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Archive for July, 2010

Drew Brees Celebrating the Saints Super Bowl Victory

The next stop on my 2010 NFL preview tour is the NFC South, the home of the defending NFL Champion New Orleans Saints.  What a story the Saints were in the 2009 NFL season and 2010 Super Bowl.  Will the magic continue? 

Division Winner

New Orleans Saints

Yes, I think it will.  The Saints just have too many weapons to be slowed down on offense for any period of time, especially with Drew Brees running the show.  They’ll also benefit from a second year of Gregg Williams on the defensive side.  This was a tough call because it’s clear that the Saints will get everybody’s best shot and the Falcons will be making a push to claim the division.  But, ultimately I think the Saints will hold the Falcons off and claim the NFC South title.

MVP

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

The best player in the division is not always the MVP, but this year that will happen in the NFC South.  Brees loves to carve up defenses with precision and does not favor any receiver over another.  He threw for 34 touchdowns in 2009 with only 11 interceptions.  I expect a similar performance in 2010.

Most Important Player

Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta Falcons

For Atlanta to contend for a division title they will need a healthy Turner for the full season.  After running for 1,699 yards in 2008, he had just more than half of that (871) in 2009 while missing five full games and parts of three other games.  Word is that Turner spent most of the off season in the Falcons’ gym, determined not to let that happen again.

Offensive Player of the Year

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

For most divisions I will not pick the same player for both MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.  In the NFC South Brees is just that good.

Defensive Player of the Year

Will Smith, DE, New Orleans Saints

Smith had an excellent 2009 season, sacking the quarterback 13 times.  How can he top that?  With a better season in 2010.  The addition of Alex Brown and emergence of Sedrick Ellis will lead to a much improved Saints defensive line and more room for Smith to operate.

Top Newcomer

Dunta Robinson, CB, Atlanta Falcons

Robinson is a huge addition to a Falcons defense that struggled mightily against the pass in 2009.  They were 28th in the NFL.  Robinson’s ability to hold the opposing team’s top receiver in check should open up the opportunity for Atlanta to pick up more “coverage” sacks in 2010.  They were tied for 26th in the league last year with 28 sacks.

Top Rookie

Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons

Another big addition to the Falcons defense, Weatherspoon should sure up the linebacker position in a likely transition from Mike Peterson.  I also considered Gerald McCoy here but I think the lack of talent around him will inhibit his ability to make an impact.

Most Improved

Dan Connor, LB, Carolina Panthers

Connor will get his chance to shine in 2010 and I expect him to take advantage of it.  With Jon Beason moving over to the weakside Connor will take over the middle linebacker position on the Panthers defense after serving as a backup in his first two years in the NFL.

Most Pressure

Raheem Morris, Head Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After firing his offensive coordinator deep into the preseason and firing his defensive coordinator deep into the regular season many were doubting the ability of Morris to serve as an NFL head coach.  He seems to have stabilized the franchise at this point but any odd shenanigans that occur during the 2010 season could lead to his departure.

Biggest Loss

Scott Fujita, LB, New Orleans Saints

Fujita was a passionate player and a defensive leader for the Saints.  He left for Cleveland as a free agent.  New Orleans appears to have a number of candidates to replace Fujita all of who are unproven.

Who do you like in the NFC South?  Let me know in the comments below.

Photo source: IAN RANSLEY DESIGN + ILLUSTRATION

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Steven Jackson Doing Work

I realize most people would not start their NFL season previews with the NFC West.  But, being the faithful St. Louis Rams fan that I am, there was no doubt where my preview of the upcoming 2010 NFL season would begin.  So let’s jump right into it and look at what can be expected in the NFC West in 2010.  

Division Winner

San Francisco 49ers

As much as it pains me to do this – I think the 49ers will be the class of the division.  They will have enough weapons on offense with Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis to support their excellent defense.   

MVP

Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers

While I think there has to be some concern that Gore will break down this year (he’s 27 with a lot of miles on the tires), the Niners should be able to spell him enough with second year back Glen Coffee to keep him fresh and effective.  An improved offensive line with rookies Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati will also help.   

Most Important Player

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers

Like a phoenix, Smith was resurrected from the ashes last year and had a respectable season.  With San Francisco being picked by many as the favorite to win the division there will be much more pressure on him this year.  For the Niners to meet those expectations Smith has to continue to improve and to show some leadership on the field.   

Offensive Player of the Year

Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals

I expect Wells to have a breakout season for the Cardinals.  Now that Kurt Warner is no longer behind center Arizona will be moving to a more ground-based attack.  Even while sharing time with Tim Hightower, Wells will be a force to be reckoned with in the NFC West.   

Defensive Player of the Year

Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers

This one is easy.  Willis will continue to dominate on the defensive side just as he has in his previous three years in the NFL.   

Top Newcomer   

Leon Washington, RB/KR, Seattle Seahawks 

I know it’s dangerous, but I’m going to assume that Washington recovers well from the ghastly leg injury he suffered last season.  His explosiveness out of the backfield and ability to create on special teams will be key components for the Seahawks.

Top Rookie   

Russell Okung, T, Seattle Seahawks   

I’d love to be able to pick Sam Bradford here but I think that ultimately Okung will have a better rookie season.  Many he thought he was the best tackle of a strong group entering the draft.  He “slid” a bit down to the sixth pick and Seattle was excited to add him at a very important need position.

Most Improved   

Aaron Curry, LB, Seattle Seahawks

Curry showed a great deal of promise early in the season but seemed to suffer after Lofa Tatupu was injured.  With one year under his belt and a new defensive-minded coach in Pete Carroll I expect Curry to have a breakout season.  He is just too good athletically not to.

Most Pressure   

Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona Cardinals   

So this is it.  It’s time for Leinart to either put up or shut up.  Most people thought Leinart was crazy to go back for his senior year at USC when he was being projected as the first pick in the NFL Draft.  Looking back on it we have a lot of evidence that supports that decision.  Leinart has been anything but steady during his time in the huddle over the past two seasons.  The Cardinals ability to be competitive will rely a lot on Leinart’s success in managing the game. 

Biggest Loss   

Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona Cardinals

There is no doubt that Warner will be greatly missed in Arizona.  His natural leadership and belief that he could always bring the team back were critical to the recent success of the Cardinals.  Besides his coach, the person that will miss him the most will be Larry Fitzgerald.

Let me know what you think – share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Photo source: Monica’s Dad

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The recent talk about college football has started to get me excited for the season.  Granted, much of it has been negative because of the agent situations at North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, but there is still a lot of interesting college football projections and discussions to be found around the internet. 

I am not a college football junkie but I do enjoy it.  That’s especially true as the season starts to wind down and the battles become more pressurized as teams start to position themselves as national title contenders.  As I look at the start of the season there are five college football games in September that I am particularly excited about:

Saturday, September 4 – LSU v. UNC

On the first Saturday of the season the Tigers and the Tar Heels will meet in the Georgia Dome.  This continues the string of ACC-SEC matchups that have opened recent seasons.  Right now it is anybody’s guess who will be eligible for Carolina.  If all, or almost all, of their players remain eligible this should be a real smash mouth type game.  The strong suit of both of these programs is their defenses and it’s not even close.  Both schools are being mentioned as dark horses in their conferences, so this will be a good early test to see who may be able to live up to that billing.

Monday, September 6 – Boise St. v. Virginia Tech

I’ve been looking forward to this game since it was announced.  Boise State is a championship contender this year, but playing the Hokies near their home turf is going to be a very tough task.  With all of the big games the Broncos have played in recent years I would not expect them to be intimidated.

Saturday, September 11 – Florida St. @ Oklahoma

Florida State’s Christian Ponder is being hyped as a Heisman candidate.  He’ll get an early chance in Oklahoma to either cement his status in the race or be knocked out of it against the team that Phil Steele is picking as his preseason number one.

Saturday, September 11 – Miami @ Ohio St.

After his impressive Rose Bowl effort against Oregon earlier this year, a lot is expected of Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor this season.  Ohio State is also expected to compete for the national championship.  Similarly, Miami is expected to take the next step in their climb back up to national relevance.  This week two matchup will give us some idea of who is a real contender and who may be a pretender.

Saturday, September 25 – Alabama @ Arkansas

The first really big SEC matchup comes on the last Saturday in September as the Crimson Tide marches into Arkansas to face the Razorbacks.  Alabama’s Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram will face off against Razorback Heisman hopeful Ryan Mallett.  The defending champs also need to be concerned about looking past Arkansas in anticipation of their matchup the following weekend with Florida.

Which games are you most looking forward to in September?  Let me know in the comments below!

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When the NCAA first announced that they would be expanding their basketball tournament to 68 teams, many people, college coaches excluded, let out a big sigh of relief.  After much talk that the NCAA was looking to expand to 96, a smaller jump to 68 was much easier to digest.

However, their announcement Monday about the format change that will accompany the expansion left me disappointed for a number of reasons:

  1. Play-in games should feature at large teams.  Small conference tournament winners continue to get penalized as now four of them will be playing in the “first round” games.  These are teams that have earned their way into the big dance by winning their conference tournament; they should be included in the main field.
  2. A lost opportunity for excitement.  I was not in favor of any type of expansion.  Let’s be honest, none of the bubble teams that missed the tournament were threats to cut down the nets.  But, once the decision to expand was made, the NCAA should have proceeded in a way that would draw maximum interest and attention.  The way to do that would have been to match up the last eight at large teams in the field.  They could then schedule back-to-back evening doubleheaders on the Tuesday and Wednesday nights before the real first round starts Thursday.  This would really drive the excitement and buzz around the tournament expansion.
  3. As expected the committee gave in to big conference interest.  I’m sure the big six conferences were pushing hard to avoid the format I mentioned in #2 in order to preserve their standing and participation in the tournament.  But I see that as being shortsighted.  Ultimately that scenario would have increased the interest in the schools that were participating, especially if one made a run into the sweet sixteen.  I also think that format would maximize the revenue from the expansion.

I will be real curious to see who the selection committee chooses as the last four at large teams.  Will they slide mid-major teams into these seeds and force them to play each other?  Will they choose schools from the big six conferences to maximize the interest?  Or will they be equitable, without an agenda?

What do you think?  Did the NCAA get the new 68 team format right?

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Last night was a good night for the NBA.  Sure, it may have been uncomfortable for the league to watch its biggest superstar squirm and stumble in front of a big audience on the worldwide leader, but ultimately the merger of two superstars and an all star in Miami will be a great storyline to follow. 

I am an NBA fan who has a hard time finding much relevance in the regular season, especially before Christmas.  I usually get excited about the start of the season and will watch pieces of a game or two and look at box scores.  But I don’t usually sit down to watch a whole early season NBA game.  That will change in this upcoming season.  I haven’t been as excited about the NBA in July as I am now in a long time.

You have probably already heard people say LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh coming together to play in Miami is a bad thing.  That it will hurt the league to have a “superpower” team.  I could not disagree more.  This type of imbalance is actually good for the NBA.  It drives interest and gives the casual fan a team to root for, or maybe more likely against.  I have to use a professional wrestling reference here – pro wrestling is never more popular than when it has a huge superstar hero to root for and/or villain to root against.

How will they play on opening night?  Who gets the ball in the fourth quarter?  How will they match up against the Celtics?  How will they play against the Lakers?  Who will be the first team to beat them?  How many games will they win?

Look no further than Michael Jordan’s incredibly strong Chicago Bulls teams for evidence of why this is good for the NBA.  The teams were stacked and people loved them.  I was not a Michael Jordan fan but I loved to watch the Bulls play and win.  Driven by Jordan the Bulls had the hearts of stone cold killers and couldn’t win enough to satiate their appetites for victory.  Consider the way NBA fans followed the team during their run to 72 wins in the 1995-96 season.

The Heat have already sold out their season tickets for next season.  Is there any doubt that they will sell out every game on the road?

I certainly don’t agree with the approach that LeBron and his “team” took to delivering the news of his decision.  If he wanted to celebrate himself in an hour television show he could have done so after making a more low key announcement during a press conference.  While I don’t think he owed the Cavaliers anything, it would have been much more respectful to deliver the news to them directly instead of making them find it out on television.

As far as the allegation that this whole free agency process was all a farce and LeBron, Wade and Bosh already knew what their final decisions would be – I don’t agree.  I understand where the basis for that allegation is coming from but I don’t believe it to be true.  Have the three good friends talked about the idea?  Sure.  Did they go into free agency with a loose pact to sign in Miami?  Maybe.  Was it a definite agreement?  I don’t think so. 

I think it was genuinely very difficult for LeBron to make his decision.  I think he did try to persuade Bosh to agree to play in Cleveland.  I think he seriously considered a few teams.  I think he was in a no win situation of sorts, trying to weigh his loyalty against his will to win.  But before you criticize LeBron ask yourself this question: Would you pass up the chance to “work” with two of your best friends, make a lot of money and dominate your competitors?

What are your thoughts?  Is the Miami Thrice super team good or bad for the NBA?

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