Monday, December 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Melky for Vazquez? I LIKE IT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Henry's death sends shockwaves through the NFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lackey signing makes Red Sox rotation scary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jets prepare for playoff push

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yanks trade for Granderson, solidify center field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chad Ochocinco: PR Genius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

The BCS: Blowing College Seasons since 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So again, I ask why not?

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tripodi's Top Teams: Week 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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