Wednesday, September 27, 2006

STATE OF THE NATION - NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Around the NFL the stories focus on the bizarre breakdown of Terrell Owens, the showing of some serious spleen by Chris Simms, and the rejuvenation of the New Orleans Saints, but here in New England all thoughts focus on one simple fact: the Bengals cometh.

Cincinnati is the type of team that is fun for a football fan to cheer for: a dynamic young QB (Carson Palmer), a strong downhill RB (Rudi Johnson), the most exciting and dynamic receiver in the NFL (Sorry T.O., Randy Moss, et al: it is Chad Johnson), a young defense that creates turnovers and flies around all over the field, and a solid special teams unit. Other than the hideous orange-and-black uniforms, there is not much to dislike about the Bengals (OK, there are off-field problems, but anything short of the Zeke Mowatt-Lisa Olsen-Victor Kiam triangle of embarrassment is small potatoes. You want off-field issues, see the Patriots teams of the 80s and early 90s.).

While the Bengals offense should cause all kinds of problems for the Patriots, their defense has one HUGE weakness: stopping the run. With Corey Dillon dinged-up, Laurence Maroney could be hosting his big busting out party this weekend. I would expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to give him the ball again and again to grind down the field and keep the Cincy offense on the sidelines. While the Bengals defense is young and athletic, they are vulnerable to cut-backs by the running backs, screen passes, and reverses and end-arounds. In other words, the Patriots offense should match-up well with the Bengals defense.

As far as facing the high-flying Cincinnati offense, the Patriots need to tackle better. They must keep the receivers in front of them (no big plays) and wrap them up, keep Rudi Johnson from breaking tackles and getting to the secondary (Vince Wilfork needs to get his butt into the inside running lanes and tie-up multiple blockers, and try to get pressure from a four man rush to get some turnovers.

The Patriots need the momentum of a quality win, and beating Cincinnati would be a huge confidence boost for Tom Brady. Doug Gabriel, Reche Caldwell, and Chad Jackson are all quality wide receivers. When they get healthy and time on the field, they will produce. Ben Watson and Dan Graham are also huge assets for passing game that have not been as effective as expected.

* * *

STATE OF THE NATION - BOSTON RED SOX

I have already gone into detail about what I thought the Red Sox will look like in 2007 and what I think they should look like; however, like a Imelda Marcos in a shoe store, I keep bouncing ideas and changing my mind and coming up with a hodge-podge of ideas. So with that image straight out of 1986, here are a few more random thoughts:

Regarding the infield: OK, we all know that Theo Epstein is obsessed, and I mean obsessed like Nancy Reagan staring at the birth-mark on the bald forehead of Mikhail Gorbachev, with acquiring Julio Lugo (all 1986 references are due to reading Labyrinth by Jon Land. Land, a native of Rhode Island and simply one of the best writers of political/action/Mid-East thrillers, is a favorite author of mine and I just recently stumbled across one of his earliest out-of-print books and just finished it. In a word: fantastic. Land writes interesting, fast-moving, and thought provoking action. I always say he writes like Tom Clancy should write. Anyway, the book was written in 1987, so between reading it and watching too much VH1classic, I am hopelessly stuck in the eighties.). Lugo is a terrible defensive infielder, so I imagine he HAS to be coming over to play second base (I am loosely using the phrase, as in how the immortal Jose Offerman would play second base, which is to say by generally doing his best to avoid any contact with the batted ball.).

With Lugo at second base and free swinging in the six hole, Theo can turn his attention to keeping Alex Gonzalez in Boston for the foreseeable future. How the Sox can even consider getting rid of A-Gonzo is beyond my comprehension. If he hits .150 he is still too valuable to dump. The need for an elite defensive shortstop that can turn beautiful double plays in his sleep is priceless. I mean, if you had Ozzie Smith in the 1980s, would you trade him? OK, San Diego traded him for Gary Templeton in 1980, and look how that turned out for them. They played in taco-colored uniforms, they made a star of Carmelo Martinez and Kevin McReynolds, and they ended up with Steve Garvey at the end of his career. Not too stellar a record there.

I will argue until I am blue in the face with anyone who wants to argue with me, that David Ortiz should play first base. Manny Ramirez belongs at DH. Kevin Youkilis does not provide the power numbers necessary for a first baseman in the American League. Do not get me wrong, I am a long-time member of the Youk fan club, but his future lies at third base. Which, of course, begs the question of whither Mike Lowell? Well, I imagine that with Youk available at third base and the need to make room for the salary of Julio Lugo, Lowell will be packaged with a mid-level prospect and shipped out of town for a set-up man or middle reliever.

With Dustin Pedroia, Alejandro Machado, and Alex Cora still around, the utility infield position is set for the near future.

With Manny at DH, Big Papi at first base, and Youk at third, the Sox could conceivably re-sign Trot Nixon, keep him in leftfield, put Wily Mo Pena in leftfield, and have Coco Crisp in centerfield with David Murphy stealing some playing time at all three positions and Gabe Kapler reprising his back-up role.

There are possibilities abound as the off-season beckons. One thing is for sure: with the Red Sox, things are sure to be interesting!

* * *

Week Three Picks RECAP

Carolina vs. Tampa Bay
WINNER: CAROLINA

First off, what a gutsy performance out there by Chris Simms. Of course, Tampa lost and Carolina won, but what is up with Carolina? So much for that Super Bowl offense and defense. That said, the best teams peak after the mid-point of the season, not in week three. There is plenty of time left for Carolina to get back on track.

Chicago vs. Minnesota
WINNER: CHICAGO

Not for nothing, but as ugly as that interception from his own end zone that Rex Grossman threw, his game winning drive was the complete opposite: under control and efficient. The Bears are winning the close games and winning the blow outs. Are the Bears really for real? Next week against Seattle should be very interesting.

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
WINNER: CINCINNATI

Maybe Bill Cowher should have left Charlie Batch at QB for a couple of weeks, no? Roethlisberger should be back to his usual self, but if Pittsburgh cannot run the ball, what does it matter?

Green Bay vs. Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

The headlines all screamed that Favre is back! Umm, sure. He beat the worst team in the league. Look out, here comes the Lombardi Trophy. Now would be the time for Favre to walk away, after his last good game. I shudder to watch Monday night when Philadelphia feasts on the Pack.

Jacksonville vs. Indianapolis
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Damn. Jacksonville SHOULD have been more competitive and should have won the game. Is it just me, or does anyone else think Jacksonville is better on offense without Byron Leftwich in at QB?

NY Jets vs. Buffalo
WINNER: NYJets

J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets! The good thing about the Jets is that they play against Indy this week which will at least give the Patriots some fresh video to watch when they match-up later this season.

Tennessee vs. Miami
WINNER: MIAMI

Wow, David Givens FINALLY made a few receptions. Way to earn that big contract. Feel free to talk with Damien Woody anytime to discuss how money does not buy the happiness that a winning team earns.

Washington vs. Houston
WINNER: WASHINGTON

Mark Brunell should have come off the field after being 22 for 22 and called it a career right there. Nothing but the downward spiral left after that.

Baltimore vs. Cleveland
WINNER: BALTIMORE

Romeo has his team improving (though at 0-3 one would never know it), but this loss was just painful. Nice to see Willie McGinest get his first sack in a Browns uniform. Think he misses the winning yet?

NY Giants vs. Seattle
WINNER: NY GIANTS

I was wrong. Evil Eli showed up. This game was over in the first five minutes.

Philadelphia vs. San Francisco
WINNER: PHIADELPHIA

San Francisco put up a valiant effort again and just came up short. Alex Smith looked alright. Of course, as a GAME TIME DECISION, Brian Westbrook stayed stapled to my bench, and after scoring 30 fantasy points, I had to be restrained from throwing my shoe through the TV watching highlights as I lost this week by three points. Game time decision my @$$.

St. Louis vs. Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

ZZZZZZ. Look, I did not even watch the highlights of this game. St. Louis won, but no one cared.

Denver vs. New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

Brady laid an egg. End of discussion. He needs to stop pointing fingers and sulking like a spoiled brat and start throwing the ball where it belongs. He overshot open receivers countless times, and I lay that blame on him. The offensive line did well pass-blocking. The running game was gone, but Brady missed deep, missed intermediate, and was out-of-synch. He could have had Jerry Rice and Lance Alworth out there and still lost. The new receivers excuse already old. Chad Jackson, Doug Gabriel, and Reche Caldwell are all legitimate NFL receivers. Brady needs to stop whining and start executing.

Atlanta vs. New Orleans
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

Wow. What a horrible performance. Not just Atlanta, but Green Day. Now Bono knows how Frank Sinatra felt doing those duets with the chumps they pulled off the street to record with him (Bono excluded, of course). I was hoping the Edge would start kicking the Green Day bozos off the stage while performing and then break into Bullet the Blue Sky, but no such luck.

Oh yeah, Michael Vick got back to normal in a hurry, eh? Warrick Dunn is on my list since his crappy performance (in place of Brian Westbrook) is the reason I lost to Brigs in fantasy football this week. That said, no team would have stood a chance with the emotion of the night inside the Super Dome. Viva New Orleans.

For some reason, I think Miami is a little disappointed they ended up with Daunte Culpepper and Joey the duck Harrington instead of Drew Brees. Just like all of Houston rues the day Mario Williams was the first pick over Reggie Bush. The Saints were 2 for 2 this offseason.


TOTAL FOR WEEK: 9 - 5. Not great, but then again, a couple of these were painful losses!

* * *

Week Three Picks

Carolina vs. Tampa Bay
WINNER: CAROLINA

They have to win eventually, right?

Chicago vs. Minnesota
WINNER: CHICAGO

I believe in the Bears!

Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
WINNER: CINCINNATI

Oooh, I love to watch Roethlisberger fail in a big game!

Green Bay vs. Detroit
WINNER: DETROIT

Flip a coin, because they are both making top ten picks in the draft.

Jacksonville vs. Indianapolis
WINNER: JACKSONVILLE

Probably wrong, but I want to believe!

NY Jets vs. Buffalo
WINNER: NYJets

See Green Bay vs. Detroit comment.

Tennessee vs. Miami
WINNER: MIAMI

How long until David Givens gives up on Kerry Collins?

Washington vs. Houston
WINNER: WASHINGTON

David Carr is such a good quarterback on such a horrible team.

Baltimore vs. Cleveland
WINNER:BALTIMORE

I am rooting to be wrong here.

NY Giants vs. Seattle
WINNER: NY GIANTS

I am betting Good Eli, not Evil Eli shows up.

Philadelphia vs. San Francisco
WINNER: PHIADELPHIA

McNabb looks so much more relaxed with no T.O. distractions.

St. Louis vs. Arizona
WINNER: ARIZONA

Arizona is just too good to be so bad this year.

Denver vs. New England
WINNER: NEW ENGLAND

Bill Belichick needs to get over this praising of Mike Shanahan. It sends the wrong message to the team. That said, they are the better team and should win anyway.

Atlanta vs. New Orleans
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS

God knows the emotion will get to me. I mean, U2 performing live with Green Day? Too huge!

* * *

WEEK TWO PICKS: RECAP

Buffalo at Miami
WINNER: Miami
Every instinct in me always says to pick against Miami. Did I listen this time? No.

Daunte Culpepper is proving as horrible as I predicted when Miami signed him way back in March. He looks so out of sync it is not funny. You know it is a bad QB situation when the fans are screaming for Joey the Duck Harrington.

Buffalo, meanwhile, still stinks on offense. At least their defense showed up and their special teams were outstanding. Bill Belichick warned everyone in the media about their special teams before week one. It certainly looks like that as usual he knew precisely what he was talking about.

Carolina at Minnesota
WINNER: Carolina
Carolina was, like Miami, the consensus Super Bowl pick. Wow, I am glad I stayed away from both of those teams. Who figured on Carolina at 0-2? (Other than Falcons fans, of course).

Minnesota has a decent, not great defense. Their offense is under control at all times with Brad Johnson at the helm. They are far from dominant on either side of the ball, but they appear to be well-coached by Brad Childress and could very well sneak into the playoffs at 10-6.

Carolina, well, Steve Smith or no Steve Smith, their offense struggled. DeShawn Foster was terrible. Thank goodness I did not waste a fantasy draft pick on that tub of lard.

Cleveland at Cincinnati
WINNER: Cincinnati
Another easy pick, though I root for Romeo.

Detroit at Chicago
WINNER: Chicago
Wow. Is Chicago for real? And how is Damien Woody enjoying Detroit?

Houston at Indianapolis
WINNER: Indianapolis
Yeah, that was a tough pick.

New Orleans at Green Bay
WINNER: New Orleans
Bring on the Aaron Rodgers era.

NY Giants at Philadelphia
WINNER: NY Giants
Way to go, Eli.

Oakland at Baltimore
WINNER: Baltimore
Minnesota never looked so good to Randy Moss.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta
WINNER: Tampa Bay
Gosh, Tampa may really be really really bad after all.

Arizona at Seattle
WINNER: Seattle
Closer than it should have been, that is for sure.

St Louis at San Francisco
WINNER: St Louis
Really, who cares? I caught the end of the game, and though entertaining, both teams are a long way from contending again.

Kansas City at Denver
WINNER: Denver
Yeah, no one believed Denver would start-off 0-2, no matter how bad Jake the Snake played.

New England at NY Jets
WINNER: New England
Closer than it should have been in the second half.

Tennessee at San Diego
WINNER: San Diego
Well, duh.

Washington at Dallas
WINNER: Dallas
It hurt me to pick it right, but Washington, for all the money they throw around, are far worse than they should be with no end of the misery in sight.

Pittsburgh at Jacksonville
WINNER: Jacksonville
Yes, there is nothing I like better than a Roethlisberger meltdown.

TOTAL FOR WEEK: 12-4. (Call me butter, because I am on a roll.)

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