the next two games, both blowout losses: 34/61, 348 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT

Clearly, an overhaul is in order for this team.  The question now for Jauron is not "if", it's "when".

With the Bills sitting at 1-3 and last in the AFC East, Jauron is closer to the buzzsaw than he ever has been in his four-plus seasons in Buffalo.

Most thought he was close to being canned this offseason, but it took a long meeting between Jauron and owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. to decide that Wilson was willing to give the coach one more season to get things straight.  Jauron promised a higher-octane offense with the addition of Terrell Owens, the continued development of Trent Edwards in his third season, and the installation of a no-huddle offense resembling the K-Gun days of old in Buffalo.

But it was clear that Jauron saw the writing on the wall after the firing of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, coming off of a horrific preseason for the starting offense.

Many believed that a playoff appearance, the first for the franchise in ten years, would be the only thing that could keep Jauron around.  The Bills face one of the toughest schedules in the NFL for the rest of 2009 playing in arguably the toughest division in the league, a division in which they haven't won a game since December 9, 2007.  Simply put, don't bet on a post-season appearance for the Bills after this underwhelming start.

Jauron and the Bills need to right the ship quickly, starting when the Cleveland Browns come to Orchard Park on Sunday for what amounts to be a must-win for Jauron's job.  If the Bills lose that one to a pathetic Cleveland team, there's no reason to believe he'll be around to see the end of this month.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams Take Three (Teams 1-16)

(Last week's ranking in parentheses)

1(2). New York Giants (4-0): My third different top team in three editions of the rankings. After rolling over the Bucs, the Giants did much of the same against the Chiefs. Steve Smith continues to prove he is no longer "the other Steve Smith" with another 11 catches and two touchdowns, but only one other Giant receiver caught more than one pass (Kevin Boss had four). Eli Manning's injury isn't too worrisome, as he should be ready for the Saints in Week 6 even if he sits against Oakland. Either way, New York should be 5-0 this time next week.

2(3). Minnesota Vikings (4-0): Brett Favre has that magical feeling surrounding him again after beating his former team. But let's not be so quick to forget last season, where he threw 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in the first four games (he has eight touchdowns and one interception this season). The last 12 games last season: 10 TD, 18 INT. And he is "injured." The jury is still out.

3(6). New Orleans Saints (4-0): The Jets defense allowed just 10 points to the Saints offense, but it was the New Orleans defense that did work, forcing four Mark Sanchez turnovers, two of which turned into touchdowns. Darren Sharper and his five interceptions have made a difference for this secondary, and the Saints proved for the second week in a row that they don't need to score 30 points to win. Brees hasn't thrown a touchdown in two games, but Pierre Thomas is a beast and gives this team balance they've struggled to find in recent years.

4(5). Indianapolis Colts (4-0): Indy took care of business against Seattle and did nothing to drop below New Orleans this week, but after watching the Saints defense on Sunday I'm convinced they have a better overall team. Peyton Manning is playing out of his mind right now and as long as that continues, the Colts will be tough to stop. With upcoming games against Tennessee and St. Louis, they may be the last undefeated team standing.

5(4). New York Jets (3-1): You may ask how I can drop the Jets just one spot after an ugly loss in the Superdome. For starters, they beat New England (the next team on my list) and they lost to an excellent football team. Sanchez played like the rookie he is, but he didn't lose his composure despite piling on the mistakes. He should bounce back in the next few weeks, with two games against Miami and one against Buffalo and Oakland. Anyone who is writing the Jets off after last week will be sorry.

6(7). New England Patriots (3-1): The Pats took care of the top team in my rankings two weeks in a row, proving I underestimated them by putting them 10th in my initial rankings. Tom Brady has looked much more like himself the past two weeks, handling the Baltimore blitz much better than he handled the Jets blitz (with the exception of a fumble recovered in the endzone by the Ravens). He was 14-for-20 for 167 yards and a touchdown on plays where the Ravens rushed five or more and New England was able to run the ball enough to keep Baltimore off balance.

7(1). Baltimore Ravens (3-1): The Ravens are still an excellent football team, but after last week they can't stay above New England. If Mark Clayton doesn't drop that fourth-down pass late in the fourth, the Ravens could still be at the top of these rankings. But Clayton did drop it and despite great play from Joe Flacco this season, the Ravens receivers aren't their strong point and that showed on Sunday.

8(1). Atlanta Falcons (2-1): The Falcons better have used their bye week wisely to prepare for San Francisco, who scored three times on defense this week against the Rams. Michael Turner might struggle against Patrick Willis and the fourth-ranked 49ers rush defense, meaning Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and the slow-starting Roddy White will be the keys to this one. If Ryan can take care of the football, the Falcons have a good chance to win.

9(9). San Francisco 49ers (3-1): The 49ers recovered a fumble in the endzone and returned one for a touchdown, as well as an interception. Shaun Hill continues to take care of the football and has thrown just one interception in four games. Hill also has been able to utilize the freakish ability of Vernon Davis, who looks to be in the midst of a breakout season (finally!). This team's focus will continue to be on defense and running the football, especially when Frank Gore returns, and Hill's ability to hang onto the ball will keep this team in the game each and every week.

10(14). Denver Broncos (4-0): They have finally earned enough respect from me to crack the top 10. Considering I had Dallas at 10 last week and they just beat the Cowboys, it goes without saying. The Cowboys offense is inconsistent for sure, but that shouldn't take anything away from the Denver defense, which has now kept two decent offenses, the Bengals and Cowboys, in check. Brandon Marshall showed why he's a superstar with that unbelievable run-after-catch on the game-winning touchdown and Kyle Orton just won't stop getting better. Teams that start 4-0 make the playoff over 85 percent of the time, so things are looking good for Denver right now. They might even close in on the top five with a win against New England on Sunday.

11(12). Philadelphia Eagles (2-1): No one else seems to want the first spot outside the top 10, so the Eagles get it just by not playing (read: not losing). They will welcome back Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Kevin Curtis off their bye week, which should make Sunday's showdown with Tampa Bay even more of a laugher than it would have been. With Oakland and Washington after that, the Eagles could go into their Week 8 divisional matchup with the Giants at 5-1.

12(13). Cincinnati Bengals (3-1): When you almost lose to the Browns, it's hard to convince me you're for real. But Cleveland can actually get the ball downfield with Derek Anderson at the helm, so give Carson Palmer and the Bengals credit for playing well when they've had to late in games this season. Going into Baltimore and winning next week might be a tall order, though.

13(18). Chicago Bears (3-1): I know, I know, beating the Lions isn't really deserving of a five-spot jump in the rankings. But 3-1 is 3-1 and their win over Pittsburgh gives them the nod over the Steelers in this spot. Jay Cutler has seven touchdowns and just one interception since his four-interception opener and Matt Forte finally got going against the Lions (who doesn't?). Cutler has been able to protect the ball and spread it around and his lack of a go-to receiver has helped prevent him from trying to force balls into coverage, one of the only knocks on his quarterback play.

14(16). Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2): Rashard Mendenhall went from doghouse to penthouse in just two weeks, running for 165 yards just a week after not touching the ball once. The Chargers' 29th-ranked run defense was part of the performance, but Mendenhall ran with a chip on his shoulder all night and no San Diego defender seemed willing to get in his way. There is always something to worry about with the Steelers it seems, and allowing 21 fourth-quarter points after having a 28-7 lead is cause for concern. There is still work to be done if this team wants to even have a shot at repeating.

15(10). Dallas Cowboys (2-2): This ranking doesn't seem justified either, as Tony Romo and the Cowboys lost to a now 4-0 Denver squad. Their ground game is solid but Romo hasn't exactly been a model of consistency, thanks to an underwhelming group of receivers if you take away Jason Witten. I'm just not convinced this team is any better than the 9-7 outfit from 2008.

16(11). San Diego Chargers (2-2): Philip Rivers almost led the Bolts back from a 21-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter against the defending champs. It really is a shame LaDainian Tomlinson can't stay healthy and the defense is struggling, because it has really overshadowed how great Rivers is. He may not move very well but he has great instincts and seems to get rid of the ball just before the pressure gets to him, and he does it with precision accuracy. Rivers will win a Super Bowl someday, and maybe then people will realize he is a better quarterback than Eli Manning, who he was traded for on draft day in 2004.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rookie Sanchez plays like one in loss to Saints

It was just a matter of time before Mark Sanchez lost a game for the Jets. On a day where the New York defense held Drew Brees to no touchdown passes and less than 200 yards through the air, it was Sanchez's mistakes that allowed the Saints to put points on the scoreboard.

New Orleans came into the game with the second-highest blitz percentage on defense, second to only the Jets. They stacked eight men in the box and forced Sanchez to make quick decisions against the blitz, which he was unable to do successfully.

With the Jets driving deep in Saints territory in the second quarter, Sanchez lost track of safety Darren Sharper on a play-action pass and telegraphed a throw to Dustin Keller near the goalline. Sharper jumped the route and took it 99 yards to the house for his 10th career touchdown on an interception return, second all-time behind Rod Woodson, who has 12.

After a Jets three-and-out, the Saints drove 64 yards down to the New York one-yard-line and it looked like they were going to take a commanding three-possession lead. But the Jets defense stuffed Pierre Thomas and Heath Evans on first and second downs and forced two Brees incompletions to get the ball back and keep the Saints' lead at 10.

But just two plays later, Sanchez rolled right and didn't protect the ball, allowing Will Smith to beat D'Brickashaw Ferguson around the corner and knock the ball in the air. The Saints recovered in the endzone and, after being stuffed at the goalline, took a 17-0 lead after all.

Despite his early mistakes, Sanchez kept his poise in leading a 14-play, 60-yard drive on the next possession to set up a Jay Feely field goal and take the Jets into the half down 17-3.

A Reggie Bush fumble early in the third quarter gave the Jets the ball at the New Orleans 34 and, four plays later, a 15-yard run from Thomas Jones brought the Jets within a touchdown at 17-10. But from that point on, it was all Saints.

New Orleans ran 29 plays over the final quarter-and-a-half, compared to just 12 for the Jets. After an 11-play, 74-yard drive culminated in a Pierre Thomas touchdown run, the Saints picked off Sanchez twice more, including Sharper's second interception of the game and his league-leading fifth of the season to seal the win with just over a minute to play.

Sharper has been a huge addition to the Saints defense this season, as they have forced a league-leading 13 turnovers (10 interceptions, three fumble recoveries). New Orleans has not trailed yet this season and has forced teams to become one-dimensional, allowing their pass rushers to go to work and their secondary to make big plays. Add in a top-10 rush defense that allows just 3.7 yards-per-carry and you can see why the Saints are 4-0.

Sanchez finished 14-for-27 for 138 yards and three interceptions in his worst game as a pro. He was just 7-for-18 with two interceptions when New Orleans put eight or more defenders in the box, while going 7-for-9 when the Saints backed off.

Through three games Sanchez looked as poised as can be, but a few crucial mistakes cost him and the Jets this weekend. Despite those mistakes, Sanchez was able to keep his composure and lead the Jets downfield a few times, showing a short memory that is a very good sign for a young quarterback.

The Jets will only get better from this point on, as the return of outside linebacker Calvin Pace from a performance-enhancer suspension should bolster what has been an average run defense to this point. With a soft upcoming schedule that includes Miami twice, Buffalo and Oakland before their Week 9 bye, the Jets have an outside shot at a 7-1 start.

Meanwhile, the Saints will enjoy this win on their bye week and prepare to play another undefeated team from the New York, the 4-0 Giants, who will most likely be 5-0 after a showdown with the Raiders this weekend.


-Rookie running back Shonn Greene received his first four carries of the season, running for 23 yards. Many people, including myself, thought Greene would get a few carries every game to spell Jones and Washington. But his carries this week seemed to come at the expense of Washington, who had just four carries himself compared to 13 for Thomas Jones.

-Jerricho Cotchery has had at least four catches and 71 yards in each game this season, putting him fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 356. His rapport with Sanchez has been impressive and with the Jets lack of top-notch receiving options, Cotchery seems poised for a career season. He should easily surpass his career high of 1130 receiving yards set two seasons ago.

Friday, October 2, 2009

NFL Week 4 Picks

Since I'm 33-15 picking games so far this year I figured it was about time to drop some knowledge. Plus the baseball playoffs aren't completely set yet so I have to write about something.

Detroit at Chicago (-10)

Yes, the Lions won last week against the Redskins. Chicago isn't great by any standards, but the struggling Matt Forte should be able to get back on track against a defense allowing 4.5 yards per carry this season. Jay Cutler and company will put up points against the Lions, who won't follow up their 19-game losing streak with a two-game winning streak. Bears 31, Lions 17.

Cincinnati (-5.5) at Cleveland

I understand the Browns are playing at home, but this spread could legitimately be doubled. Cleveland will be going with Derek Anderson at quarterback instead of Brady Quinn and I don't think Anderson will hit the ground running. Add in the now-balanced Cincinnati offense and a struggling Browns' defense, and this one could get ugly. Bengals 27, Browns 10.

Seattle at Indianapolis (-10.5)

Instead of Peyton Manning vs. Matt Hasselbeck, we get Peyton Manning vs. Seneca Wallace. This game could have been interesting, but instead Manning and the Colts should be able to jumpstart the running game with Donald Brown (not Joseph Addai) against a defense that allows almost six yards-per-carry. Manning will have the Colts up by double-digits by the half and Julius Jones will become a non-factor, if he even becomes one. The Colts pass rush, even without Dwight Freeney, should make it a long day for Wallace. Colts 24, Seahawks 13.

New York Giants (-8.5) at Kansas City

The Giants got their ground game going last week and their offensive balance spells trouble for the Chiefs. Matt Cassel will have fun with the Giants pass rush, especially with Dwayne Bowe questionable again this week. Expect a similar result to last week's Giants-Bucs game. Giants 21, Chiefs 10.

Baltimore (+2) at New England

The Jets beat Tom Brady in Week 2 by blitzing him and not allowing him to establish a rhythm. The Ravens will do much of the same, with the difference being the possibility of Wes Welker returning. Even still, Baltimore will contain the New England passing game and should put up enough points to move to 4-0 on the year. Ravens 21, Patriots 17.

Tampa Bay at Washington (-7)

The Redskins aren't much better than the Bucs, but the state of flux surrounding the Tampa Bay quarterback situation is enough to scare me away. The Redskins should be able to run the ball even if Clinton Portis can't play, as the Bucs are 31st in run defense. Jason Campbell might make one big play, and if he does it will be more than enough. Redskins 17, Buccaneers 7.

Tennessee (-3) at Jacksonville

The Titans have to win eventually, don't they? The Jaguars can't stop anybody defensively and Tennessee allows just 2.2 yards-per-carry to opposing ballcarriers, so Maurice Jones-Drew will be bottled up. Titans 24, Jaguars 16.

Oakland (+9) at Houston

The Texans have allowed over 200 yards per game on the ground this season, and as inept as the Raiders' passing game is they have two capable backs in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Matt Schaub may struggle to make as many big plays as he has the last two weeks against a respectable Raiders secondary and Nnamdi Asomugha could pull a Darrelle Revis on Andre Johnson. The Texans should win, but it won't be a blowout. Texans 20, Raiders 14.

Buffalo (-2) at Miami

Lots of quarterbacks are making their first starts of the season this week, and I don't like any of them so far. The Bills pass defense isn't as bad as the stats look (they faced Brady and Drew Brees, and Byron Leftwich threw 50 passes against them), so they should be able to handle Chad Henne. The return of Marshawn Lynch may not matter with the stingy Dolphins run defense, but Trent Edwards will make it a point to find Terrell Owens and Lee Evans downfield against a struggling secondary. Bills 17, Dolphins 13.

New York Jets (+7) at New Orleans

Two undefeated teams who have done it different ways: The Saints high-octane offense vs. the Jets unrelenting defense. Drew Brees will have more success than Brady did in Week 2, as the Saints running game will take some of the pressure off. But Brees will have to look away from Marques Colston, who gets the unenviable task of going up against Revis on Sunday. The Jets will rely more heavily on Mark Sanchez and the passing game this week than usual, as the Saints have kept opponents in check on the ground. Brees was held without a touchdown last week and while that won't happen again, he will be checking down all day and big plays will be limited. This is a close call, but don't expect me to go against my team (and that defense). Jets 20, Saints 17.

Dallas (-3) at Denver

The Broncos will be proven fraudulent this weekend at home. They have not seen an offense like the Cowboys yet this season and if Tony Romo takes care of the football again, Dallas should be able to move the ball. The Broncos won't go down without a fight, but I don't see them moving to 4-0. Cowboys 21, Broncos 13.

St. Louis at San Francisco (-9.5)

It looks like Kyle Boller will be going for the Rams, and since it's his first start I will go against him out of sheer principle. St. Louis is a mess right now and Mike Singletary will have the 49ers motivated after a last-second loss to the Vikings. With Frank Gore injured, pre-season stud Glen Coffee will get a chance to shine against one of the league's worst run defenses and the San Francisco defense will keep the Rams' only weapon, Steven Jackson, under wraps. 49ers 20, Rams 7.

San Diego (+6.5) at Pittsburgh

If there was ever a week for the Steelers to really get going on the ground, this would be it. I just don't see it happening, as neither Willie Parker nor Rashard Mendenhall is good enough to make up for Pittsburgh's deficiencies up front. Philip Rivers will take advantage of the absence of Troy Polamalu on route to a win. Chargers 17, Steelers 14.

Green Bay at Minnesota (-3.5)

The matchup everybody has been waiting for: Brett Favre and the Vikings (sound weird?) vs. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers may be the more talented quarterback right now but Favre is still Favre, as annoying as he may be, after orchestrating another miracle last week. Adrian Peterson should go over 100 yards and Favre will continue to manage the game and make plays when necessary. Minnesota will shut down Ryan Grant and force Rodgers to beat their talented pass defense through the air, which I don't see happening. Vikings 30, Packers 24.