Saturday, November 28, 2009

The BCS Playoff Problem

(Contributed by Josh Carey)

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

Who would participate?

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

How many automatic qualifiers?

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

What would be the criteria to qualify?

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

What would be the criteria for seedings?

Same as the criteria for at-large bids.

Where would the games be played?

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

When would the games be played?

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

If you could resolve all that would everyone be satisfied?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Knicks would be silly to sign Iverson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2009

Jets' struggles continue in 24-22 loss to Jags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Robinson Cano versus good pitching...who wins?

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

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

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

Against teams over .500:

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

Against playoff teams:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2009

2004 Quarterback Class in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yankees win 27th title behind MVP Matsui's 6 RBI

You could feel it in the Yankee Stadium air after Hideki Matsui's two-run home run off the hated Pedro Martinez gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead in the second inning of Game 6. The "Who's your daddy" chants got louder and the Yankee Stadium crowd braced themselves for another championship.

The Phillies got a run back in the third, when Jimmy Rollins hit a sacrifice fly off Andy Pettitte to score Carlos Ruiz, who had tripled. But Matsui would answer right back in the bottom half of the inning, hitting the ball hard for the fifth time in two at-bats (three went foul) and scoring two with a based-loaded single to center.

The score remained 4-1 into the fifth inning when a tiring Pettitte walked Ruiz with one out and the bases empty. Up came Rollins, who grounded into a key 5-4-3 double play that proved his mouth runs much faster than his legs, after his radio-show prediction that the Phillies would win the series in five and "close it out at home."

The Yankees would extend their lead to 7-1 in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single from Mark Teixeira and a two-run double from Matsui, who ripped one off the base of the right-center field wall against lefty J.A. Happ, who came in to pitch to the slugger. It didn't matter who was on the mound for the Phillies last night, because Matsui was arguably more locked in than Alex Rodriguez was in the first two series.

A Ryan Howard two-run homer cut the lead to four in the top of the sixth and, after allowing a double to Raul Ibanez, Pettitte was pulled to cheers from the Stadium faithful. He threw just 50 of his 94 pitches for strikes and walked five, but made big pitches in key spots to get himself out of trouble and preserve the Yankees lead.

The Phillies threatened in the seventh, putting two on against Joba Chamberlain to bring the scorching Chase Utley to the plate with two out and a chance to cut the lead to one. But Damaso Marte came on to strike out Utley and the Phillies never saw another big opportunity, as Mariano Rivera entered with one out in the eighth to get the final five outs and clinch the title for the Yankees.

When Shane Victorino ended a ten-pitch at-bat against Rivera by grounding out to Robinson Cano, nine years of frustration for Yankees fans were alleviated as the crowd erupted and the players mobbed each other at the mound. My voice was hoarse by that time and, considering I witnessed both the final World Series-clinching game at the old Yankee Stadium and the first at the new Stadium, it's something I felt extremely lucky to be a part of.

I said throughout the second half that this team had a special feel to it, and they proved me right by stepping up when it counted in the playoffs. The Yankees got contributions out of so many different players, from the 18 post-season RBI of Rodriguez and World Series heroics of Matsui and Johnny Damon to the four victories by Pettitte and great bullpen work by Marte, Chamberlain and David Robertson, who combined to throw 15-plus innings of two-run ball in the playoffs.

New York 27 titles are 17 more than any other major-league franchise, and this may be the last witnessed by under-the-weather owner George Steinbrenner. Many have complained that the Yankees bought this championship after the off-season signings of Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but the youthful exuberance and chemistry shown by this team throughout the season was reminiscent of the championship teams of the mid-1990s.

That camaraderie, over anything else, was the major reason they hoisted the trophy last night. Let's not forget how many titles this team attempted to "buy" in the early part of the decade and how unsuccessful they were.

This year's Yankees had plenty of home-grown stars, from Rivera, Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada (who all won their fifth ring last night) to new blood like Chamberlain, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. It took nine years since their last title, but general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees finally found the right mix to get back to their winning ways.

Moving on, there are plenty of questions for this team heading to the offseason. Damon and Matsui are free agents, and I think it would be a mistake to bring either back. They played key roles in this year's World Series win, but the Yankees can replace Damon in the lineup with Gardner and Matsui's age, injury issues and streaky nature make him a risky signing.

The other major question is what to do with Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. I have been on the bandwagon to start Chamberlain since the season's inception, but I'm now leaning towards him as next year's eighth-inning guy and New York's future closer.

Chamberlain's fiery makeup (a la Jonathan Papelbon) fits well at the back end of the bullpen, while the calmer demeanor of Hughes as well as a deeper repertoire of pitches seems to point him towards the rotation. They can both have success in either role, but this arrangement seems like the best one to me. Of course, there's a reason I'm not making the decisions in the Bronx.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 9

1(1). New Orleans Saints (7-0): The Saints got by the Falcons despite a late rally and now they get Carolina, St. Louis and Tampa Bay, three teams with a combined four wins this season. They are playing way too well right now to lose focus enough to drop any of those three games, but New England on Monday night in Week 12 should be an epic showdown.

2(2). Indianapolis Colts (7-0): The Colts struggled to cover an inflated spread against a good 49ers team, but they pulled out a win nonetheless. Reggie Wayne had 12 catches and was targeted on 20 out of Peyton Manning's 48 throws. Manning-to-Wayne is the most impressive connection in football right now.

3(4). Minnesota Vikings (7-1): Brett Favre has shown no signs of slowing down halfway through this season, and there are plenty of quarterbacks who could work well with the weapons he has at his disposal. And anytime you give that man extra motivation like he had in his first visit to Green Bay as an opponent on Sunday, it's lights out.

4(3). Denver Broncos (6-1): They had to lose eventually, and Baltimore is a good team who needed a win to resurrect their season. Denver is not a come-from-behind team with Kyle Orton at the helm, so falling as far behind as they did spelled doom for their unblemished record.

5(5). New England Patriots (5-2): Tom Brady and company come off a bye to play the Dolphins, who needed to score on two kickoff returns and a fumble recovery to beat the Jets. I don't see this one being very close.

6(6). Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2): The Steelers travel to Denver for a Monday night matchup with the Broncos. If they can jump out to an early lead and force Orton to beat them, Troy Polamalu and that defense might leave Denver after handing the Broncos their second straight loss.

7(7). Cincinnati Bengals (5-2): This week's game against Baltimore is a big one in the AFC North race. The strongest division in football thus far has three teams in my top 10 and the way things are looking, could send all three to the playoffs. But if Cincinnati knocks the Ravens down to 4-4, that scenario looks a little less likely.

8(9). Dallas Cowboys (5-2): The Dallas passing game looks great with Miles Austin at the top of the depth chart and they have a stable of running backs to stay balanced. Throw in a defense that has seven sacks and five takeaways in two games since their bye, and they are looking stronger than both Philly and the Giants.

9(11). Baltimore Ravens (4-3): The Ravens might have saved their season with a big win against Denver on Sunday. They need to build on that momentum to beat the Bengals this week and split the season series.

10(12). Philadelphia Eagles (5-2): Philly made the Giants look silly. The Eagles jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. It seems like DeSean Jackson makes a huge play every week, doesn't it? He's unstoppable right now.

11(10). Atlanta Falcons (4-3): Atlanta stayed with the Saints nicely, but in the end New Orleans was just too much. Games against Washington and Carolina should help the Falcons rebound.

12(8). New York Giants (5-3): That loss to Arizona looks even worse after this weekend, and the Eagles are not one of the league's top teams either. This team has holes and Steve Smith has just 19 catches for 251 yards and no scores in his last four games, a far cry from the 34 catches, 411 yards and four touchdowns he had in the season's first four games. Maybe they do miss Plaxico Burress after all?

13(16). Houston Texans (5-3): Ryan Moats had a fourth quarter to remember with three touchdowns to help the Texans run away from the Bills, who show absolutely no life on offense. But this team needs Steve Slaton at his best to reach their full potential, and it looks like his off-season weight gain has done more harm than help.

14(13). New York Jets (4-4): Same old Jets. They dominant on defense, move the ball on offense and still find a way to lose. Their normally-reliable special teams let them down big time, but with four of their next five coming against the NFL's worst, this team can still make some noise if Mark Sanchez continues to improve.

15(18). Chicago Bears (4-3): Don't let the 30-6 score fool you, Chicago struggled to punch it in the endzone early against the Browns, who might be worse on defense than they are on offense. That's saying something but this is what it tells me about the Bears: They're not serious contenders.

16(19). San Diego Chargers (4-3): The Chargers wins have come against teams that are a combined 6-16. Their losses against teams a combined 15-6. Beating bad teams and losing to good teams is the definition of average.

17(15). Green Bay Packers (4-3): Aaron Rodgers continues to show that it wasn't the wrong move to give him the starting job when Brett Favre retired for the first time. The Vikings are just a better all-around football team. Once Green Bay can surround Rodgers with an offensive line and a defense, they can compete. Until then, they're just another average football team.

18(14). Arizona Cardinals (4-3): Wow. After a five-interception day, Kurt Warner now has 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions so far this season. That loss proved what I thought about the Cardinals before they beat the overrated Giants. They are more the 9-7 team we saw in the 2008 season than the NFC championship team we saw in the playoffs. I still think the 49ers win the NFC West.

19(17). San Francisco 49ers (3-4): San Francisco played with the Colts from start to finish and Alex Smith took care of the football and showed why Mike Singletary made him the long-term starter. This team's ceiling is much higher with him at the helm and with just a one-game deficit in the league's worst division, they still have a very realistic shot at the playoffs.

20(20). Miami Dolphins (3-4): Miami barely had 100 total yards of offense and allowed the Jets to march down the field with ease on Sunday, but Ted Ginn's record-setting return day and a Shonn Greene fumble gave the Dolphins an undeserved victory. But in this league, you take what you can get.

21(24). Carolina Panthers (3-4): Jake Delhomme attempted just 14 passes on Sunday as the Panthers raced to a 21-point lead midway through the second quarter. That is their blueprint for success, as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 40 carries for 245 yards and the secondary picked off Kurt Warner a whopping five times.

22(21). Seattle Seahawks (2-5): This is where these rankings start to bore me. That's all I can say about the Seahawks.

23(22). Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4): I was wrong to say the Jags would beat the Titans. Vince Young had just three incompletions all game and Chris Johnson had his second ridiculous game of the season. Maurice Jones-Drew's eight-carry, 177-yard performance was wasted, as Jacksonville was playing from behind all day.

24(23). Buffalo Bills (3-5): The Bills stayed in the game as long as they could, but this is not a 60-minute outfit. Terrell Owens had his best game of the season with just five catches for 39 yards and a 29-yard touchdown run. Sad.

25(25). Oakland Raiders (2-6): The Raiders need to give up on JaMarcus Russell because this offense just can't move the football. Too bad they have nobody else (maybe they shouldn't have cut Jeff Garcia).

26(29). Tennessee Titans (1-6): The gameplan was conservative, but Vince Young looked alright in his first start since last season's opener. He will have to make plays down the field eventually, but getting a win under his belt is a good sign.

27(26). Detroit Lions (1-6): Without Calvin Johnson, the Lions let the best player on the field beat them. Steven Jackson had 149 yards and a touchdown and a second-quarter fake field goal was the Rams' only other score. Matthew Stafford was just 14-33 without his top target.

28(27). Kansas City Chiefs (1-6): Their next two are winnable against Jacksonville and Oakland. Needless to say, nobody should be watching either game.

29(28). Washington Redskins (2-5): Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia, New Orleans. Those are the Redskins next five games. Good luck winning even one.

30(32). St. Louis Rams (1-7): The Rams beat the team whose losing streak they were chasing down oh-so-desperately. Steven Jackson looked great, but that's about the only positive thing I have to say. If you can't say something nice...

31(30). Cleveland Browns (1-7): George Kokinis is out as general manager after another pathetic showing. Is Eric Mangini next? He has regressed as a coach ever since his first season with the Jets.

32(31). Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7): With one of the league's worst quarterback situations, the Bucs turn to Josh Freeman against the Packers, who have the league's highest-rated signal caller. The battle of the Bays probably won't be very competitive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dominant defense not enough as Jets fall to Phins

A quick glance at the numbers would lead you to believe this game was a blowout in favor of the Jets. Here are a few key stats:

Total Yards: New York 378, Miami 104
Passing Yards: New York 251, Miami 52
First Downs: New York 23, Miami 10

But when the final whistle blew, these numbers mattered little compared to the score: Dolphins 30, Jets 25.

Two third-quarter touchdowns on kick returns from the recently-benched Ted Ginn, along with a Jason Taylor fumble return for a touchdown spelled doom for the Jets, who dominated this game otherwise. Ginn became the first player in NFL history with two 100-yard returns in the same game.

The first half was rather mundane, but the second half was full of fireworks. After a Jay Feely field goal put the Jets up 6-3 early in the third quarter, Ginn returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. The Jets were moving the ball towards midfield on the next drive before rookie Shonn Greene fumbled, which Jason Taylor returned 48 yards to put Miami up 17-6.

The Jets answered right back, going 67 yards in just five plays with Mark Sanchez scoring on a play-action bootleg from one yard out. Everybody in the stadium thought Thomas Jones had the football and nobody was within 10 yards of Sanchez as he crossed the goalline.

Just as Jets fans got their hopes up for a comeback, Ginn struck again, this time returning a kickoff 101 yards for a score. He made two Jets miss inside the 20 and was off to the races after that.

A three-play, 74-yard drive followed for the Jets and ended with a spectacular grab from Braylon Edwards, who has earned the trust of Sanchez since day one. He caught the ball around the goalline between two defenders and fought his way into the endzone. The Jets would miss a two-point conversion and trailed 24-19.

After the Dolphins went up 30-19 after a fourth-quarter touchdown pass and missed conversion, the Jets answered quickly again, this time going 81 yards in six plays. But they missed yet another two-point attempt after a Dustin Keller touchdown catch, leaving them down 30-25.

The game ended when the Jets missed a fourth-and-13 from the Miami 15 after marching down the field on their final drive. Many naysayers will point to the fact that the score would've been 30-27 if they had chosen to kick extra points after their previous two touchdowns.

But those same naysayers overlook the fact that Miami would not have gone for two with a 24-20 lead, meaning New York would have been down 31-27 and still needed a touchdown to win.

Sanchez finished 20-35 for 265 yards and three touchdowns (two passing), while Chad Henne was just 12-21 for 112 yards for Miami, getting sacked six times by the aggressive Jets defense.

Dustin Keller had a season-high 8 catches for 76 yards and his second touchdown, while Edwards had 74 yards and a score and Jerricho Cotchery added 70 yards on 3 receptions in his return from injury.

Thomas Jones ran a season-high 27 times for 102 yards and has 75 carries for 433 yards in his last three games, all 100-yard efforts. Shonn Greene ran eight times for 18 yards, but carried just twice after his crucial third-quarter fumble.

The Jets will continue to lean heavily on Jones in the absence of Leon Washington, as Jones is on pace for 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns, both of which would be career-highs in a season where many thought his numbers would drop significantly.

Jones was labeled a bust after his first four NFL seasons, when he carried just 499 times. His light workload at the start of his career has allowed him to remain productive into his early 30s, when most backs begin to decline (see: LaDainian Tomlinson this season).

The Jets come out of their Week 9 bye with matchups against Jacksonville, New England, Carolina, Buffalo and Tampa Bay. Outside of the Patriots, the Jets' other opponents have combined for just nine wins this season.

If the Jets shore up their kickoff coverage, stay aggressive on defense and Sanchez continues to improve, this team could be 8-5 before games against Atlanta, Indianapolis and Cincinnati to end the season. The playoffs seem unlikely at this point, but they're not completely out of the realm of possibility. At least not yet.