Coffee? Check. Daily workout done? Check. Still trying to pretend that the Aerosmith/Pepsi/Patriots Anthem doesn't exist and never did? Check. Still kicking myself for falling asleep and missing the end of the Oregon/Stanford game (in my defense, I was up at 5am) and thinking that ESPN executives woke up a little more excited than usual with the thought of an Alabama-Notre Dame BCS Championship game a very distinct possibility? Check. Ready for some NFL football and watching NFL Network's First on the Field at 7am because it's (as John Madden would say) "FOOTBALL!"? Check. Happy I grabbed Andy Dalton as a back-up to my back-up QB in fantasy football before Ben Roethlisberger went down? Check. Ready to empty my brain after a rough week? Check:
- NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS:
- Excited to see the new New England Patriot added to the roster this week making his big splash. Should have a real impact this week. No, not Aqib Talib (though he should be a huge upgrade for the secondary), but wide receiver Greg Salas. With the injury/release of wide receiver Deion Branch (like he's going anywhere else), Salas should be inserted into the three receiver sets (no 2-tight end until Aaron Hernandez comes back 100% healthy) and it should be exciting to see him finally be inserted into the offense. Unlike other receivers the Patriots have brought in, Salas has experience in the Josh McDaniels Offense with St. Louis last season and should be able (after his apprenticeship on the practice squad these last two months) to step in and make an impact. A young, impact receiver? Haven't seen one of those since, well, since Deion Branch oh-so-many-years-ago.
- Aqib Talib helps the Patriots secondary just by resetting the roles of the other cornerbacks. Bill Belichick has for some reason seemed to think he had Ty Law/Asante Samuel and Lawyer Milloy/Rodney Harrison in the secondary as Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, and Sterling Moore (yes, he's back on the practice squad, but the real question is why does no one just refer to him as "Dinty"?) do not belong anywhere near a football field other than in extreme circumstances or in a specialized role (Arrington does ok as a nickel cornerback matching up on a not-very-quick third receiver). Think Earthwind Moreland, Otis "My Man" Smith, and Hank Poteat: these guys were serviceable because they were put in the right position in the right role at the right time. Arrington and rookie Alfozo Dennard are pushed back (if the right move is made and Talib gets paired with Devin McCourty) to third and fourth corners, which is a better fit at this time. If the safeties can get healthy and play to their potential, this secondary could take a big step forward. As always with the Patriots secondary, there are a lot of "ifs".
- Talib also is best at man-to-man coverage. If the Patriots put him in a "Revis Lite" role (or the Ty Law role as it was known in New England) and have him take the left side of the field and cover whoever is there one-on-one up in his face, they could get a little more exotic on defense and try to confuse Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and get some key turnovers. Expect Bill Belichick to pull some old tapes of what the Patriots defense did to Peyton Manning when he was young and replicate them against Luck this week.
- An interesting match-up forthcoming against Indianapolis. It will be interesting to see how Andrew Luck handles a huge road game with playoff implications. The key to beating the Patriots has been the deep ball in the passing game, but Buffalo brought a disturbing amount of rushing offense to the table last week. Yes, the Colts have no one even closely approximating the two-headed beast of Buffalo with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Buffalo had the Patriots defense off-balance, and despite a few encouraging plays (creating turnovers is always a must with this Patriots defense), the inability to get more stops was tied directly to the Buffalo rushing game. Did Buffalo see something on tape, or did the Patriots just have an off-game?
- BOSTON RED SOX:
- Oh, are they trying to win? I don't think so. An extension for a second baseman with average power and speed getting close to past his peak and already locked up for another three years? Sorry, it is a pure public relations move (see, we resigned your two favorites, Pedroia and Ortiz. Now buy tickets, bricks, pink hats, etc). No starting pitching? It's ok, John Lackey is back. No offense? Don't worry, we're hard at work finding another Troy O'Leary. Non-existent bullpen? Don't worry, we put our popular former pitching coach in the role of manager. Problem solved. (That idea never went bad in Boston, right Joe Kerrigan?). Yes, Red Sox fans, this hot-stove season is all about choking back that bile in your throat that comes from seeing this dysfunctional off-season grinding along. Think about this: the Sox finished ahead of one team in the AL East (Toronto) and they stole your starting shortstop in exchange for their manager who they were going to fire eventually and made a series of huge moves to jump into the mix as a definite contender. Tampa keeps churning out great young pitching, the Yankees are the Yankees, and Baltimore gets Nick Markakis back to the middle of their lineup next year. The good news? I got a ton of Red Sox gear on clearance, and I get to root for an underdog again.
- Oh no. Not going there. Relegation losers Reading take three points from the Boys in Blue who slip to 5th in the EPL table? Not discussing this, not thinking about this. Now I'm glad that ESPN/Fox Soccer Channel did not have this match on the telly, as I would have been beside myself watching the Toffees blow a 1-nil halftime lead against a winless squad. Instead, I am just taking joy that Norwich (seriously, they are top division? Really?) take out ManU. Yes, Everton should have taken advantage and taken the easy three, but a ManU loss is always almost as good a win.