Friday, September 30, 2011

MLB Playoff Preview

When TRE, from the latest and greatest Gopher blog Still Got Hope? reached out to me to ask if I wanted to do a co-MLB playoff preview with him my first though was "jesus that sounds like work."  Then I remembered that I've seen TRE in real life and he's a gigantic monster man who would probably rip my arms out my sockets and beat me over the head with them wookie-style if I angered him, so I figured I better do it.

So here's the protocol - I'm previewing the AL, he's previewing the NL which works well for me because my knowledge of the NL is on par with Super Sioux Fan's knowledge of cooking - NOT ALL THAT MUCH.  Then we'd each write a paragraph in response to the other's original paragraph.

Will we agree?  Disagree?  Fight?  Will we come to blows?  TOO SOON TO TELL.  But it should be exciting.  My pants are already half-off in anticipation.



DWG:  Classic match-up here of momentum vs. unstoppablenessittude.  The Ranger offense is really good at hitting and scoring, much like Bobby Brown, and really has no holes.  But that's the fun thing about good pitching, it creates those holes.  Tampa has the two best pitchers in this deal in Shields and Price, and in a short series sometimes that's all you need.  Evan Longoria is looking sexy and mashing baseballs, and the Rays have heaps of karma from playing the role of Will Hunting to the Sox Carmine Scarpaglia, and saving the world from the hoards of Boston douchefans that always come out of the woodwork for the playoffs.  THAT ROBAHT ANDINO IS WICKED GOOD!  This should be a dogfight, but I give the edge to pitching and karma.  Rays in Five.

TRE:  Evan Longoria is as good a hitter as he is a dreamboat.  On Wednesday he basically willed the Rays into the playoffs and it was amazing.  TREbro cried like a river when the Sox missed the playoffs. (he's a longtime fan, don't try and make sense of it)  TREbro's wife bombarded facebook with Red Sox propaganda too.  None of that could make Carl Crawford not suck extremely hard.

The Rays and Rangers did this dance last year and it took five games for the Rangers to take them down.  They're a year wiser and a year better.  Rangers noob Napoli had a monster second half (.383 AVG, .706 SLG) and co-noob Adrian Beltre has returned from the hamstring injury and has destroyed in September. (Player of the Month I guess!) Tampa may have a slight edge in starting pitching, but Texas has a TRE's head sized edge in the bullpen.  Especially with Ogando and Holland joining the pen for the playoffs.


DWG is right that the edge should go to pitching, but wrong in choosing Tampa for having the edge.  This series goes to the Rangers.  Ron Washington will do a head spin on that bald pate of his afterwards.  Verdict: Rangers in four.



DWG:  Obviously nobody likes the Yankees, that's a universal law like water or dinosaurs, but the question is do the Tigers have enough to knock them off?  Both teams have a stone cold ace at the front of the rotation and a bunch of question marks to follow so game 1 is even more important than it usually is in a 5-game series.  Just like the Death Star, Justin Verlander has one weakness, and his is giving up home runs.  If that comes into play with the 230 foot right field fence in Yankee Stadium and a bunch of power-hitting lefties the Tigers could get shoved in a hole they can't climb out of, especially since Jim Leyland has already said he won't pitch Verlander on short rest in Game 4 even if Detroit is facing elimination (Sabathia is already slated for Game 4) which makes so little sense to me I'm convinced Leyland was replaced with Ron Gardenhire.  Easily the most difficult series to pick.   It's either Yankees in four or Tigers in five.  I say Detroit gets two wins from Verlander and squeaks one out somewhere else.  Tigers in five.

TRE:  I love Verlander and think he's the best pitcher in baseball.  All of the cool kids are saying that now, but if you ask Doctor Detroit, I've been saying this for awhile.  I get this feeling though that the Tigers believe too much.  Fans think Doug Fister is the new Bob Welch.  A lot rides on CC Sabathia.  Can that big SOB that was somehow robbed once on the street get the best of Verlander?  If he does, it's freaking over.  Doug Fistplay will curl up into the fetal postion.  The bad news for the Yankees is they're not playing the Twins.  Since 2002, they're 12-2 in ALDS games against the Twins and 5-12 against everyone else.  Last time I checked though, former Twin Delmon Young was batting in the 3-hole.  Even Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia can get Delmon out.  The Tigers are ready for this.  They're going to join the Twins in the slop bucket of AL Central victims by leg sweep.  Verdict: The Jeterses in three.



TRE:  The Cards snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season. They were down 8.5 games from Atlanta on September first, but went 18-8 in the month and watched Atlanta piss the bed. The Phillies get an opponent that they struggled with in 2011; going 3-6 against them. It sounds like we'll see Roy Halladay against Kyle Lohse in game 1 and Cliff Lee against Edwin Jackson in game 2. So, that's basically 2-0 Phillies. Since this is a best of 5 series, the Cardinals are pretty much screwed at this point. I assume they'd throw Chris Carpenter in game 3 against Cole Hamels; perhaps on short rest. That might get them a win, but then they'd lose to Roy Oswalt in game 4 against Jaime Garcia. Matt Holliday has an injured hand/wrist and is unlikely to start the series, but Allen Craig has played well of late. In my opinion the Cardinals lineup just doesn't stack up with the Phillies. It's basically Pujols and The Big Puma and pray for HBP. The Phillies have a lineup that's solid from top to bottom and they even have some decent depth on their bench. I suppose that explains the franchise record 102 wins. Verdict: Phillies in four.

DWG:  Ok great, the Cards went 6-3 against the Phillies this year.  That's awesome and everything but I mean, come on.  Nobody really thinks the Cardinals can win, do they?  It's taking every ounce of restraint and personal responsibility I have to not put the largest wager of my lifetime down on the Phils to win this series at -300.  Then again, the last time I discounted a Cardinals team this badly they ended up winning the World Series after the Tigers pitchers took turns playing the smash hit game "Throw the ball into the dugout."  Still though, the Phil's worst pitcher (of four) is better than the best St. Louis can trot out there and outside of Pujols their second string offense might be better than the Cards' starters.  Phillies sweep.


TRE:   This is an intriguing series and sadly will probably be the least watched due to market size. The Brewers have a solid lineup headed by my NL MVP choice Ryan Braun. Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks all bring a lot to the table as well. Casey McGehee took the year off, but I give him a break because he's bald and ugly like me.

The Brewers led the NL in homeruns and did it while posting a decent average, OBP and a relatively low strikeout total. They also brought in some pitching that doesn't blow goats. Shawn Marcum and Zack Grienke joined with Yovanni Gallardo to provide a solid top 3. Lefties Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson round out the rotation. They also have a solid bullpen with Saito and K-Rod joining Axford for the late innings.

Arizona also packs a pop with Justin Upton, Chris Young (the black one, not the tall dork from Princeton) and Miguel Montero being the core run producers. They also have a solid top 4 starters with Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and Joe Saunders. This is a five game series to me. Kennedy went 21-4 and will likely start the series against Gallardo. I really dislike that the Diamondbacks abbreviate themselves with "D-Backs". That's a little too close to d-bags. Verdict: Brewers in five.

DWG:  I agree that this will be an interesting series because these teams are pretty evenly matched.  Milwaukee has more star power with Braun, Fielder, Greinke, and Weeks and seem more glamorous, or at least as glamorous as annything from dirty, dirty Wisconsin can be, but Arizona is a surprisingly good, and complete, team.  Kennedy, Hudson, Collmenter, and Saunders might not sound like much, but they're one of the best starting groups in the NL.  I know, I didn't believe it either, but every single one of them has an ERA under 3.70 and a WHIP under 1.32.  Not really a true ace in the group, sorry Kennedy but I'm not buying it yet, but that really plays well for them.  They can reasonably expect to hold Milwaukee to 3 runs per game, so all they have to do is score 4 runs three times in five games.  They have one of the highest scoring offenses in baseball, so that shouldn't be a problem, and Justin Upton is the Patrick Jane of baseball.  D-Bags in five and TRE is an idiot and a traitor.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Holy Chicken Drumsticks

You want some awesome chicken drumsticks?  Take 1-2 lbs. of chicken drumsticks and make this recipe (note:  if only using 1 lb. the seasoning mix is a bit too much so only use about 80-90% of it).

Take the drumsticks and remove the skin.  Then mix this up together:

2 t salt
1 T paprika
2 t chili powder
1 t onion powder
1 t thyme
1 t garlic powder
1 t cumin
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Mix.  Throw drumsticks and spice mix in a bag.  Leave overnight in fridge.  Then take a piece of foil and line the bottom of your crockpot.  Throw drumsticks in there and cook on low for 4-5 hours.  Then eat them and thank me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Twins Season Wrap - Corner Infielders

I'm going to lump 1st and 3rd together because I'm starting to realize if I really do this one position at a time I'm probably going to kill myself.  I'm going to start with 3b because that's a little more clear cut - and it really comes down to if you believe Danny Valencia is the long-term solution or not.

After last season when Valencia finished 3rd in R.O.Y. voting and OPS+ed 117 optimism was high.  Sure, his BABIP was unsustainably high but he had a little pop, looked like he could hit, and was a plus fielder both quantitative and qualitatively so it looked good.  Then this year his fielding suddenly turned poor, he was a constant victim of mental lapses on a near Lew Fordian level, and all his numbers dipped slightly, hurt by a low BABIP.  Basically we've seen 2 seasons of Valencia and they were complete opposites.

Because I'm not a psycho with an agenda it seems obvious to me that the truth is somewhere in the middle.  I suspect Valencia is a slightly above average third baseman in every way - hitting and fielding, even if his baserunning sometimes makes me laugh like I'm at a Dane Cook show but I'm really just laughing out of pity.  I would be completely ok with, and would actually recommend, the Twins roll out Valencia for at least another year.  He's never been a great hitter, at least not since A ball, but he's been good enough the whole way through the minors and in his first 2 years with the big club, and really what's the other option?  Luke Hughes?  I like Hughes, but he's basically a younger Matt Tolbert with slightly more power and smaller nostrils.  No, this needs to be Valencia's job until Miguel Sano's ready, and that's at least 3 years from now.  Maybe less since Latin American birth records are always so accurate.

Now that that's settled we move on to first base, maybe the most confusing position on this team.  You've got a part-time catcher in Mauer, a full-time outfielder who might not even be there next year in Cuddyer, and a prospect who has fallen out of favor but now looks good.

Cuddy is obviously not your answer so we'll wait to address him when I talk outfielders, so in my mind it comes down to either making Mauer your full-time 1B or giving the job to Parmalee.  I talked enough about Mauer's batting skills in my catcher rundown, so we'll just jump to Parmelee.

Frankly, I like him.  And I have no idea why I qualified that with frankly.   He's an interesting case because he was a high pick who looked like he'd be a high power, low average guy throughout his early minor league career.  Then a few years ago he started trending in the opposite direction with his average raising and his power dipping, and I read somewhere that I'm too lazy to go find that the Twins basically told him to cut down on his swing and hit for higher average, something they love to do to anybody who shows any power (ask David Ortiz or J.J. Hardy).  Now that he's hit the majors yes his average is way up there (very high BABIP at .385) which is nice, but even better is he's taking a good amount of walks and showing a power bat once again.

There's a stat called "isolated power" which is calculated as slugging-average, and is meant to show a batter's power while taking out those whose slugging percentage is inflated due to a high average coming from a lot of singles.  Parmelee is at .194 so far this year, which is his highest number since A ball in 2008 and is second amongst all Twins behind just Jim Thome (and, if you ignore PA requirements, Scott Baker which is LOL).  It's not exactly elite to be a leader in power on the Twins, but with enough at-bats he'd rank 26th in the AL in that stat, ahead of guys like Nick Swisher and B.J. Upton - not elite, but guys with some pop.  No doubt, he's hit the ball well.

In the most simple terms, Parmelee has looked good in his call-up and deserves the chance to be the everyday first baseman next season.  Hopefully Mauer can catch more often than not and DH as well rather than taking the full-time first base spot from him.  I don't know that I'm buying in that Parmelee can be anything more than an average first base bat but he has potential, and looking at the other options, both in the majors and minors, he's really all they have.  The free agent crop looks either to be well out of the Twins price range (Fielder, Pujols if he hasn't signed yet) or Tony Batista, let's throw money at someone and hope they pan out types (Xavier Nady, Ross Gload, Brad Hawpe, Lyle Overbay).  The only remotely interesting guy on the list is Nick Johnson and he spent all this year in Cleveland's minor leagues and managed to hit just .200.  Still, I say they go with Parmelee as the starter and offer Johnson a minor league deal and hope for the best.  Not that different than the Nady/Hawpe group, but Johnson should be ultra cheap and is a worthwhile gamble unless there's something going on with him I'm not aware of.

Much like the catcher position for next year, things look confusing with a side of depressing.

Monday, September 26, 2011

NCAA Basketball Preview - The Atlantic 10

Here's what you're going to want to do - watch "New Girl" from Fox.  It debuted on Tuesday night and I think me and the missus laughed more than we've ever laughed at the first episode of anything, and that includes Parks and Rec.  It stars one of my big crushes, Zooey Deschanel, and although she's always been quirky funny she really, truly can carry a show as the funny lead and she knocks it out of the park here.  Then there's three dumb guys who she moves in with who I've never heard of but actually do an adequate job.

So watch it.  It's on every Tuesday at 8pm, and they're replaying the pilot on Saturday October 1st so do it.  If you've ever trusted my judgement about anything, watch this show.  But also know that I have dibs on Zooey.  I've been into her since her Almost Famous and The Good Girl, so back off.  I have dibs on her sister too.

I have a lot of dibs.  Anyways, here comes the A-10!!!!!

1.  XAVIER MUSKETEERS.  Tu Holloway (who sounded cooler when he was going by Terrell) is back after nearly jumping to the NBA so that pretty much automatically makes Xavier the favorite because he's so retardedly good, but he's got plenty of help.  Mark Lyons joins him in the backcourt and nearly doubled his scoring average last year all the way up to 13.6, and Kenny Frease is back to man the middle.  All of which means X has their top three scorers back.   They're also adding three top 140 recruits including Dezmine Wells, a SF who ranked #76 on Rivals list and is all but guaranteed to be the next Musketeer superstar.  They also imported Travis Taylor who is not a crappy receiver from Florida but is in fact a power forward who transferred from Monmouth where he lit it up for nearly 18 points per game.  I'm comfortable at this point saying Xavier doesn't rebuild, they just reload.

2.  TEMPLE OWLS.  If the back court is what really makes good teams good then Temple is off to a good start despite losing power forward Lavoy Allen who averaged 12 and 9 last year.  Back is SG Ramone Moore, last year's leading scorer at over 15 per game, as well as Juan Fernandez.  You remember Fernandez as the hipster pot head looking guy who killed Talor Battle with his off-balance miracle shot in the NCAA Tournament.  He's super annoying to look at, really irritating to watch, and really his numbers aren't even that great and he can't really shoot, but somehow he has that annoying knack for making the plays when they're needed. 

3.  ST LOUIS BILLIKENS.  I suppose it didn't make sense to think Rick Majerus would turn St. Louis around super fastly but I did because I love that fat-ass.  But after a good year two seasons ago (11-5 A-10) they regressed hard last year, finishing at 6-10 last year, not in small part because their two best players - Willie Reed and Kwamain Mitchell - missed all of last season because of sexual assault charges.  Both were cleared - Reed bolted for the NBA (undrafted, nice job genius), but getting Mitchell back is huge for a Billiken team that returns all five starters and their 8 top scorers from last season.  If this isn't the year St. Louis makes the NCAA Tournament it's probably time to just end the program all together.  Maybe all the other A-10 coaches could have fun little luau where they roast Majerus for food and invite A.C. Slater and it would be fun for all.  Except Majerus.

4.  GEORGE WASHINGTON COLONIALS.  GW went an impressive 10-6 in the A-10 last season.  Unfortunately that didn't remotely get them in the conversation for an NCAA bid because they didn't even come close to playing anybody in the non-conference slate and didn't beat any of the league's good teams during conference play.  Still it's a good jumping off point for this season, and with only one starter gone from last year's team and getting back Lasan Kromah, who was second on the team in scoring two years ago as a freshman before missing last year with a foot injury, GW might be in contention to reach the NCAA Tournament.  Tony Taylor is a player of the year candidate, and with a tougher schedule that includes games against Cal, Syracuse, and VCU, they have a shot.

5.  CHARLOTTE 49ERS.  The 49ers return four starters from last year's squad, but I'm not sure that's a good thing.  Last year they couldn't shoot, turned the ball over like crazy, never registered assists, and couldn't play defense.  All that led to a 10-20 record with just 2 conference wins.  There is, however, reason to have some hope because three of those 10 wins came over Xavier, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech, so when things do come together for Charlotte they can play well, it just didn't happen with any regularity last year.  Of those returners, three scored in double figures last year, including their top two assist and steal guys.  If they can shoot a little better, take care of the ball a little better, and play better defense they could be dangerous.  Yes, that's a lot of ifs and I don't know why I believe they'll be better.  Maybe I just like green uniforms.

6.  ST JOE'S HAWKS.   I've seen St. Joe's referenced as a potential A-10 sleeper, but I'm not sure I really see it.  Yes, they only lost one starter and not a very good one at that, but this is also a team that was beaten by the Gophers at home last year so how good can they be?  Still, they have a couple of good guards including Carl Jones who is the third leading returning scorer in the conference with 17 per game, along with sophomore center C.J. Aiken who was ranked the #8 incoming freshman center in the country last season.  Although Aiken is a bit of a project on offense he's already a killer on defense and averaged 3.5 blocks per game last season which led the conference and was second nationally.  So I guess they do have some talent.  But still, the Gophers.

7.  DAYTON FLYERS.  I've spent plenty of time in other A-10 previews talking about how Dayton has terrible fans so I won't rehash that here, especially since this year is going to be a toughie for the Flyers.  Not only did they lose their coach, but they also lost leading scorer Chris Wright to graduation and freshman point guard Juwan Staten, who led the A-10 in assists, decided to transfer after realizing how much Dayton sucked.  They still have Chris Johnson, a guy I really like who is an all-around kind of guy and superior athlete, and PG Kevin Dillard, a transfer from So Ill, led the MVC in assists his sophomore year so he's not a monster step down from Staten, but the talent level has definitely waned in Dayton.  Gregory got out at the right time.

8.  ST BONAVENTURE BONNIES.  What St. Bonnie's has going for them is maybe the best player in the conference in Andrew Nicholson.  What they don't have going for them is everything else.  Nicholson is now a senior, and has gone from a 2-star center from Canada whose only D-I Scholarship offer came from St. Bonnie's to a guy who led the conference in scoring at 22 per game last year.  All he needs is a little help and there's a couple of other returners who averaged in double-figures, but let's be honest St. Bonnie's has never been on tv so who am I kidding trying to write about them?

9.  UMASS MINUTEMEN.  They lose their best player and top scorer in Anthony Gurley, but return everybody else.  The problem is that nobody besides Gurley averaged more than 8.5 points per game, so what you're left with is nine different players who averaged between 4.3 and 8.5 points per game last year, and I have no idea how that's going to shake itself out.  If multiple players step up their game and become double digit scorers and all-conference types they could finish significantly higher than this.  On the other hand, if nobody takes a leap and improves from last season they could be bottom dwellers.  Obviously, I think neither of those things will happen and they'll just float here at #9.  Go me!

10.  DUQUESNE DUKES.  The Dukes chance to shine was last year, but they came up a bit short.  After starting the conference season 8-0, Duquesne limped to the finish at 2-6 and then were dropped in the first round of the A-10 tourney by crappy St. Joe's and ended up in the CBI since their non-conference resume was basically non-existent.  Now both Damian Saunders and Bill Clark, two of the best players in Duquesne history, are gone and although there's still some talent here they certainly aren't in the same class they were in (or could have been in) last year.  They return three pretty good guards, including A-10 rookie of the year T.J. McConnell, and since they play an extreme uptempo style that's a good start and they should end up ok, but they definitely whiffed on a big opportunity last season. 

11.  RICHMOND SPIDERS.  After reaching the sweet 16 last year and setting a school record for victories, the Spiders have been massacred by graduations, losing four starters who accounted for nearly 70% of the team's scoring last year and over half of their rebounds and assists, including Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper who were both All A-10 first team selections last year.  So yeah, they have a lot of uncertainty going on.  Richmond has begun to establish itself as one of the elite basketball schools in the conference, but it's going to take some big years from unexpected places to keep them there.

12.  FORDHAM RAMS.  The sad thing about Fordham, other than the fact that their win totals have been three, two, and seven the past three years (and those are total wins, not conference wins), is that they actually have one of the best players in the conference in power forward Chris Gaston, who was the only A-10 player to average a double-double at 15.9 points and 11.3 rebounds (4th in the nation).  The problem is he has zero help, so defenses really do nothing other than throw double and triple teams at him and it works because they are terrible at everything, and there's really no reason to think they're going to be much better.  They lose their second leading scorer, but return two other double digit scorers in Branden Frazier (from Dudley Do-Right) and Alberto Estwick.  If either of those guys can take some pressure of Gaston, maybe they could get to a CIT bid.  Aim high.

13.  RHODE ISLAND RAMS.  Remember Jimmy Baron?  The coaches son who played for the Rams a couple of years ago and rained down 8 three-pointers in Cameron and almost single-handedly beat Duke?  He's been gone now for a couple of years, but little brother Billy just transferred in from Virginia and he profiles as a similar player.  Which is good, because most of the excitement left Rhodey after last year with three of their top four scorers, including second team A-10 selection Delroy James.  Joining Baron will be a couple returnees who are also excellent outside shooters and any time a team has a couple of outside threats they can also manage an upset or two, but that's about all the Rams will be good for this year.  

14.  LASALLE EXPLORERS.  When Aaric Murray,  who was ranked as the #35 overall recruit and #5 center in the country coming into school in 2009, it was a huge, huge deal.  Here was a hometown kid from just outside Philly who was going to return the Explorers to the glory days of Lionel Simmons.  Well.  Insert fart sound.  LaSalle went 4-12 and 6-10 in A-10 games the last two years, and although Murray put up good numbers he was also benched for poor effort last season and has now transferred to West Virgina with nary a post-season berth on the record.  With two other double-digit scorers lost to graduation LaSalle finds itself in a position similar to the Minnesota Twins - no hope and no prospects, and one of the worst teams in the country.

Other Previews:
Big 12

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Minnesota Twins Season Wrap - Catcher

I've come full circle.  I am now embracing the new Twins.  I raged.  I cried.  I bitched.  I complained about Gardy until I was blue in the face.  I questioned why they went Nishioka over Hardy at the beginning of the year and I continued on that all season long.  I questioned Mauer's heart, Span's head, and Morneau's everything.  I wondering what was going on with management and the training staff, and I couldn't understand why they weren't more aggressive trading off pieces for prospects at the trade deadline.  But I'm done now.

Now it's time to accept the Twins are broken.  Blame at on injuries if you must, for it is convenient and soothing, but the fact of the matter is those who weren't hurt, and the times where the team was intact, were mediocre at best.  It times to move on.  Yes, I'm betting we'll have more Augusts and Septembers of meaningless ball, but if everything goes according to (my) plan, we'll at least be watching players who could be part of the future, rather than the lingering remnants of a disappointing and unfulfilled past.  With that spirit, I am going to do a review/preview of this team by position, starting with catcher. 

It is becoming apparent that Joe Mauer's future is no longer behind the plate, at least not full-time and I'm betting we'll see a full-time move in the next year or two, whether it is to the outfield or first base I don't know, but it's coming.  Mainly due to his inability to stay on the field, but also, in my opinion, because they need something to explain why the guy they just gave the biggest contract ever to put up a batting line more reminiscent of Danny Valencia than what we're used to seeing from him.  Next year is an absolute monster for Mauer, a huge crossroads year, and his chance to prove that he's worth that contract.

A huge chunk of Mauer's value always came from the fact that he was one of the best hitters in the league at a position where defense is considered the priority, and most team's don't have an issue with letting offense slide.  Catcher's average OPS+ (where 100 is an average batter, higher is better) has historically been around 90, all the way from the 1950s-2000s.  That's the worst of any position player, on par with shortstop.  So when Mauer has a run like he did from 2006-2010 when his aggregate OPS+ was 142, you are in a huge advantage versus most teams.  Even if he hits like that and plays outfield or 1b, you're still holding an advantage against most squads, even if it is diminished somewhat.

So the real question, more important than establishing what position he's going to play, is whether or not Mauer can get back to the hitter we all saw those five years, or if he's now become this slappy Luis Rodriguez type of hitter.  This year was so far removed from what we usually see out of Joe I'm ready to call it a fluke with one caveat that I'll get to later.  His power fell off a cliff, and I don't mean home run power because in that case the 28 HR season was the fluke, but he stopped hitting doubles.  His walk rate went down and his strikeout rate went up.  He hit an absolutely ridiculous amount of groundballs, even for him, and made contact and far fewer of his swings, despite not changing the pitches he was swinging at.  It was a truly bizarre year.

Which is why I'm mostly inclined to dismiss it as an anomaly and expect to see Mauer back hitting in the mid-.300s with his 10 homers, 30 doubles, and a nice OBP.  However, that one caveat I mentioned earlier is his health, and this year has truly been dizzying with the ailments.  From bilateral leg weakness at the start to pneumonia at the end, I don't know if he was ever truly healthy this year.  It's easy enough to question his toughness and his heart when he has to sit out four games with a sore neck, especially when Ezal was back out there within minutes hustling Smokey for money after he fell on that wet floor, but perhaps he wasn't ever healthy.  Perhaps there were some serious health issues more time off at the start of the year was what was needed.  I really don't know, and I don't think anybody else really does either.  Which is why I'm officially giving the $200 million dollar man a pass on this one.  Everybody deserves a second chance.  Let's just hope he's back to normal because the Twins are stuck with him - nobody's trading for that contract - at whatever position he may be.

And what if they do move him?  Who becomes the new catcher?  The only two prospects at the position who were major league ready were shipped off in short-sighted moves by the front office for a reliever who defines average stuff was looked attractive because he had a bunch of shiny saves and a low-A reliever whose strikeout rates dropped each of the last three seasons.  So it's going to be Drew Butera or Rene Rivera?  Gross.

Rivera is a career minor leaguer and Butera is a defensive specialist, and neither can hit.  Both OPS+ at a 13 this year.  13!  Thir-fucking-teen.  That means they don't get hits, they don't get walks, and on the rare occasion they do get a hit it's a single basically every time.

Butera had the worst OPS+ in the league out of any player with at least 230 plate appearances, twice as bad as the Rays' Reid Brignac who was second with a 27.  Rene Rivera had the worst OPS out of any player with at least 100 plate appearances.  Which means that the two worst hitters in all of major league baseball who were given 100 PAs or more were both Twins' catchers.  Of 82 pitchers in the NL with at least 30 plate appearances, 26 of them OPS+ed better than the 13 the two-headed little girl with a bat put-up, and the most astonishing thing of all is that I was astonished it was that few.

Wait, there's more.  Since 1920, Drew Butera put up the 3rd worst OPS+ by any batter with 230 PAs or more.  His .153 average is the fourth worst, and with a little luck he might even be able to get to second (worst is .135 by Ray Oyler in '68).  He also had the 3rd worst OBP.  The good news?  It was only the 20th worst slugging percentage.  He's a hell of a defender, has a great arm, and I think will probably be an excellent coach some day, but he. can. not. hit.  His numbers were only slightly better last year.  This is who he is.  He can't be a starter.

Rivera has hit, a little, in the minors with a career line of .252/.306/.390, which basically projects him as a serviceable triple-AAA catcher, and not, as we saw this year, a major league caliber player.  This means the Twins are stuck.  They need to move Mauer, or at least believe they do, but have hamstrung themselves with no available major league type players who can be an every day catcher.  Jose Morales was no titan for the Rockies this year, but he'd at least be a viable alternative, and I really don't even want to talk about Wilson Ramos.  It was a terribly short-sighted trade at the time and it's just continued to get worst as Ramos continues to hit, hit with power, show a good batting eye, and throw runners out.  Oh yeah, both Morales and Ramos have thrown out a higher percentage of would-be base stealers than Butera.

I don't want to dwell on Ramos, but Aaron Gleeman dug up a little factoid on Ramos's season.  He's currently at an OPS+ of 112 at the age of 23.  The list of catchers with at least 400 PAs in a season to OPS+ over 100 is Mauer, Buster Posey, Jason Kendall, Craig Biggio, Russell Martin, and Ramos.  That's it.  I don't think it's completely overstating it to say that the trade of Ramos, factoring in their return and what's happened with Mauer, may have set the franchise back a few years.  Yes, years.

Since they can't count on Mauer and Butera and Rivera are brutal then what?  Free agent?  The list of potential free agent catchers is underwhelming and mainly full of career back-up types.  The only names on that list I'm remotely interested in are Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Doumit, and they probably won't pay Shoppach, if Tampa even buys him out, and Doumit is oft-injured so who knows.  I don't.

The most realistic scenario has the team heading into next year expecting Mauer to catch half the time and Butera do catch half the time, something that is just incredibly depressing to me.  Remember what I said about being optimistic and heading into next year looking towards the future?  I give up.  Hopefully when I do this rundown on the other positions I'll feel better, but right now I don't even want to think about writing any more about the Twins.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NCAA Hoops Preview - The ACC

As much as the idea of Syracuse not being in the Big East kind of churns my stomach, the upside that at least there will be a team in the conference capable of challenging UNC and Duke once in a while.  I know they've traditionally been the best 2 teams, but things have just been ridiculous lately and might be topping (bottoming) out this year because nearly ever team has been killed by graduations and can't reload like those two nancies, so Duke and UNC are Final Four contenders at the same time you can't definitively point to any other ACC squad and say "that's a tournament team."

So I guess there's that.

1.  NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS.  For most teams losing a guy like Leslie McDonald for the season to a knee injury would be a big blow, but not this year's Heels.  That is basically the only loss they suffered from their roster.  Harrison Barnes, last year's #2 recruit and potential top 3 pick in the NBA draft last year, decided to return for another year of seasoning and, after a rough start to his career, began to flourish at the end, scoring 18+ points in 9 of the team's last 10 games.  Tyler Zeller is still there and his offensive game is really turning into a thing of beauty, and the defense of John Henson will be there as well to block more shots than jesus.  They also have their point guard back in Kendall Marshall, who is already turning into one of the best PGs in UNC History (although nobody will ever be better than Ed Cota).  In case you want more, they also bring in a couple of new studs in F James McAdoo (#8 by Rivals) and P.J. Hairston (#13 and called the best shooter in this class), and have a bunch of other former top recruit types from the last couple of years who I haven't even mentioned.  Yes, they're loaded.  There's a reason why they're 3-1 to win the whole thing (sucker bet).

2.  DUKE BLUE DEVILS.  Kyrie Irving, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith is a huge amount of production and talent to lose, but you know the drill - unfortunately for every one who doesn't worship Satan, they just replace talent with talent are look to once again be one of the best teams in the nation.  That isn't to say they won't have some weaknesses, however, because I refuse to believe that no matter how many Plumlees you have (and Duke is now up to 3) those aren't the type of bigs who are going to take you to a National Championship.  Not counting, of course, the one they won 2 years ago, but that was really all Brian Zoubek.  The three most interesting story lines to me are whether or not Seth Curry can be a team player and not end up a massive chuck monster like his brother, whether or not Austin Rivers (#1 freshman in the country) can integrate himself into a real (and good) team when his whole high school career has been him having to score 40 to carry a lackluster supporting cast, and just how gay is Duke, anyway?

3.  MIAMI HURRICANES.  The Canes are one of the few teams that were not hit hard by graduations/defections and return a couple of dynamic guards in Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant along with double-double machine Reggie Johnson who pretty much destroyed Duke last year since those pansies can't handle big, strong post players.  And I'm sure you remember Scott and Grant, seeing as how they combined for 36 points against the Gophers two seasons ago in Florida completing the teams 3-game collapse after faltering in Anaheim and completely buzzkilling all the good feelings after they beat Butler.  Yeah, I hate Miami.

4.  VIRGINIA CAVALIERS.  Mike Scott and his 16 and 10 averages are back after red-shirting last year due to an injury, and I like their plan of going with Scott and spreading a bunch of shooters out on the floor.  And no, it's not just because Virginia shot 10-13 from three last year to kill the Gophers, they legitimately have some good shooters (Joe Harris, K.T. Harrell, and Sammy Zeglinski can all shoot it and both incoming freshmen can hit from outside) and Mike Scott is a legitimate beast.  Overall Virginia was 19th in the country in 3-pt percentage and 23rd in % of points coming from behind the line, and that was with Scott only around for 10 games.  I don't know.  Maybe it is my memories of that game coloring my opinion, but I see the Cavs as a dangerous team this year.

5.  FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES.  FSU is likely a near guarantee for an NCAA bid because their defense is always so good it's unlikely they'll completely implode, but you can't quite trust them because they are never offensively a good team and this year they don't have a real PG.  They didn't last year either and things worked out, but last year they had Chris Singleton (most of the year) and Derwin Kitchen, both of whom could actually score once in a while and both of whom are gone.  You know the defense will be there and you know they'll probably beat either UNC or Duke in Tallahassee, but it will be up to the offense whether this is a good team or a very good team.  They're bringing in three top 150 recruits, all of whom are supposedly offensive players, so if any of them can get going right away that'll be a big boost.  Remember the name Antwan Space.  Just do it.

6.  CLEMSON TIGERS.  Not unlike the Seminoles, Clemson was hit hard by graduation, losing Demontez Stitt (leading scorer and assist man) and Jerai Grant (second leading scorer and leading rebounder) but they are such a solid defensive squad under Brad Brownell that they'll still be in the hunt for an NCAA bid, although at this point in the ACC most of these teams could finish anywhere from 5th to 10th.  Still, the Tigers will have some talent including Devin Booker, the younger brother of former Clemson All-ACC performer Trevor.  He hasn't quite made the same splash that Trevor did in his first two years, but the potential is probably there I'd assume.  And speaking of potential, they actually have a McDonald's All-American on their roster in Milton Jennings.  He managed 4 double-doubles last season, which makes Trevor Mbakwe laugh, but he could end up being the x-factor for Clemson.  Whatever that means.  I don't know, I'm just typing, man.

7.  VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES.  The Hokies have a couple huge holes to fill, losing both Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen who basically did everything for them.  Fortunately, the have plenty of options to fill those holes, including two other returning double-digit scorers and a nice big recruiting class that includes some likely future stars - PF C.J. Barksdale, SG Robert Brown, and SF Dorian Finney-Smith are all top 100 on Rivals list with Finney-Smith topping the list at #31.  So yeah, there are some big losses for the Hokies, but they might end up better in the long run.  They had some serious choke jobs the last couple of years, and Delaney was a big part - mainly because he wanted the ball and everybody knew he was getting the ball.  Perhaps a little balance could work in V-Tech's favor?  Whatever it takes so we don't have to listen to Seth Greenberg whine about the selection committee again.  My least favorite spring ritual.

8.  NC STATE WOLFPACK.  Losing Tracy Smith is tough, but losing both your point guards - including emerging star Ryan Harrow (who transferred to Kentucky after the coaching change from Lowe to Gottfried) is going to be tougher.  State still has one of the most exciting players in the conference in PF C.J. Leslie, who was the #14 recruit in the nation his freshman year and averaged 11 & 7, along with a couple of other nice players in SG Lorenzo Brown (#37 last year) and dead-eye shooter Scott Wood so they'll be middle of the road with some chances to surprise people.  If Brown can handle the point - or incoming CS-Bakersfield transfer guy can - they could finish significantly higher than this.  I really love me some C.J. Leslie.

9.  GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS.  Do you think Glen Rice Jr. might have to look at a picture or two of Sarah Palin when Tech travels to Cameron or the Dean Dome or really anywhere?  Hopefully for them he'll be able to block it out, because he's going to be the main offensive weapon on this team and has the talent and situation to potentially blossom into an All-ACC type of player, particularly with Iman Shumpert leaving for the NBA and Brian Oliver transferring to Seton Hall.  Maybe the best news for Tech, however, is that Paul Hewitt is finally gone because even though he was a hell of a recruiter the guy was routinely out coached and over matched.  Brian Gregory turned the garbage dumpster of Dayton into something reasonably mediocre and Tech is a much better program so he'll likely have them turned around sooner rather than later.

10.  MARYLAND TERRAPINS.  Yet another team that got hit hard by graduation, not only did Maryland lose a ton off last year's team but when Gary Williams decided to quit coaching an a pretty inopportune time like some kind of sweaty rhinoceros he didn't do the team any favors because most of the recruits he'd signed, and there were some good ones, jumped ship.  They did manage to hold on to Nick Faust, a hometown kid who is a very good player (#48 rivals) and will make this team's strength - the back court - even stronger.  The biggest questions will be on the interior.  With the beast that was Jordan Williams and his double-double average off to the NBA and no notable additions with size, they'll have to turn to unproven upperclassmen to play in the paint.  That always works well.

11.  WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS.  Wake might have been the worst major conference team in 300 years last season, so they can only get better.  You'd think.  Unfortunately lack of talent continues to meet up with knuckleheadism, with former top 100 recruit J.T. Terrell leaving the team after getting arrested for a DWI and fellow top 100 recruit Melvin Tabb currently suspended indefinitely for some ambiguous reason.  The one big bright spot is SF Travis McKie who led the team in both scoring and rebounding last season.  And this is where I'd write a sentence to tie all of that together, but every time I tried to watch a Wake game last year they were losing by 25 in the first half so I didn't really pay all that much attention.   

12.  BOSTON COLLEGE EAGLES.  I don't know that I've ever seen something this dramatic, and it's hard to believe in this conference this year, but the Eagles come into this season with 92% of last year's scoring gone.  92%, yo.  That means I got a 92% chance of embarrassing myself.  I'll roll up on some shorty and be like "whats' up, yo" and she'll be like, "you don't know 20 ways to make me call you big poppa" because I don't, yo.  I just typed that from memory so it might not be dead on but it's definitely close.  Anyway, BC has 9 freshmen this year and I've never heard of any of them and they aren't on any lists so let's be honest, the quote was a much better use of our time.

Other Previews:
Big 12

Monday, September 19, 2011

NCAA Hoops Preview - The Big 12 or whatever

Remember how I said I was going to do a preview of a new conference each Wednesday or Friday and laid out that whole schedule?  Well forget all that.  I don't do organization well.  I'm just going to run 'em out there whenever I see fit in whatever order I fell like.

We're starting with the Big 12, a conference that will have a significantly different look this year and I don't just mean that they tossed two of their worst hoops programs in Colorado and Nebraska.  The real intrigue here is that the two tradition powers of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, were both hit hard by graduations and early defections to the NBA if it ever exists again.  Between the two schools they lost 9 starters, and although both are capable of rebuilding quickly and still have plenty of talent, the conference is more wide open than it's been since I can remember.  Of course, it's looking like it won't exist for much longer, but for this season at least it will be interesting.  With an 18-game true round robin schedule, I expect these teams to beat up each other pretty good, and any school that can manage double digit wins is going to be in good shape.

1.  BAYLOR BEARS.  If he had entered the draft Perry Jones would have been a top-3 pick, so his return to Waco is huge for Baylor.  He's an absolute beast who is tough to handle inside but can also play the perimeter (although not much of a shooter) and is practically a lock for B12 player of the year, especially with Lace Dunn gone so he will become the absolute focal point of the offense.  They return everybody else inside and picked up a couple of stud freshman in wings Quincy Miller (#7 overall according to Rivals, spurned Duke to sign with the Bears) and Deuce Bello (#54 overall and has a sweet name) so they're pretty well loaded.  Their frontline of Jones, Miller, and Quincy Acy might be tops in the country.  If they can get solid PG play from either the returning A.J. Walton (meh) or JuCo transfer Pierre Jackson, who led his team to the JuCo championship, they're a major contender to win the whole thing.

2.  MISSOURI TIGERS.  With so much talent having vacated the conference the door is open for the Tigers and their five returning starters - yes five.  Of course, the biggest question is what happens when you take the players who are well suited to run Mike Anderson's crazy circus ball system and give them a new coach, one whose Miami team last year was one of the slowest in the NCAA.  Assuming Frank Haith has the brains to realize you fit your system to the players in this case, hopefully he turns them lose because with Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon, and the Pressey brothers running the break with Ricardo Ratliffe, Laurence Bowers, and Kim English filling the lanes these guys are one of the most fun groups to watch in all of the NCAA.  Of course, if my knowledge of most coaches is right he'll try to force them to slow down and at least one player will quit or get suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team" which in this case will mean getting pissed at the coach.  This is just like Above the Rim.    

3.  KANSAS JAYHAWKS.  Kansas lost a ton of talent this year and 75% of their scoring from last year, so they'll rely heavily on Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, assuming they can improve upon last year.  Both were solid players last year, but are going to have to become the main men on offense if Kansas is going to make any kind of run.  Sophomore guards Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson were top 100 guys coming out of high school, as are newcomers Naadir Tharpe and Ben McLemore, but they're all guards.  The biggest issue for Kansas is on the interior, because outside of Robinson they're paper thin.  They have a big seven-footer in Jeff Withey, but he's only played 207 minutes in his first two years in Lawrence.  The talent on the outside will get them to the NCAA Tournament, but I wouldn't expect much of a run unless somebody really steps up to help Robinson in the paint.

4.  TEXAS A&M AGGIES.  Khris Middleton is one of my favorite players to watch, and also one of my least favorite players to watch.  When things are going well he's a born scorer who can hit from outside, inside, or drive to the hole and get to the line.  However when the opposition makes a concerted effort to take him out of the game it works far, far too well, such as when he shot 0-9 and didn't even bother getting to the line because he just shot jumpers all game (I watched this one and it was lame).  But he's no doubt a special talent and he doubled his scoring average from his freshman to sophomore year, so if he worked that hard again this offseason you might be looking at a B12 player-of-the-year type season.   

5.  IOWA STATE CYCLONES.  What to think about Iowa State?  It's tough, partially because I'm biased since I consider them my second favorite college team, partially because how do you not like the mayor, partially because I love his strategy of not caring about a player's off the court baggage and just bringing in talent, and partially because when you ignore players' off the court baggage things can implode in a hurry.   I mean you know all about Royce White's talent and watched Chris Allen for what feels like 10 years, but did you realize transfer Anthony Booker from So Ill was ranked the #43 freshman in the country when he came into school?  And Chris Babb from Penn State averaged nearly 10 points per game as a sophomore?  They're going to struggle finding a ball handler with Diante Garrett graduating, but this could be a spectacular team.  Or they could end up with a couple of guys kicked out, a fight amongst their own team, and a massive flame out of a season.  Either way, this should be fun to watch. 

6.  OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS.  I've flipped these guys with Texas a few times, and that's mainly because I can't quite figure out what to think of OSU (or Texas, actually).  On the one hand, the bring in a freshman in wing LeBryan Nash who instantly becomes their best player (#6 overall recruit by Rivals) so that ups their talent level.  On the other hand, he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, their other stud recruit is a point guard Cezar Guerrero (#71 overall) who is described as more of a scorer than distributor, and their best returning player, Keiton Page, is a big-time chucker who led the team in shot attempts despite hitting just 37% of his shots.  See where I'm going with this?  They might be a more talented team this year, but I'd be concerned about if there are enough balls to go around. 

7.  TEXAS LONGHORNS.  I'm struggling to see any way they can compete this year.  I know Myck Kabongo is a total stud and basically pushed Cory Joseph out the door, but I am, everything is gone from last year and even though this year's recruiting class is very good it's not a ready made team like Kentucky seems to pull in each year.  I mean, literally the only returner of any consequence is J'Covan Brown and he averaged double figures scoring and went for over 20 in both NCAA tournament games, but that was as a complimentary player, and now he's going to have to be Mr. Offense.  I feeling like I might be selling them a bit short because it seems like no matter what the Longhorns are always able to end having a great team that flames out in the end, but I'm really not seeing it this year.  Seeing as how Rick Barnes isn't exactly known for coaching teams up, looks like 7th place and the NIT to me.

8.  KANSAS STATE WILDCATS.  So here's Kansas State.  A terrible program that never did anything, and Frank Martin manages to snag Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, and Jake Pullen - bam, instant contender.  Well guess what?  With Pullen's graduation they're all gone.  Some say Martin has turned K-State into a whole new program, one who can contend with the big boys in the conference (wherever they end up).  I say they're wrong, and K-State is heading back to dumpsville - unless they end up in C-USA or the Mountain West or some new conference made out of leftovers, but if they're in a major conference it's not going to be pretty, starting this year where I'd be stunned if they managed even an NIT bid.  Should have taken the Miami job, Frank.  A chance to go back to your home town right as your program is about to fall off a cliff?  Ouch.  This is like Shelly Long leaving Cheers, only kind of the opposite.

9.  OKLAHOMA SOONERS.  Ouch.  From 30 wins two years ago to just 27 in the past couple of seasons combined along with NCAA infractions and a new coach.  Also, if I told you there was much talent here I'd be lying.  Lon Kruger has a long road back to make Oklahoma relevant, but at least if they move on to the Pac-12 (14/16) they'll get to play those crappy teams a bunch of times, so that'll help.  Seriously, though the only guy I remember from Oklahoma last year is that Brian Cardinal wannabe Cade Davis and he's gone so you can just picture me shrugging my shoulders and we can move on.

10.  TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS.  Riddle me this - what happens when a terrible team loses four starters (it's four top scorers, top rebounder, and 3 top assist men) who accounted for over 2/3rds of the team's scoring and are replacing them with a JC dude and a transfer from Utah?  Well we're about to find out and I have a feeling it's not going to be pretty.  Assuming Billy Gillespie isn't drunk all the time I'm sure he'll improve their fortunes (wherever they end up), but this is going to be a rough year.  Good thing nobody gives a crap about this team.

Well there we are.  The first college basketball preview of the year.  As Brian Fantana would say, "It really revs my engine."  Seriously though, I need this.  I can't even watch the Twins anymore.  At like, 2pm this afternoon Snacks texted me something about how Parmalee can hit and I was like, "Dude, I totally forgot they were even playing a day game" and he was like, "I know.  I only even saw the score because I was going on to check and see if the Red Sox were losing because it would be funny if they collapsed."  It's so funny and sad I'm going to go kick a baby.

Seriously though, Missouri at 75-1 to win the National Championship is worth throwing a couple bucks down.  They'll end up a 3-4 seed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Big Ten Mini-Preview in Haiku

The Twins have officially crossed into unwatchable territory for me, so outside of a season wrap-up/next season outlook post upcoming you probably won't hear anything else from me on them this year.  I'm officially moving on to basketball, which means two things.

1.  I'm paying attention to recruiting.  So I know things pretty quickly like Adam Woodbury, who I mentioned in my last post on possible Gopher additions for 2012, chose Iowa over North Carolina and said "there really weren't any contenders outside the Hawkeyes because I'm terrified to leave my comfort zone to play for a winner."  I made the last part up, but that's probably what he told his friends.

2.  NCAA Conference Previews.  You know 'em, you remember 'em, you love 'em (or possibly you just skip over them but I don't care it's my blog so get bent).  I'll be doing one each Friday until the season starts, and will go with this schedule:

Early next week - C-USA (because I won't have it done for tomorrow)

Sept. 23rd - ATLANTIC 10
Sept 30th - BIG 12
Oct. 7th -   SEC
Oct 14th -  PAC 12
Oct. 21st -  ACC
Oct. 28th -  BIG EAST
Nov. 4th -   BIG TEN

I know, I know.  It's what you wait for all year.  Me too.  It's so close I can taste it.  And because I don't want to a complete tease, here's a little mini Big 10 preview - haiku style.  Because I'm classy like that.

McCamey now gone
All Illinois fans rejoice
Still no good point guard

Crean picks up Zeller
Talent level is rising
Still a ways from good

What a complete mess
Talent?  Maybe Basabe?
Oof.  Good luck to Fran.

Coach loves his chuckers
Hardaway has found a home
Makes?  Who cares?  Just shoot.

Lucas is now gone
Can Draymond be the leader?
Great player.  Fat ass.

Ralph!  Get fired up!
Who in the hell plays point guard?
And who's next to leave?

Lack Husker knowledge.
I know they have some big dudes
Rejects from football?

Shurna is still there
to awkward things up again
Nerds everywhere!

Top notch freshman class
Craft and Buford could be stars.
Oh, Sullinger too.

Battle and friends?
Gone.  Cupboard is really quite bare.
Frazier good.  Who scores?

Big 3 now Big 1
Lew Jack can't be guarded, but
Can he hit a shot?

Taylor?  Amazing.
Who can help with no more Leuer?
Nerd white boys abound.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gopher Hoop Recruiting Update

Oh, fall.  The time of year where the leaves are changing, Halloween is right around the corner, and people are obsessing over football.  With women putting back on the baggy sweaters and nary a short skirt or cleavage to be seen, where else can a man's mind turn other than the wonders of college basketball.  With college basketball preview magazines starting to hit your local newsstand, I figured it's time to get to moving.  Right around the corner we'll start up some of the award winning conference previews I do here every year, but before we look ahead let's look further ahead.  The Gophers are still in the hunt for some interesting players for 2012-2013, including a few who have visited or will visit in this key early signing period.  Let's talk about a few.  All player rankings from because that's where I have a membership. 

-  C Adam Woodbury (Sioux City, IA); 7-0, 230 lbs; #7 center, #42 overall.  The highest ranked recruit left the Gophers have offered (and third highest overall), Woodbury would be an incredible coup if Tubby could snag him.  Not just because of his talent, which is considerable, but because of the competition for it.  Not only would he be battling some top clubs (Ohio State, North Carolina, possibly Kansas and Duke as well), but he'd also be going against Woodbury's home town team (Iowa) who has only one scholarship remaining and can really focus on him, as well as recruiting nemesis Bo Ryan and Wisconsin.

The good news, however, is that there a few reasons for optimism.  The first is that Woodbury is from Iowa, and everybody knows that people from Iowa are afraid of the city and anywhere that isn't the midwest, so Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa definitely have the advantage here.  I also found an interview with him where he specifically calls out the Gophers (along with Ohio State, Stanford, and Iowa) as having been recruiting him the longest - not his favorites, although he doesn't claim any favorites right now - but those who have been after him for awhile.  That's a nice positive.  The Buckeyes also seem like they've put him on the back burner a bit - another positive.

If I had to bet money, and I probably would if I could find a site with this bet, I'd guess he's either heading to North Carolina (small townish and his AAU teammate Marcus Paige is already heading there) or Iowa (home town team).  But, if he wants to break away from home, but not too far away from home, and thinks about his midwest roots and which teams have shown him loyalty and love from the beginning, he'll probably go to Wisconsin.  But if they pull their offer or run out of schollys then the Gophers have a chance.

-  C A.J. Hammons (Mouth of Wilson, VA); 7-0, 260 lbs.; #18 center, #123 overall.  This is the guy I'd call the most important name of this group, mainly because I think he's the guy they have the best shot at snagging.  He's a midwestern kid from Indiana who is playing out in Virginia after transferring to Oak Hill Basketball Factory Academy, but who had said at one point that he wanted to play in the Big 10.  The Gophers have stiff competition here because Indiana and Illinois have both offered and Purdue is in the mix, but I'm giving the Gophers a very slight edge because Hammons has mentioned the Gophers specifically in an interview as a team that's been in the mix for a while and also because he counts his mom as helping him to make his decision, and you know Tubby kills it with moms.

Personally, I'd love to get this kid because he's 6-11 or seven feet tall but has measured at a 7-3 wingspan and is generally regarded as one of the best defensive centers in this class with good strength and excellent rebounding and defensive instincts who can score in the post from either block.  That's just an awesome description.  Of course, since he's not ranked #1 there are some negatives which include conditioning (can be mixed) and motivation (a bit nervous here thanks to 3 years of Ralph).  I figure his downside is pretty much Ralph Sampson, so let's get this get on board.  According to Chris Monter at he's visiting this weekend, so let's hope we hear some really good news soon.

-  SF Andrew White (Chester, VA); 6-6, 210 lbs; #12 SF, #56 overall.  Probably the least likely get on this list, but I'm including him because there's nothing out there to say the Gophers are out of the picture.  There's no real good news here either.  White has 25 offers, including Texas, Kansas, Maryland, Louisville and like everybody.  He's also already visited (unofficially) 5-6 schools and has officials setup to 3 more, none of which are the Gophers.  I can't come up with a single reason this guy would end up at a Gopher, but he mentions his dad as an integral part of making his decision, and, as I mentioned earlier Tubby is great with parents.  Moreso with Moms, but if you get the crazy involved dad who really wants his kid to grow up to be  a man and get an education Tubby could sway him.  If you get the crazy dad whose looking to maximize his son as an asset to get his payday Tubby doesn't have a chance, but we already did that dance with the Kardashian kid, and I'm not interested in an encore anyway.  Unless of course we get Kim here somehow.  I could get down with that.   

-  SG Sherron Dorsey-Walker (Detroit, MI); 6-4, 175 lbs.; #24 SG, #122 overall.  Another guy who fits the combo-guard mold that Tubby seems to be after these days, another guy like White who has been collecting offers because he's up to 16.  Even though I prefer a pure point guard and thena  couple wings, Memphis under Calipari and Huggins' WVU teams intrigued me with their collection of interchangeable parts, and I think if they get this guy they are pretty much going to be doing that, at least with the perimeter players. 

From the sounds of things his upside is pretty huge.  I can't find any references to weakness and at some pint in the various articles I've seen shooting, ball-handling, passing, and driving and scoring at the rim listed as strengths which I guess probably means he isn't the best defender since I can't find any reference to that but whatever since that's the only thing Tubby really truly knows how to teach and with his athleticism I'm sure he could be a capable defender in no time. Well lookit here, I've apparently talked myself right into this kid.

He says he's planning to commit sometime in October and the Gophers are very much in the mix.  He has visits planned already for B.C., Temple, and Iowa State (damn you Hoiberg!  :shakesfist:), but lists the Gophers amongst the teams he's considering for his final two visits (along with VA Tech, Florida State, and Baylor).  Maybe I'm crazy at this point, but I still believe whenever Tubby gets this close he's got a chance.  He mentions Tubby and his respect and good feeling about him in one of his interviews.  Of course he also said he was planning on making his decision in August and yet here we are so maybe he's just a pathological liar.

-  PF Chad Rykhoek (Fort Worth, TX); 6-9, 215 lbs.; #39 PF, #135 overall.  He could be the first one to sign somewhere, whether with the Gophers or elsewhere, since he's already said he's planning to commit during the early period which ends in November.  That's bad news for the Gophers because he's already set up four official campus visits for the coming months (Missouri, Rice, Colorado, and Nebraska) and is trying to decide which school he wants to make his fifth official - SMU, North Texas, TCU, Drake, or the Gophers.  SMU is his home town school and he mentions Drake as having been after him the longest, so they have the inside track, but Minnesota is the highest profile program of those five so who knows.  I'd probably write the kid off as the Gophers not having a shot, but that seems like a fairly underwhelming list of offers, no?  And in the few interviews I read he doesn't seem like he's exactly chomping at the bit to sign with any of them, so I'll give Tubby and the Gophers an outside shot here.

I didn't bother discussing Jevontae Hawkins because he seems like he's practically a done deal for West Virginia and even if he isn't I don't think the Gophers can steal him away.  I also didn't include Jodan Price who dropped the Gophers from consideration after they signed Wally Ellenson or Demarquise Johnson who looks like he's going to stay somewhere out west.

As far as a list of target's for the spring session I think it's solid.  The team will probably have two scholarships or so, so you don't want to overextend yourself if these are the guys you want.  Keep in mind the three guys I didn't include plus Ellenson mean they've offered nine guys and that doesn't include guys who they offered who signed elsewhere (including recent losses Brandon Taylor to Penn State (ouch) and Nick Banyard to New Mexico (double outch)).

I like the quality here as well.  Outside of home town kids I think if Tubby focuses on the players in the #50-#150 range that's how he can build up the program.  Getting kids of that caliber (AND KEEPING THEM, DAMMIT) can help create a winning program that will allow him to sweet talk some top 50 types once in a while.  Plus, since he's allegedly a good coach who can coach players up, that level of player should be perfect - talented enough to develop into a great player, but not so talented they already think they can't really be coached - not that that stops Calipari.  I'm just afraid that if they whiff on all these kids or get strung out too long they're going to end up in a scramble situation again and end up with lower tier talent again.  Self-perpetuating and self-defeated cycle, and I think they're already scrambling on the edge to stay off that ride.

One guy I wish they'd offer is PG Ray Lee from Michigan, who has already said he wants to play out of state so that takes Izzo (and Beilein) out of the running.  He's a big kid at 6-3 and ranked #142 overall in the country.  His number 1 priority is playing time, and with the Gophers absolutely refusing to address their PG problem he'd be perfect.  The problem?  Priority #2 is "an offense that is fast paced and allows the freedom to drive and create while being allowed to play through mistakes."

Cue:  sad trombone sound.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Musings

I was actually going to bring back the good ole Weekend Review since we have three sports running right now, but then i was like meh.  So here's some thoughts from the weekend.

I know it would be in bad taste, what with the Coach Kill stuff, to badmouth the Gophers about losing to New Mexico State so I'm not going to do it.  Also making fun of the Gophers for losing to stupid shitty teams has kind of gotten old.  Instead I'll put on my happy sunshine magic ice cream glasses and look at the positive.  In that case I need to point out that Da'Jon McKnight is really damn good at catching the ball and also getting open.  McKnight had 9 catches for 146 yards and a score on Saturday, which was 50% of the teams catches and somewhere in the 60% neighborhood of their receiving yards.  And also he just looks like a player out there.  Catching that many balls from a wide receiver forced to play QB and a freshman is a testament to his ability.  Guy's solid.  Might end up actually being even better than Eric Decker, but far less sexy.

-  So you're Michigan.  You have the fastest quarterback in the NCAA since Major Harris.  The type of QB you never have, tending to stick to the tall, white, immobile pocket passer type like Jon Navarre and Elvis Grbac.  So you decide to implement the west coast offense?  Just stupid.  And I know they won, but you know why they won?  Because in the second half they were like, "Denard, go be Denard" and that's mostly what he did.  Did he miss some wide open receivers?  Yes.  Did he make some terrible decisions?  Yes.  Did he make some incredible plays with arm and legs?  Yes, yes he did.  That is why you let Major Harris loose.  He completed less than 50% of his passes, but still threw for over 300 yards and 4 TDs while rushing over 100 yards.  That's what guys like this do.  And, if you're a good coach, you realize this and mold your offense to fit him, not try to cram Major Harris into a Joe Montana bit.  Whoever the Michigan coach is recognized that in the second half, it'll be interesting to see if he recognizes that for the rest of the year(s).  Also yeah that probably doesn't warrant a place in the suck column but I'm sure as shit not going to devote an entire post to fucking Michigan football.  And also I started this post when they were down 24-7, so I'm kinda stuck.
-  How about Austin Jackson's week?  Jesus what an asshole.  Here's how it went down:  0-5 2 Ks, 1-5 2 Ks, 1-6 3 Ks, 0-4 2 Ks, 0-2 2 Ks, and 1-4 with 2 Ks.  That's 3-26 with 12 strikeouts, 3 runs scored, 0 rbi, and 0 steals.  You know how I know how shitty he was?  Because the fantasy baseball playoffs started this week and not only do we have this cock mouse on our roster, but we stared him.  Why would we start him you ask?  Because the week prior he went 18-34 with 3 doubles, 3 triples, 2 homers, 5 rbi, 8 runs scored, and 2 steals.  So yes, he's quite an ass.

-  Speaking of that, how about that Donovan McNabb this weekend?  I actually thought he looked pretty spry and his piss poor numbers are probably more the fault of that crappy offensive line than actually McNabb's fault, but any time you fail to crack 40 passing yards and you play the entire game that clearly isn't good.  Defense looked good at least and AP is a stud and it's not like they got blown out against a clear playoff team so I'm not panicking or anything just yet, but that line needs to get it figured out in a hurry.

-  Since the Twins have no hope, and as such I don't currently see any reason to discuss until the season's over and we can figure out which bums we hope get booted, let's talk about two of the top prospects in baseball who are now up with the big clubs:  Jesus Montero, C, Yankees and Matt Moore, P, Rays.  Montero, who has been the Yankees #1 prospect for like 10 years, has been up now for about a week and a half and has smoked the ball, hitting .308/.400/.654 with 3 homers and basically been somewhere between Ryan Braun and Jose Bautista.  Moore has been tabbed the #1 pitching prospect in baseball by some and considered a future ace by most.  The Rays don't have him slotted in a rotation spot yet, so I'm guessing he'll be used out the pen similarly to how they used David Price a few years ago. 

Meanwhile the Twins top prospects have either regressed or are 17 years old.  It's gonna be a long couple of years, boys.  I suggest you jump on over to the Royals bandwagon with me.

- Lastly, since we're talking about hope and how there is none for Minnesota sports teams, the Houston Cougars are about to become the newest mid-major who can do some serious damage after an epic weekend of signings.  The Cougars, who I can only assume are cheating, signed SF Danuel House and PF Danrad "Chicken" Knowles.  Why this is notable, besides someone voluntarily going by the name Chicken, is because House is the #15 player in the class of 2012 according to, and Knowles is ranked #47 so this is a huge step for Houston.  Both are from Texas, which helped Houston out at least somewhat, but both also had offers from Baylor and Arkansas (which is practically Texas) and House chose the Cougars over the Longhorns (as well as Kansas, Ohio State, and Arizona).  So not only is this one huge get for a completely unknown coach at a subpar program, but it's two huge gets. 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

DWG Football Preview

It's time for the award-winning, critically acclaimed, and publicly loved DWG NFL preview.  I've gotten almost everything right I've written but I'm going to change it up anyway.  Here are your teams in order from worst to best with a little info added in.

#32 Seattle Seahawks - I can't come up with a single redeeming thing for this team outside of Marcus Trufant and that the all-time face of their franchise is a white WR. Every single player on this team is a complete retread and not even the good kind.  Who's their best player?  Marshawn Lynch?  Just brutal.  And are they really planning on building the offense around T-Jax and Sid Rice?  Seriously, if Rice breaks 800 yards receiving I'll volunteer to sleep with the girlfriends of every blog reader, just to teach myself a lesson.  Seriously though, he won't get 800.  600 would be surprising. 

#31 Buffalo Bills - They might win fewer games than Seattle based on the team's divisions but I think they're just slightly better.  Which they should be since they've been rebuilding for 10 years at least at this point.  Now C.J. Spiller is a bust and Ryan Fitzpatrick is still their quarterback.  Looks like everything is going according to plan.  Oh, and Stevie Johnson is a mirage who is terrible.  FACT.

#30 Cincinnati Bengals - They get the edge over these other two shitboxes merely because they should at least be a little bit fun since they have rookie Andy Dalton starting at QB, rookie A.J. Green at WR, and some other youngsters sprinkled about.  You'll at least be able to imagine a successful future while watching a terrible season.  And all the while Carson Palmer will be sitting in a penthouse somewhere drinking bourbon, stroking his cat, and cackling maniacally.  There will also probably be a roomful of strippers involved there somewhere.  Maybe a Kardashian.  What am I, his biographer?

#29 Washington Redskins - Somebody want to tell me why there isn't more negative energy being tossed at this group of sad sacks?  Look at this roster.  There best offensive player is either Santana Moss, who is 50 years old and has been consistently slightly above mediocre for 10 years, or Tim Hightower who couldn't beat out Beanie Wells or a retardedly old Edge James to win a starting job.  That's it.  A couple decent defensive players I guess, but both Fred Smoot and Rex Grossman are involved, so that's probably not what you really want.

#28 San Francisco 49ers - Alex Smith?  Really?  Again?  I guess there's something to be said for loyalty but at this point it's kind of like that chick who keeps falling down the stairs and running into door knobs but keeps coming back for more.  Actually that part is commendable.  Never mind.  Anyway it sucks because Frank Gore and Patrick Willis deserve better.  I also just checked their depth chart and apparently Ted Ginn beat out both Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree for the starting flanker role, so that can't be good.  Nice career, Crabtree.  This guy is more disappointing than my life.  If anybody is in a fantasy keeper league and owns him they should probably try to trade him immediately, probably to someone dumb like me.  (Bear -> text me).

#27 Miami Dolphins - Did you draft any Dolphins in your fantasy league?  Because if you did something must gone spectacularly wrong.  This whole Chad Henne vortex they've somehow trapped themselves in is fascinating.  How many years are you going to go, "Well, I guess we'll go with Henne."  It's fascinating.  It's like watching someone convince himself to hit on a 17.  Oh, wait, never mind.  I forgot they signed Reggie Bush, and that's probably the answer.  11 wins, minimum.

#26 Carolina Panthers - based on some of the other power rankings I've looked at I'm overrating these guys but I'm pretty positive that I'm right and they're wrong.  All the other teams I have worse than them have no discernible strength, while the Panthers have two kick-as RBs.  That's more than any of these other shitheads have.  Who really cares whether it's Claussen or Newton - they're both going to suck and both going to have good moments, but both will spend most of their time handing off.  One thing's certain - I'm looking way forward to all the racial issues the media can dig up on the Newton/Claussen QB controversey.  Should be a riot.

#25 Cleveland Browns -  It amazes me that people think Peyton Hillis is good.  He's like, a poor man's Mike Alstott and Alstott was overrated.  Just another overhyped white dude who everybody loves because he's such a gamer and plays the game the right way.  Chris Berman must have a constant erection knowing he's in the league.  Guess what?  Montario Hardesty is 10x better, he just can't stop getting hurt.  He's like the black Fred Taylor.

#24 Jacksonville Jaguars - Speaking of Fred Taylor we might as well put the Jags here, although I'm thinking they might actually be worse than this especially since their QB controversy is going to be between Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert this year.  And, by the way, if Gabbert can't win that one by week 4 they might as well just try to trade him because Luke McCown has got to be the shittiest QB in the league since T.J. Rubely. 

#23 Denver Broncos - This ranking is only assuming they start Kyle Orton, if they switch it over to Tim Tebow they're probably a top 5 team.  What?  You're not buying it?  Why do you hate America and Jesus?  What did apple pie do to you?  Why are you so afraid of a successful athlete who is also deeply religious?  You just wait until the first time he throws and errant pass and magical baby santa jesus reaches down and moves the ball with his mind just like Carrie over the d-back and into the hands of sexy Eric Decker for a TD.  Tebow's combination of grittiness, hustlitude, gamership, and magic god powers is something we've never seen before in this league.  If whoever the Denver coach can handle the awesome power and responsibility of handling this awesome power the rest of the league is fucked.  Because they all love Satan. 

#22 Oakland Raiders - I have no idea how the Raiders ended up this high.  I think I forgot about them until now.   This is a terrible team who lost its best player and is still starting Jason Campbell at QB, the same Campbell who couldn't hold off Rex Grossman.  And when Campbell inevitably fails, partially because he's throwing to Darius Heyward-Bay and Jacoby Ford who are fast but can't be definitively proven to have arms, who's waiting in the wings to save the day?  Kyle Boller!  But never fear because they also used a third round pick next year on Terrelle Pryor!  Seriously, what a train wreck.  And they keep effing around with the one good thing they have in McFadden.  I think they need to contract the Raiders.  We have too many football teams anyway.

#21 Kansas City Chiefs - Holy crap are these guys getting way too much credit.  Still Matt Cassel, right?  He and Dwayne Bowe both suck.  Once team's realized Bowe was the only decent receiver he was completely unable to get open at the end of the year.  Guess who their #2 WR is this year?  Nobody knows because they all suck.  You know who else sucks?  Jamaal Charles.  Why is everyone making out with him this year?  He's terrible.  The Chiefs have a good line and that's the entire reason he had any success last year.  Can they repeat?  Who knows, but it's doubtful, especially once teams realize you could just have Cassel and Bowe play catch on the sidelines and they'd probably complete less than 50% of their passes, even fewer after Bowe got bored.  Suck-time. 

#20 Tennessee Titans - This team might have a little bit of sleeper potential, if only because they have 2 weapons who can score from anywhere at any time in Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt.  Of course, Britt is also at least a 50/50 shot to land in jail at some point this year so who really knows? 

#19 Arizona Cardinals -  Let the Kevin Kolb era begin!  How exciting.  A crappy back-up QB who has shown flashes of brilliance is jumped on by a team desperate for QB help that gives up way too much to land him.  Scott Mitchell, anybody?  I really hope not because I'm going to have to ride Kolb in our keeper league until Peyton "Morneau" Manning gets his shit together, but I feel like there's a whole lot more confidence in Kolb than there probably should be.  Plus he's on the Cardinals, where QBs go to die unless they strongly believe their lord and savior will save and protect them like Kurt Warner did.  Anybody know if Kolb is a holy roller?  This is important.

#18 Chicago Bears -  The single greatest travesty in our lifetime is that these guys won the division last year.  Between them and Seattle the NFC playoffs last season had to have been the weakest crop of all-time.  And there's really no reason for optimism.  Roy Williams is the big upgrade?  That's the big change?  A guy who has already burned out on two other teams, both of which gave him situations where he should have/could have flourished?  Gross.  And I even like Jay Cutler but when you're giving him Williams, a kick returner, and two sub-par wideouts (Bennett and Knox) to throw to?  Gross.  Plus they got rid of G-Reg.  There's just nothing here.

#17 Minnesota Vikings -  Hell I don't know, right here seems about right.  They aren't going to be a playoff team but they should be better than the crappy Bears just based on having A.P. alone.  I don't know what McNabb has left but he at least takes them from a rebuilding worthless year to having an outside longshot at a playoff berth.  If the o-line can figure out to play that is.  Most likely scenario is McNabb is out with a broken leg by Week 6 and we get to very quickly see exactly what they have in Ponder.  My guess is a nerdier Colt McCoy.

#16 Indianapolis Colts -  I have no idea how to slot this team with all the Manning hullabaloo so I'll just place them right in the middle.  When/if Manning plays they're a top 5 team, without him they're a bottom 5 team - which is pretty amazing in and of itself.  So many ways this could play out, but what I'm envisioning is that they completely suck with Collins to nightmarish levels and Peyton isn't ready to play until around week 8 or so when they're already 1-7.  Why play him then?  Just continue on this season and get the #1 or #2 draft pick and get an immediate impact guy for next year - just like what the Spurs did with David Robinson and ended up with Tim Duncan.  [note:  I am seeing now that everyone is making this comparison, but I'm leaving it in because it's perfect.] Won't be quite the same since one guy (except maybe QB) can't have anywhere near the impact on a football team as a basketball team, but same principle.  Andrew Luck, Manning heir apparent?  Could be. 

#15 Houston Texans -  This is the year the Texans finally take that next step ha ha ha ha who am I kidding?  I think everyone who has ever written about Houston in the last 3-4 years has started their writings with those same 11 words and we're still waiting.  I think we always will be.  There must be something inside of Schaub that's broken because he can put up big numbers, he's got great weapons (AJ and Owen Daniels are both among the best), but they just can't get over the hump.  Maybe it's a curse.  I don't know what it is but on paper they look like a contender every year, and then every year they go out and lose.  Oh, and Arian Foster sucks.  He's like a poor man's Jamaal Charles.  

#14 New York Giants - I wasn't a fan of the Giants this year in the beginning, and now you pile on all these defensive injuries and it's going to be even rougher for them (both their first and second round picks, both defenders, are out for the year probably, there cornerbacks are out for the year, and they'll likely be without both starting defensive ends for a few weeks).  They'll be pesky and Eli will probably have a game or two where he throws for 350 and a few scores, which would be almost impossible NOT to do when you have the best WR in the game, Hakeem Nicks, running routes in front of you, but this is probably not a playoff team and definitely not any sort of serious contender.

#13 Dallas Cowboys - I'm excited to see how this team comes together because I think they have two players who have chances to be a couple of the most exciting in the league - Dez Bryant and Felix Jones.  Don't forget, Darren McFadden got all the press on that Arkansas team, but Felix was right there with him and averaged more yards per carry by almost 50%.  And Dez Bryant is the next Hakeem Nicks.  Too bad Romo is involved.

#12 New York Jets - Another tremendously overrated team, and I don't care how many regular season games they win kicking the crap out of the Bills and Dolphins this team is terrible on offense.  Terrible.  Their defense might and probably will get them into the playoffs but that offense is stinkier than my softball bag which currently contains at least 5 pairs of dirty socks.  Seriously in like, 3 years we will all be laughing about how the Jets though Mark Sanchez was a franchise quarterback when he's backing up Rex Grossman.

#11 St. Louis Rams -  My sleeper team.  I think Sam Bradford is a stud QB in the making, Stephen Jackson is one of the best all-around RBs since Thurman Thomas, Amendola and Sims-Walker give Bradford reliable targets, and Brandon Gibson is set up to have a breakout season and reach DeSean Jackson levels.  I also confess I don't shit about their defense, so this could be a really stupid prediction, but I remain convinced this offense is about to breakout.

#10 Detroit Lions -  Yes I'm buying in.  I know it's always dangerous to jump on the same "sleeper" or "media darling" bandwagon that everybody else is on but this team just has a ton of talent at this point.  Stafford looks great so far and has maybe the best wideout in the game to throw too and even though Javid Best isn't going to be Walter Payton he's not going to be Chris Perry either (I really thought Perry was going to break the curse of the 1st round Michigan RB, but alas).  Donkey Kong Sue anchors a really, really good defensive line, but it, like everything else on this team, will depend on health.  Nick Fairley is hurt right now and Stafford, Calvin, and Best have all proven themselves to be brittle.

#9 Tampa Bay Bucs - Another "media sleeper", but this one seems to have people more split with half loving their potential and the other half expecting them to fall off a cliff - obviously I'm in the former group.  I don't really know why, I just really like Josh Freeman.  He's got an unusual combination of being a pocket passer while also being a really good athlete, and you just don't see that combination all that much outside of West Canaan High.  So I like it.  Also like the guys they've surrounded him with in Blount and Mike Williams (the good one, not the fat one).  And they're always good defensively so really, no reason they shouldn't be in the playoffs. 

#8 San Diego Chargers - They're always going to be considered a contender because they play in a horrible division with a bunch of terrible teams so they're automatically going to pick up a pretty good number of wins, and that also means you'll never quite know if they're good or not until they flame out in the playoffs again.  I started to write another sentence like 3 different times but they were all stupid.  So this is all you're getting.

#7 Baltimore Ravens -  They way I see it you basically have 7 legit Super Bowl contenders and they start right here with Baltimore.  The defense is always good and keeps chugging along and Ray Rice is probably the best running back in the entire league.  The biggest question, as always, is QB play and what can you count on Joe Flacco for?  If he can Dilfer it for an entire year they'll be a contender, while if he can take a step up and become an actual weapon on offense they could end up being the best team in the league.  Probably, though, he'll continue to suck and cost them a few games and then kill their playoff chances.  Freakin' Flacco.

#6 New Orleans Saints - If they can figure out how to stop anybody they are going to be just as tough as any team in the league and could be the best in the league because Drew Brees is really incredible, especially considering none of his targets are particularly talented and yes I'm talking about you Colston.  It's also nice to see they got rid of that twinkled toed dandy Reggie Bush and added a power back in Mark Ingram.  Who was roundly stuffed on the final play of the game tonight from the one yard line, so maybe they should have just kept Reggie and drafted some kind of defensive player, even though that's kind of boring.

#5 Atlanta Falcons -  Not really much doubt that they're going "all in" after giving up a shit ton to land Julio Jones in the draft.  I think the guy is going to be a stud and him across from Roddy White gives Matt Ryan (note:  stop with the Matty Ice thing) two awesome weapons, but Tony Gonzalez is getting awfully old and Michael Turner couldn't catch a pass with duct tape so there are still questions.  They also had to ignore defense in order to make the offense better.  They could make a pretty good run, but expect a good amount of 42-35 type games.  They remind me a bit of the '98 Vikings.  Moment of silence, please.

#4 Philadelphia Eagles -  The only thing keeping these guys from being higher on this list is offensive line questions.  They were already stacked on both offense and defense, and then added Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie which is going to make them really damn hard to pass on.  McCoy, Vick, Maclin, and Jackson give them an insanely high-powered offense, but if the O-Line can't protect Vick and he gets hurt they're screwed.  After trading Kevin Kolb away the new back-up is Vince Young.  LOL.

#3 New England Patriots - Am I crazy or is nobody talking about these guys?  Once again on paper they don't exactly blow you away with the oldest wideouts in history in Ochocinco and  Deion Branch and there's no definitive lead back but haven't we learned by now that the Patriots are like Wisconsin basketball?  As long as Brady and Belicheck are around the players don't matter because the system is fine tuned to near perfection and they always load up on guys who fit their needs even if they aren't the best on paper - just like Bo Ryan and the Badgers.  And both teams are equally as irritating.  And Tom Brady and Bo Ryan look like twins.

#2 Green Bay Packers - I actually bumped them up a couple of spots after watching them dismantle the Saints because I'm starting to suspect that Aaron Rodgers might be playing this game on a whole different level than everybody else - like a Peyton Manning/Tom Brady level.  That of course really sucks because I hate the Packers like people from Wisconsin hate books.  Don't forget though that it isn't like they rolled through the league last year, they just hot and a little bit lucky in the playoffs.  Now, if they pile up a 14-2 record or something then we're all in trouble because they're young and good and if that's the case we may be looking at a bit of a dynasty here.  And if that happens the terrorists win.

#1 Pittsburgh Steelers - The most boring consistently good team ever.  But they're always a Super Bowl contender and a league leader in date rape.  They even have a good young running back in Mendy but he someone manages to be boring too.  At least on the field, his off the field tweets about Bin Laden were pretty sweet.  Thankfully they're taking a step in the right direction by moving away from old boring Hines Ward and moving on to superfly Mike Wallace who I secretly love.  Plus that defense is always awesome, and always the most likely to kill someone on the field someday.

NFC Playoff teams:  Rams, Eagles, Packers, Saints, Bucs, Falcons
AFC Playoff teams:  Steelers, Chargers, Patriots, Texans, Ravens, Jets
NFC championship:  Falcons over Packers
AFC championship:  Steelers over Patriots
Superbowl:  Steelers over Falcons