Monday, November 28, 2005

NFL: Are special teams and success correlated?

In the NFL, you hear analysts and coaches scream about the importance of special teams. Some folks feel that special teams are just as important as defense and offense. While special teams are an important facet of the game, they do not equal the need to stop other teams from scoring and to sustain scoring drives over the course of a game. Game can turn on a special teams play, but for the most part, being just average is not a bad thing.

If you look at Football Outsiders stats for special teams, you will see some teams at the top who are in the playoff hunt. Maybe special teams do matter. Of course, this is just week 12, and the season is still 4 weeks from being closed and final analysis can be done. If we look back on the last few years and see the number of top 10 rated special teams out of the number of playoff teams, then we can see if there is a correlation. Listed are the top ten units for special teams in the NFL and in bold are the playoff teams.

Special Teams

2004 Top Ten (1-10): Buffalo, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cincy.
2003 Top Ten: Baltimore, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Houston, Oakland, Chicago, Miami, Pittsburgh, Detroit, NY Jets.
2002 Top Ten: New Orleans, NY Jets, Detroit, Philadelphia, New England, Atlanta, Houston, Tampa Bay, Miami, Cleveland.
2001 Top Ten: Philadelphia, Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, Miami, New England, Tampa Bay, NY Jets, Denver, Detroit.

Now 42.5% of the teams that made the top ten for special teams made the playoffs. That is a pretty high percentage. It is odd that some of the very worst teams in the league are in the top 10 for special teams. It might be the focus of a particular coach or system. One could say that the Patriots special teams of 2001 won them the Super Bowl, and if you look at their statistics for that season, special teams gave them points & field posession their offense could not put up without. One could argue that the punt returning capabilities of Troy Brown got the Pats to the playoffs and a Super Bowl win.

Does special teams correlate more than the other pieces like offense and defense? As with the special teams, top ten units will be listed with the playoff teams in bold. If one were to say that success in special teams means that one will have success in wins/losses, one would expect roughly the same percentage of teams in the top ten for special teams to make the playoffs as with offense/defense.

Defense

2004 Top Ten: Buffalo, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Denver, New England, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Miami, Carolina.
2003 Top Ten: Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New England, Miami, Dallas, St. Louis, Buffalo, Denver, Green Bay, Tennessee.
2002 Top Ten: Tampa Bay, Miami, Philadelphia, Green Bay, Oakland, Carolina, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, New England.
2001 Top Ten: Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Miami, San Diego, NY Jets, Washington, Chicago.

Offense

2004 Top Ten: Indianapolis, KC, Minnesota, New England, NY Jets, Philly, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Green Bay, Denver.
2003 Top Ten: KC, Indy, Seattle, Minnesota, Tennessee, Philly, San Fran, Green Bay, NY Jets, Cincy.
2002 Top Ten: KC, Oakland, San Fran, NY Jets, Atlanta, Denver, Tennessee, Jacksonville, NY Giants, New Orleans.

2001 Top Ten: St. Louis, San Fran, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Indy, KC, Jacksonville, Green Bay, Tennessee, Arizona.

The stats show that 52.5% of the teams that were in the top 10 on defense made the playoffs, and 60% of top ten offenses made the playoffs. Special teams had only 42.5% of the top ten teams make the playoffs. It is fair to say that teams that have top ten defenses/offenses are more likely to make the playoffs. If making the playoffs is the definition of success, then no, special teams are not as important as offense/defense. Because fewer than half of the top ten teams make the playoffs, which field 12 spots per conference, success and special teams are not correlated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NFL Picks for Thanksgiving: Special Homefield Advantage

This week I am not doing a full schedule of picks because I am going to be out of computer reach for the next few days. I also will be diverted from keeping track of every single injury report, practice and press conference this week. My record last week was 9-7, and the loss that bothered me the most last week was jacksonville allowing a late TD to not cover against the Titans. I blame myself for trusting in the quarterback for the Packers, who I will not name, because he is not the same person he was 5 years ago. Stupid stupid me.

I do have two quick picks in honor of the Thanksgiving NFL special holiday match-ups. In case you were wondering, the old format was that one team played a divisional rival while the other played an AFC opponent so that the AFC carrier could get a game on national TV with big ratings. They did away with that last year as the Lions faced the Colts while the Cowboys played the Bears. This season neither team plays a divisional rival (Dallas hosts Denver; Detroits hosts Atlanta), but the same magic will apply, one team will cover if not win. Go ahead, look back through to 2001, in each year at least 1 team covered. Dallas has covered in 3 of the last 4 games, winning as an underdog once. Detroit covered 2 of 4 games and was a home dog winner once.

The Thanksgiving game is such an advantage to home teams besides the obvious home field advantage because of the short week. Think about the travel involved and lack of rest, and compress those advantages by 3 more days. The short week with travel works to the Lions and Cowboys advantage, especially if either team wants to employ a ground game to wear down an opposing defense. This year one team will cover, and I predict they will win outright.

DETROIT (+3) over Atlanta
I don't trust Atlanta at home against quality teams, and I will not for the rest of the year. They've given up serious points to back to back marginal offenses on the road. While the Lions are waffling on their QB, I feel whomever they put in will manage the game enough to beat the Falcons. The Lions defense is better than people think, and this will give the Falcons problems on the road after 3 days rest & 700 miles in the air.

Denver (-2) over DALLAS
Dallas is coming off of 3 straight victories, and will be playing their third game in 11 days. They also are playing the number 2 team in the league right now. Do they have the horses to stuff the Broncos rushing attack and force Jake Plummer to throw the ball? Despite great defensive line depth, I don't think they do. I also think that the Broncos defense is good enough to stuff the line, then blitz Drew Bledsoe to hell. The Broncos secondary is good enough to go one on one with the Cowboys receivers, if they all play and are 100%. I hate going against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but the Broncos have a great approach to the game this year. Rather than ask Plummer to throw the ball a lot and put the pressure of sustaining drives on him, they are playing ball control football and limiting his pass attempts. Look at his stats, he has thrown over 30 attempts 3 times this year. They combine ball control with great defense, and only ask Plummer to make a few throws. It is a winning formula. I know it is because it is what Bill Parcells used in 2003 when he had Quincy Carter as his QB. It got the Cowboys to 10-6 and a playoff spot with not as much talent as this year's Broncos team.

With the way the NFL is this year, watch the Broncos go out to a 17-0 lead in the first half and lose to the Cowboys in the last minute, 20-17 on a long field goal.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to all of you flying and driving for Thanksgiving meals.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Is Brett Favre the true modern Marino?

In the last few years, Peyton Manning has hit roadblocks in the postseason: the Patriots. Because of his inability to beat the Patriots, he has been branded as this generations big numbers/no big victories QB. Brett Favre is beloved by everyone, and gets a free pass on telecasts because he won a Super Bowl, and "loves the game". Favre is most likely retiring this year, and he will retire as one of the best QBs of all time. (I have a top 3 list for all time: 1. Johnny Unitas 2. John Elway 3. Joe Montana. If I dig deeper, the list could change.) Lingering on with the Packers, Favre has tainted his legacy a bit. It's not like he is throwing more INTs now than he did in the past, it's when he throws them. The timing absolutely murders his team. In last year's Jacksonville game at Lambeau, Favre threw multiple INTs in the red zone. In the playoffs, Favre was picked 4 times by the Vikings at Lambeau. He has made bone-head decisions that have cost his team points and, in some cases, victories. One could argue that his career's path has been like a former QB now on CBS' studio show.

The INTs are a product of his God given arm strength and athletic ability. He suffers from having a cannon of an arm and thinking that he can fit any ball into any window of space at anytime. Another current QB who suffers from this is Drew Bledsoe. In NFL history, another QB suffered from this Big Arm syndrome who has extremely similar numbers in the playoffs: Dan Marino. Manning gets the Marino label, but his INTs are not from forcing throws; it's usually pressure induced and great plays by the secondary. He doesn't make the bone head plays that Favre makes which feel like late career Marino INTs. Late in his career, in tight games, Marino would want to make the big play and force balls that 10 years earlier could squeeze through, but time and injuries took a little zip off the ball and secondaries pounced. This is the exact same thing that has happened to Favre. Teams stuff the run to put the game in Favre's hands and make him throw into coverage. Look at Favre's and Marino's playoff stats; they are creepy in their similarity. They both had early career success in the playoffs followed by truly horrible performances. The career regular season stats are similar as well: TD/INT ratios of 1.63 (F) vs. 1.66 (M), 7.1 ypa (F) vs. 7.3 ypa (M), and completion percentages of 61.7% (F) vs. 59.4% (M). Favre's career has the one thing that eluded Marino, a Super Bowl win. Maybe this is why he escapes the Marino comparisons but Manning receives them.

Tonight he suits up against the Vikings on a national stage for probably the last time. Maybe he can turn it around and have the Packers end the year on a high note. For the good of the league, Green Bay and Favre, I hope that it does happen.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Reggie Bush: Heisman Contender and Human Highlight Reel

I hope that you stayed up late last night because Reggie Bush put on a show when his team absolutely needed someone to step up. To start with, here are tow quick links for reference a great article about his performance last night, which you can read the details of here. The performance was on the ground, through the air and on returns. USC faced a stiff defense from Fresno St., and needed a ground game to put points on the board. Last night's nationally televised game on the Fox Sports Network combined with his thrilling game against Notre Dame should solidify him as the front runner and deserving winner of the Heisman Trophy.

The arguments for Bush's Heisman case are better put forth by professionals, but I want to discuss the speed, the cuts and th epower he brings to the game. USC faced a defense which is known for their slogan "Shut up and hit somebody". They are a physical defense, which forced the Trojans to try to run to the edge and throw. Fresno St. did not blitz often and dropped as many as 8 men back to stifle the Trojans' ability to go deep. This meant that Bush had to give the Trojans big yards on the ground. Bush delivered with an exclamation point.

Bush showed off his speed with his 65 yard run, where he hit the hole quickly bounced outside and streaked down the sidelines. Bush has the speed to outrun linebackers and even defensive backs. On top of this speed, his body control is amazing. He stops on a dime when he needs to cut and can move quickyl enough to bring his shoulders square to tacklers. Bush makes cuts that are on par with the talented back in San Diego right now. The amazing part about Bush is that he makes defenders miss, but fights off arm tackles to get considerable yards after contact. On one of his 25+ yard rushes, Bush had a defensive back lined up for a tackle and he bounced 2 yards to his left and then accelerated right past the defender. His legs are surprisingly powerful despite his smaller frame. That leads to the other great feature of his running: power. While Bush is known as the slashing back for the Trojans, he is not afraid fo contact. Bush will lower his shoulder and deliver a blow to a defender when needed. His legs keep churning and when the size matchup is even, Bush drives through defensive backs easily.

So many of his plays last night were highlight reel worthy, and this game should be front in center when the Heisman committee votes. Bush can catch out of the backfield and has great game awareness. The sad part about his outstanding play this year is that he most likely will be drafted by a terrible team. One can hope that he might be drafted by a team that is having a bad year due to injuries or external oddities and has talent like the NY Jets, the Saints or the Vikings. No matter what he does n the pros, his performance this year should put him in the hall of greatest college running backs of all time.

Friday, November 18, 2005

NFL Picks Week 11

Welcome back for NFL week 11 picks. This is my 3rd week of putting my picks online for all the internet to see. I have cruised through different blogs, and it appears that websites take 1 of 3 routes for delivering picks:
1. A "strong feeling" handful. It is a list of 3-5 games that the person feels are sure bets.
2. The analyst route: this is a more technical approach with an eye on the bigger NFL picture.
3. The funny guy route: this is a rip off of Page 2's Sports Guy. People make up their own named games like his "Kitchen Sink" games, and they try to be witty. This can work on 1 out of 10 sites I have visited that employ this technique.

I like the first route because it shows the confidence someone has in a pick, which can be made to shame a person if that pick is wrong. The analyst route helps people the most, and is wonderful to use as a later reference point if a game mirrors another game from earlier in the season. Open to the public, I have gone 16-11-1. My tie came from using the worst line for the Panthers/Lions game. The Chiefs' no cover was because of a bad line, and the Falcons crapping the bed last week hurt my goal of being at 66%+. This week does not have the intriguing matchups of last week, but it does have one whopper of a game: the Colts vs the Bengals. When we get to the Bengals/Colts matchup, I will retell my favorite gambling moment with the Bengals.

Jacksonville (-4) over TITANS
Last week, Jacksonville kicked off the second half of the season by laying an elbow on the Ravens. Their easy 2nd half of the schedule continues with a matchup against the Titans. The Titans are throwing to no names, and they have no runnng game despite a talented backfield. The Titans defense is also hurting this year, which goes against Jeff Fisher's philosophy. I guess the salary cap catches up with everybody eventually. Jacksonville will beat the Titans, and I would take the under with this game. In the last ten games, the under is 8-2, and Jacksonville isn't going to give up big plays to the rag tag receiver corps of the Titans.

CLEVELAND (-2) over Miami
I changed this pick 3 times. I can't fathom how the Dolphins are going to win on the road and in the cold with Gus Frerotte at the helm. I also wonder how the Dolphins haven't called up Jeff George. I know he is a punchline to so many QB jokes, but he has to be better than Gus. I think with the talent that the Dolphins have at the WR, TE and RB positions, they have to be considering George. Miami is in a poor position right now offensively because they had an oustanding running back, Ricky Williams, who for a few years masked the inadequate QBs the Dolphins fielded. The QBs were bad enough to lose some games for you, but never good enough to win them.

New Orleans (+10) over NEW ENGLAND
New England is 0-3 against the spread in their last 3 home games, and these are the Saints who rely on their WRs now that Deuce is gone. No matter who the Pats have on their injury list, it does not put them at risk to lose outright to the Saints. My biggest concern is the passing game for the Saints. They have the receivers who could exploit the Pats secondary, and make this a track meet. They also have a QB incapable of making good decisions on a consistent basis, Aaron Brooks. The Pats lost their starting center, and we saw last Monday how that affected the Eagles. I'd wager on the Over in this game because the Pats can easily put up 20+, and the Saints should put up numbers on the Pats secondary.

WASHINGTON (-5.5) over Oakland
I like Randy Moss. I think he is a unique talent that could go down in history as one of the top 3 receivers to ever play. I think he also looks better this year with the dysfunction on the Vikings team, and the TO saga in Philly. Imagine if the Eagles had traded for Moss instead of TO? Despite my respect for Moss, the Raiders do not have a shot against the Redskins thsi week on the road. This is a cross country game, and the Redskins are in a great position for a playoff run. They are 5-4, have an easy schedule coming up, have everyone healthy, play an Eagles team without their no. 1 WR or QB, and have the Giants and Cowboys at home. Their next 3 division games are all easier than their first three were. I think Gibbs will get the Skins focused this week after last week's 4th quarter gag job.

NEW YORK (-7) over the Eagles
Philly is 1-6 ATS in their last 7 road games and that was with McNabb. The Giants are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 home games. Add to that the quarterback situation with the Eagles and the downward trajectory of their season. The starting QB for the Eagles was released from the Lions because they wanted to keep Joey Harrington. That is frightening and a sign to bet against him on the road. The Eagles don't have a receiver who can catch and explode anymore. While I think the Eagles will bring the heat on Eli Manning, the Giants have a healthy, effective running back to take the pressure off of him. Eli cannot have back to back games bad games, and if he does, it might be a warning for the road to the playoffs.

Tampa Bay (+6) over FALCONS
The Falcons had an easy home game last week and self destructed. Turnovers killed them, and they were playing a depleted team with no names at the skill positions. I think that Tampa Bay will stuff the line and force Vick to make throws and work on his 'pocket passing' game. That is not a good thing because he has no one besides his tight end to throw to. The Falcon receivers have to be the worst "healthy" unit of WRs in the NFL. Look at Vick's efficient game from last week; 8 of his 20 completions were to RBs. The Tampa defense is suited to controlling Vick with their speed, and I think Tampa will score on the Dirty Birds. The Falcons defense has not been good this year, and looked awful against the Packers ground game, which died in the offseason. If Simms can hit the deep balls he threw last week, it could be a romp. This game will start the shake out of the NFC South. As the Falcons play both the Bucs/Panthers 4 times in the next 7 weeks.

ST. LOUIS (-9.5) over Arizona
As I stated last week, Arizona is 1-9 as road dogs. They are without their no. 1 WR, and the rushing attack is the worst in the league. The Cardinals have a decent defensive line, but their defense overall is terrible. They will not be able to keep up with the Rams, and the Rams have to be feeling desperate after last week's loss. I think the question becomes, who do the Cardinals pick with their high draft pick? They have depth at WR, a decent RB, they have a good defensive line that is young, but they have a terrible offensive line. Do they pass up one of USC's Goldenboys and go for an offensive lineman? They have to unless they want to wait for another QB to develop. I think they will end up with a top 5 pick, and can grab a blue chip O-Lineman.

Carolina (-3) over CHICAGO
The Bears are having a wonderful season after hopes were lost with the injury to their starting QB and the holdout of their top draft pick. Similar to 2001, the Bears are winning with the NFL's best defense (which is incredibly young), a decent running game, and few mistakes from their passing game. They are getting good production out of their TEs, and around the goalline they are putting up 7 points rather than 3. Despite all of this, I think that Carolina will win because they are the best team in the NFC. Carolina has an excellent defense, a more potent offense, and has beaten much tougher competition. A concern I have is that the Bears will be able to stuff the Panthers run, and it will force the Panthers to be one dimensional. That one dimension is still excellent when it's Steve Smith. Forcing them to throw can create 3 & outs, the Bears could control the clock with their run game and keep it close. Chicago has run up their 6-3 record against a collection of ragtag teams, and their win streak will come to an end Sunday.

DALLAS (-7.5) over Detroit
After last Monday's exciting win, Parcells will have the Cowboys focused on winning this game, setting themselves up for the home stretch with the Thanksgiving game next week. They were outplayed for most of the game, but pulled it out with an efficient 2 minute drill and a stellar play from no. 31. The Lions are on the road, have an injured alien-looking man to lead them or a brainless mannequin. Harrington did have a good game last week, but it was against the Cardinals, who he has lit up the last 3 times he has played them. My hint to triple cover Roy Williams was overlooked by the Cardinals. Dallas's defense will bring the blitzes at Harrington and force him to make quick reads. Since he reads defenses poorly, he will probably throw instinctively to Roy and not the "Hot Route" leading to incompletions/interceptions. Julius Jones is supposedly feeling better after another week of rest and practice. They need him to start producing to take pressure off of the passing game if they want to get to go deep in the playoffs.

BALTIMORE (+3.5) over Pittsburgh
The Steelers are down to possibly using Slash the Sequel as a QB, and are missing key pieces to their rushing attack and defense. This is one of those road division games that trip up a divison leader. While the Steelers do have an outstanding rush defense, I am worried about their ability to put up points. I just have a bad feeling about this game for the Steelers.

Seattle (-12) over SAN FRANCISCO
This is one of those games where Shaun Alexander puts up 175 yards, 3 TDs and still has to wait until the offseason for a big contract. The Seahawks are in prime position to end up even better than I expected and get home field advantage in the playoffs. I think that the 49ers should just throw the rest of the season and look to get some help for their offensive line or defense. I don't know if Reggie Bush would be a great pick up for the 49ers because they already have two decent backs. I think the more pressing need is on their offensive line or defensive backfield.

SAN DIEGO (-10) over Buffalo
I would take Buffalo and the points at home, but ther eis no reason to trust J.P. Losman on the road. The Chargers are in a difficult position of needing to win out or go 6-1 to make the playoffs, and they still have to play the Broncos and at Indy and KC. These are the games (Buffalo, Miami, Oakland, etc.) that they will cruise through because of the difficult road ahead (KC, Indy, Denver).


DENVER (-13) over NY Jets
This has to be the year from hell for Jets fans. Their offense has been terrible with the QB carousel and the rapid decline of Curtis Martin. The defense has played well, but because their offense cannot sustain drives, they get worn out late in games. NY is 0-5 on the road this year, and will have just come off a humiliating defeat in Carolina. Denver at home is always a good bet; they are 5-0 at home this year and 3-1 ATS in their last 4 home games. I think the 2 headed monster rushing attack of Denver is going to destroy NY's rush defense which is one of the worst in the league.

CINCY (+6) over Indianapolis
Favorite Cincy Gambling Moment: I was in Vegas for the weekend the Bengals hosted the undefeated Chiefs in 2003. I had Chad Johnson & Jon Kitna on my fantasy team and had seen them light teams up throughout the season. The Bengals were getting a decent line, and the Moneyline was paying well also. The Bengals were not intimidated by the Chiefs undefeated record (neither was I). No matter what people say about the Colts being a soft undefeated team, they have smoked their opponents. The Chiefs that year were squeaking by teams every week. The Bengals beat them, helping the Son of Brock Landers salvage a rough weekend in Vegas.

The Bengals have a similar attitude about the Colts this week. I think they have the horses to run with them and at them. The Bengals rushing attack can control the clock, and wear down that defense. The two teams mirror each other in that they have good pass defenses, bad run defenses, great offenses and have played easy schedules. The Colts will carry the day, but the Bengals will keep it close. I think 30-27 or 28-24 will be the final score.

Chiefs (-6.5) over HOUSTON
KC should take out their anger and frustration against the bad Texans defense. The Texans are done for the year, and they have all the offensive skill pieces in place for an offensive guru to come in and turn them around. In April, Houston needs help on defense, but they also have to look for someone to plug up their offensive line. They can't move the ball, and this stems from their inability to win battles at the line.

GREEN BAY (-4) over Minnesota
Minnesota is 1-4 ATS in their last 5 road games. This is Monday Night Football and a chance for Brett Favre to shine. Minnesota won in NY last week with every single break going their way. Green Bay can get some momentum from their win in Atlanta, and they will pound at the Vikings. The Vikings just do not play well on the road or the cold, and their rush defense is weak enough for the Packers to exploit. This is Favre's last big stage game, and I think he will deliver. The Packers run as division champs and a perennial playoff team is over. Last offseason, the Pack lost their two outstanding guards, and were in denial about their overall situation when they chose to draft a QB rather than plug any of their defensive holes. It's over; they should have realized it then. No one really knows if Ahman Green will be back next year, and with Favre possibly retiring, the Pack will have to replace all of their skill positions and seriously tweak their defense. That isn't reloading, it's rebuilding.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dallas' Young Gun Defense

Much has been made about Dallas' defense this year. The transition to a 3-4 scheme was considered risky given the personnel that the Cowboys had in place at the end of the year last year. What few people anticipated was the bounty of talent Dallas would draft defensively in April of 2005. In the first round, Dallas picked up impressive prospects Demarcus Ware and Marcus Spears. Besides those two blue chippers, the Cowboys added depth and quick impact rookies by picking up large & explosive Chris Canty and athleticly gifted Kevin Burnett. While Canty came with injury concerns, he has actually added more pop to the Dallas front 7 than 1st rounder Spears. With this talent pick up and the development of two other young players, Bradie James and Terence Newman, Dallas has persevered through growing pains and now has a flexible and formidable defense.

The draft gave Dallas depth to rotate complete units for the down lineman, giving more life to the older legs that anchor the defense. Newman was a high 1st round pick, which came witht he expectations of being a shut down corner. The surprise has been the development of Bradie James, which allowed Dallas to win while missing their defensive captain, Dat Nguyen. James had his coming out party on Monday Night Football as he had 12 tackles, 1 sack, deflected 2 passes and made one important block on McFlab. The knock on James was that he lacked coverage ability and pick up on play action(dumb). Coming out of college, he had great physical gifts: 4.71 "40", 400 lb bench, 32.5" vertical, and a love of the game. Dallas grabbed him int he 4th round in 2003, at 21 years old. Given three years under the guiding hand of Parcells and a mentor that is a human tackling machine, Nguyen, James has developed into a run stuffer who can cover as well. James manages to cover a 3rd WR if needed, yet still brings the heat on a blitz. His versatility allows him to play either the strong side or the middle, and with this year's draft class, Dallas can put him where they think he would be most effective. Because of his versatility, he could become the man to take over when Nguyen rides off into the sunset.

Dallas's success this year on the defensive side of the ball is a product of the stellar veterans they have and this year's great draft class but people should not overlook the development and prodcution of lesser known players. Bradie James is one of those players.

Update: Bill Parcells agrees with my thoughts on Bradie James' development. Here si the Tuna is his own words....
"I think he finally, I don't want to say finally because it is a process, ans some players it takes a little while to understand it. I think without reservation Bradie James understands how to do this now. And by "this" I mean quite a few things that entail being a professional football player. He knows how to do it, he's gained an understanding of what needs to be done to be successful. He has diligently worked toward that. Now, it was a process, when he first started out, he was an average special teams player but by the end of the year he was a very good special teams player. My experience has been that guys who do that usually succeed in the next area as well. It just took a little while, I think this system helps him a little but I don't have any doubts he could play in the other system now, I think this just suits him better now but he could play in a 4-3 system now....
.....Work has never been his problem. He is diligent, he doesn't have a lazy bone in his body. He's never been late for anything, never missed anything. He's a very good teammate, he's all of those things, you just got to learn how to do it and it took him a little while to learn. I think it will be onward and upward, hell, he was in on 15 tackles the other night. So he's getting some pretty good production. I'm happy with him, he's improved his pass defense, he can still play good on special teams, I think he's going to be OK."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday Night Football: Eagles vs. Cowboys

In case you missed last night's Monday Night Football game, the Dallas Cowboys came back in dramatic fashion to steal a game from the Philadelphia Eagles. I fully expected the Cowboys to roll into Pennsylvania and beat the Eagles convincingly as they did earlier in the year. This did not happen. The Eagles dominated the game from the 2nd quarter up to the final 4 minutes. The Eagles called a very balanced game, mixing in plenty of runs with their normal fast paced passing attack. If you look at the drive chart, both defenses performed well. The Eagles scored first; the Cowboys answered; no one really moved the ball well until the second half. The Eagles did force one turnover which lead to a TD in the first half, but neither team was an offensive juggernaut until the wear and tear of a long game would settle in.

Dallas could not run the ball, and Julius Jones was rarely used, which leads me to believe he still is fighting off the ankle sprain. The Eagles blitzed more often and more effectively this game than last. Drew Bledsoe was on his back this game, and not given all day to pick apart the secondary of the Eagles. Even with the blitzes, the Eagles line seemed to just take up space. Jevon Kearse, despite 4 sacks this year, just does not seem to be the same explosive player he was for the Titans. On a few plays, he was run over. If he is not going to be a run stuffer, he needs to improve his pass rush output to prove his worth.

It was an odd game, with no real offensive stars for the Eagles despite their 13 point lead with 4 minutes to go. The Cowboys moved down the field in their 2 minute drill efficiently. They were helped by an injury timeout due to Michael Lewis, and execution on their next two plays. Because the Eagles were cheatign deep, the Cowboys could execute on a quick out pattern and stop the clock and then call a draw. The draw was so effective because the blocking downfield by the receivers. Keyshawn Johnson is a decent blocking WR, and he sealed off a defender so the running back could make it out of bounds and stop the clock. This was all important because the clock stoppages meant that the Eagles had to make a first down to keep the ball and run out the clock.

This leads me to my two critques of the Eagles play calling. With the first & 10 at the Eagles 20, the Eagles blitzed. The Cowboys picked up the blitz and the one on one coverage was exploited by Bledsoe. Earlier in the game, Bledsoe showed the danger with failed blitzes, deep passing plays. Why bliz at this point? I think the Eagles blitzed because they had been so successful during the night at blitzing, forgetting that they could fail. A blitz & sack would put the Cowboys in a long 2nd down situation, which could lead to a long field goal attempt. At this stage in the game I would have played softer and allowed the underneath routes to force the Cowboys to use their timeouts and chew up clock. This still was not as bad as the second coaching/strategy error in the final 4 minutes.

After fielding the kickoff and getting a decent return to the 35, the Eagles could run 3 times and force the Cowboys to use at least 2 timeouts before the 2:00 minute warning stopped the clock. The Eagles averaged 5.0 ypc in the game, which is staggering against the Cowboys run defense. When they got the ball, they ran once and then tried to pass to the outside. A pass to the outside makes no sense because:

a) if it is incomplete, it stops the clock & sets up a long 3rd down
b) if complete to the sideline, it causes a clock stoppage
c) if it is intercepted, it sets the Cowboys up in Eagles' territory and with 3 timeouts.

What happened was d) Roy Williams makes the kind of play he is known for, a "gamechanger", and takes the INT back for a TD. I think this play was called because the Eagles felt the Cowboys were expecting a run and could catch the Cowboys off guard. This play was probably called, subconsciously, because Andy Reid wanted to win on his terms, with his style. Charlie Weis suffered from this at times with the Patriots. Reid does not adapt well to games where the opposition jumps out in front; he does not make great in game adjustments. Reid also is a passing man, and would not just want to chew up clock, timeouts, yardage, etc. Since the Eagles were averaging 5 ypc, they had a high probability of making the first down running twice in a row at 2nd and 7.

Another Andy Reid and Jim Johnson's playcalling miscues, I think last night showed why Brian Westbrook is not worth $25 million. Westbrook carried the ball 16 times, and when the team needed to put the game away, they did not go to him. The Eagles had to use Lamar Gordon to pound the ball between the tackles. Any of the running backs on my top 5 list would have demanded the ball in that situation. A running back worth $25 million hits the inside holes, runs the outside sweeps, catches balls out of the backfield, and wants the ball when you need a first down and to run out the clock with your QB at 75%.

Update: This makes it 4 or so posts where I focus on the Eagles at the end. I apologize for posting so much about them, but they have been the most interesting team this season on/off the field. I will say it for the fifteenth time this month, "I said the Eagles were heading for a fall". It's not just a fall.... it's a soap opera.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Why I moved from Maine....

...here is the weekend weather. We're going to be there in a couple of hours and tomorrow. The other reasons are lack of good paying jobs for college graduates (Maine specific economic problems). The brain drain is alive and well in Maine. So many of my high school friends have had to leave the state to find decent paying jobs. I feel sad when I think about it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Week 10 NFL Picks: Philly Problems

For those of you who read my week 9 picks, you will see that I went 8-5-1. The Chiefs blowing an 11 point lead in the final quarter cost me the 60% mark, but I will take a winning week. Last week had some interesting match-ups, and this week has plenty of drama. A wounded, psychologically down Patriots team travels to Miami, needing a win to get above .500. A game of craptacular proportions Cardinals vs. Lions is set for Detroit. The Rams, who scratched out a win against the Jags & come off of a bye, travel to Seattle to play a team that has been getting Super Bowl juice from the press for squeaking by the Cowboys, getting a bye and beating up on the Cardinals. Saving the best for last, the Eagles host the Cowboys on Monday Night, looking for any momentum to save their season in the shadow of TO.

BILLS (-2.5) over Chiefs
While the Chiefs do have a great rushing attack and are playing against the worst rush defense in the league, they are not that impressive themselves on defense. They fell apart defensively at the end of the Raiders game. I think that Willis McGahee is going to face a stiff defense but still run well because he is a horse. Because he will pound the defense, play action is going to be much more effective, allowing the Bills to take advantage of the holes in the KC pass defense. The Chiefs need to hold McGahee to minimal gains early and not be forced to bring up the safety for help. I also feel that the home field advantage that the Bills, Packers, and Patriots have (weather) is going to come out in full force this weekend. Precipitation and wind will be a factor this weekend.

BUCS (+1.5) over Redskins
The Redskins are 1-3 on the road this year, and they are going up against a good defense in the Bucs. Washington's defense is good too, but better against the pass than the run. The Bucs are not a passing team, and the Redskins need to stop 1st and 2nd down plays to create long 3rd down situations to force the Bucs to pass. I see this as a low scoring affair. Despite my distrust of the QB situation with the Bucs, I feel that the Bucs can grind out gains on the ground.

DOLPHINS (+3) over Patriots
The Patriots defense is still tired and still missing key players. I also wonder how they will respond after the defeat to the Colts. Look at the injury lists for the two teams. That is a big reason why I think that the ground game of the Dolphins will control the clock, wear the Pats' defense down, and score just enough to win. This excellent article on ESPN Insider made me feel that the Dolphins strength in the running game will pound at the Pats weak rushing defense. The Dolphins defense is good, and will force the Patriots to throw the ball non-stop. That is not going to keep the Patriots D on the sidelines long. This is a divisional game, anything can happen. Even if the Dolphins do not win, they will keep it close & cover.

BEARS (-12.5) over 49ers
I feel like this line should be for a Colts game, but I got burned last week by taking the 49ers & 10.5 points at home. My fear is not in the Bears winning & holding the 49ers to 7 or less, but it is in the Bears ability to score enough to cover. The 49ers are 1-9 in their last 10 games as road dogs, and they commit 2.5 turnovers/game. That should give the Bears a couple of short field situations and get them the points. I think that Cedric Benson will go nuts this game, which will set up play action against one of the worst pass defenses in football.

GIANTS (-9) over Vikings
I think that Tom Coughlin realizes what this game can do as a statement before the Eagles come to town next week. If the Giants win this game, they will be 7-2, will have at least 2 games on the Eagles, and will have the opportunity to put them away. The Vikings also have a poor pass defense that will be missing their big offseason acquisition, Fred Smoot. While I liked them last week against the Lions, it was because they were at home, it was the Lions on the road, and there was a brainless mannequin posing as a QB for the Lions. I have a strong feeling Eli Manning is going to have a huge day, 300+ yards/3 TDs.

DETROIT (-3.5) over Cardinals
I hate having to pick a team with the brainless mannequin at the helm, Joey Harrington. Harrington seems to not recognize defensive coverage schemes, and he has two QB gurus to work with each day. Roy Williams could play again this week, and here's a tip for the Cardinals: triple cover him. Harrington will not look off of him when a play is designed for Williams; let your safety cheat and grab some picks. Despite all of this disgust with Harrington the mannequin, I have to pick the Lions. Arizona cannot run the ball, are missing their no. 1 WR, and are 1-9 as road dogs. I'm willing to bet that the Lions win this because their defense forces turnovers so Harrington does not have to drive far to put them in FG range.

JACKSONVILLE (-6) over Ravens
When the Ravens are anxiously awaiting the return of Kyle Boller, you know they are done. Boller is a frat boy who ran a fast 40 at the combine. I think this is the point in the season where Jack Del Rio pushes the Jags to store away some wins. Last year, the Jags were 5-3 but finished 4-4 to wind up 9-7 and on the outside looking in. The team is a year wiser, and Byron Leftwich has grown as his TD/INT ratio has improved. This will not happen again and it starts Sunday.

Texans (+17.5) over COLTS
This line feels a bit ridiculous. On the other hand, I felt nervous with the Rams at home with 13 points a couple of weeks ago versus the Colts. I think the Colts will revert back to their early season form of not pushing too hard, giving the Edge plenty of carries and doing enough to win. Mark my words, if the Colts win a Super Bowl, they will offer the Edge a good, not great, 5 year deal, and if he gets more from elsewhere, they will let him go.

PANTHERS (-9) over NY Jets
The Jets made the game close last week because Marty decided to get super conservative in the last 10 minutes unlike the first 50. John Fox knows how to put teams away. I always think back to the NFC Championship game against the Eagles where the Panthers just chewed up clock and didn't let the Eagles touch the ball to get a rhythm going. The Jets will also be facing a better defense that will bring enough pressure on whomever is standing in the pocket for them. It is not going to be a pretty game, as the Jets O-line is pretty depleted. Does anyone realize how much the Panthers are doing without Kris Jenkins? Imagine him in the lineup. With the Jets secondary, I predict that Steve Smith will have over 125 yards and at least 1 TD. This should also be the game where Deshaun Foster starts to make his run for a healthy contract. The Panthers do need to start up a running attack if they plan on going deep into the playoffs.

Broncos (-3) over RAIDERS
Mr. Moss is questionable again, and I will keep taking the opposing teams as long as he is listed as questionable. The Broncos running game is also rolling right now, which will wear the Raiders old D-linemen down. I think this route is the one way the Broncos can beat the Colts this postseason to avenge back-to-back landslide losses. A rushing attack works against the Colts, and the Broncos have the best 1-2 punch in the NFL right now. If they can keep the game out of Jake Plummer's hands, the Broncos can beat anybody.

Rams (+6.5) over SEAHAWKS
Bulger is back, Holt is back, and Bruce should be back. Steven Jackson, who should be called "Action Jackson" from now on, has another high profile game to shine in on TV like the Jags game 2 weeks ago. With the new head coach, Jackson should see 20-25 carries this game. I expect a shootout, and the Rams to win, not just cover. No Mike Martz means a more balanced offensive attack for the Rams compared to the first match up. I saw a Moneyline for the Rams at (+230), and I would be tempted to split my bets if I were going to bet money on the Rams. Like $25 with the points and $25 on the Moneyline. This line seems too high for a division game with their wacky ex-head coach out of the picture.

FALCONS (-9) over Packers
The Packers have no ground game, have no receivers, have a bad defense and are staring at a scary off-season situation. Doesn't last year's 1st round pick look dumb now with all of the problems the Packers have everywhere? What happens if the Packers get the number 1 pick and have to decide between picking USC's Goldenboy quarterback and jettisoning their 22 year old former 1st rounder, Aaron Rodgers or keeping Rodgers, picking USC's Goldenboy running back and being 2nd guessed for eternity?

Browns (+8) over STEELERS
After last week's skin of their teeth win by the Steelers, I am going to pick the Browns and the points. I see this being a tight game as the Browns have played a lot of teams tough. Besides the Cincy game, the Browns have not been blown out of a game this year. I think a lot of people have to take back the comments "they don't ask him to do too much" that minimize what Big Ben gives the Steelers? Sure, they do not ask him to throw much, but he needs to hit those throws to keep defenses honest and not stack the line. Big Ben buys time and evades the rush to give his great receiving corps time to get open. Parker and Bettis are hurt also, so it could be upset city for the Browns.

Cowboys (+3) over EAGLES
This game brings with it so much baggage. Dallas can claim a sweep on the Eagles and go to 3-1 in the division & 6-3 overall with their Eagles games behind them. Dallas is getting back Julius Jones, is coming off of a bye, and has a great defense that now is adjusted to the 3-4. Parcells can smell the blood in the water. On the other side of the ball, Philly is desperate. They need a win more than anyone else this week. Donovan McNabb needs a big game to show that he is moving on for real. Philly will blitz the Cowboys as much as they can, but the injuries to Philly's defense are going to limit the pressure they can bring. Philly's secondary is not playing as well as years past, especially former 1st round pick Lito Sheppard. Philly is also missing their center who will be important in defending the Cowboys' blitzes up the middle. I just think the 'run' is over for the Eagles; the window is closed without TO.

I said before this year started that I thought Philly was set for a fall. They mirror the Patriots so closely (excluding the rings), and success (free agency) and time (injuries) can wear on a team. Reporters have also stated that some players were silent because some took TO's side about the contract issue. Some people view the Brian Westbrook extension as an attempt to save face. Why would the Eagles sign a 5 foot 8 RB to 5 more years when he doesn't produce or carry the load like a big money back? The contract gives $25 mil to a guy whose biggest season had him carry the ball 177 times. Look at the Eagles since McNabb's caeer began, he has carried the team offensively with virtually no help. While in college, I said that the Eagles should draft a top flight WR to help McNabb out. Eagles fans in denial claimed that "Trash and Stinkston" were good enough, but their arguments were hollow. The Eagles scouts goofed when they drafted Freddie Mitchell, but let's look at players they passed up to draft Mitchell and other 'depth' picks prior to trading for TO:

2001: Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson, Chris Chambers, Steve Smith, T.J. Housh...zadeh and Justin McCareins
2002: Antwaan Randle El, Deion Branch, Antonio Bryant, and David Givens
2003: Anquan Boldin

The names on this list would have provided the Eagles with a Super Bowl MVP, 2 Pro Bowlers, or a big cog in the Colts' machine. They never would have had to trade for the diva, and instead focus on importing a running back for the Eagles Super Bowl run. They neglected a need for so long that they could not wait on developing in-house and had to import a dangerous personality. The state of their offense is their own doing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Donating to the United Way

I just wanted to post so that everyone was reminded to donate to their local United Way groups. A lot of corporations have in-house directors for the United Way donation campaigns, and they usually match or double-match donations that employees make. There are so many organizations and community groups that benefit from the money that the United Way funnels to them. No matter how you feel about your employer, don't take it out on the charities that they spotlight and help like the United Way. One final reminder, donations are tax deductible.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Patriots suck (an analysis of their defense)

I hate to sound like a sportswriter on that bad ESPN show on at 5pm, but the title is to catch readers' attention. If you watched Mondays' beating on ABC, you know that the old lynchpin of the Patriot's success, defense, is now a weakness. The Patriots are now suffering from two problems that affect how they perform on the field that they previously could avoid: success and injuries. Success will strip players away who are looking for more money and are courted by other teams. Injuries can remove your biggest playmakers or limit their impact. Teams that ride the top of the wave for several years eventually suffer from these two problems, which leads to problems on the field. Playing in the postseason adds 2-3 games to your season each year; that is extra wear & tear on your body. Postseason success can encourage some players hold out or make some role players more attractive to other teams. Who would not make the leap from role player to big contract new addition for a few million dollars more? These two factors eat away at teams' depth and create situations like the 2005 Patriots' defense at the midseason point.

Remarkable but true, the Patriots's defense is ranked at no. 29 in a defensive value rating system by Football Outsiders. Compare that ranking to the #6 and #3 rankings of the last two years. This is the biggest reason for their 4-4 record and need for late game comebacks. If you look at their stats, they have 13 sacks and have created 6 turnovers after 8 games. If you look at their depth chart, you see that their cornerbacks have 1 INT. They have now given up 81 points in their two home losses(San Diego and Indy). Their run defense cannot stop anyone (Football Outsiders has them ranked 2nd to last), and that does not help a pass defense that needs to have deep safety help.

This weak defense reared its ugly head versus the Colts on Monday night. They created one turnover and did not get a single sack. They failed to create a lot of pressure on Peyton Manning, which allowed him to make his reads and hit his throws. Manning had the time to hit the 10-15 yard routes that he failed to hit in the playoffs last year. The defense managed to hold the Colts to 3.5 ypc, but if you listened at watercoolers, the talk was how it seemed the Edge gained 5 yards each carry. This is where James's size comes in handy, running at depleted defensive lines to weaken pass rushers. The other key stat was that the Colts converted on 12 of 17 3rd downs. Drives were sustained, and the defense which is already thin, wore down more. Despite his nine tackles, Teddy Bruschi looked slow and easily moved by blockers. The decisions to go for 4th downs in the Colts' territory & onside kicks showed Belicheck's lack of confidence in the defense and the need to score TDs versus FGs.

The defense is in this situation because of injuries and free agency/salary issues. The depth chart linked to above shows the amount of injuries (excluding Rodney Harrison). The replacements are not producing like past performers. The great depth the Pats had on their defensive line has been ravaged by injuries and the departure of Ted Washington, who was extremely important to the run defense in '03. Ted's ability to take up space & blockers made it an easier time for the Patriots' linebackers. Let's also make it clear that the Patriots linebacker corps is old and slowing down; it has one starter under 30, Rosevelt Colvin. Colvin gives them speed and power, but he has not been the same since his awful hip injury. Some people might wonder why this had not been taken care of in the last 2 drafts. I would not be surprised if an 'edge rusher' or an inside linebacker is drafted by the Patriots next April. Secondary depth is nonexistent because of injuries and the departure of playmaking veterans like Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law. Those two men have created 6 turnovers on their own this season; equal to the entire Patriots team.

Right now, the Patriots look like a mediocre team that has a good passing attack. By the end of the season, some starters will return and more playing experience for recent top draft picks on defense could help. Without the normal defensive line rotaton, that line could be worn down by week 17. They could end up 11-5 and on a roll going into the playoffs, but first, they need to plug the holes on defense. Belicheck's "genius" mind is going to have to work overtime to make this happen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Top 5 NFL Running Backs

We've blown by the halfway mark in the NFL season, and there has been so much talk about the market for running backs being flooded. Many backs are free agents at the end of the year, and the draft class could once again be stacked. Why sign a 28-29 year old to a long term deal when you can draft his faster, younger replacement for less? There has also been much discussion this season about Ladainian Tomlinson being the best running back in the NFL and even, the best player in the NFL. Some even say that Tomlinson is the modern version of Walter Payton. Either of those statements are stronnnnnng words when the league is stacked with outstanding running backs, and "Sweetness" is considered the greatest running back of all time (or no. 2 behind Jim Brown). In an earlier post, I listed who I thought were the top 5 running backs in the league. With the help of some outside sources, I wanted to compare these backs numbers, styles, and even the tough to define, intangibles. I've watched some TIVOs of games and watched plenty of live telecasts to compare my top 5.

Before I get to my Top 5, I want to recognize 5 other backs who could crack this list in the near future or are just outside the top. In 2 years, some of these guys could be mainstays of the top 5 list. You will not find Priest Holmes because I think he is on the steep downside of his career. His numbers this year are more due to that outstanding offensive line than Priest's skills. Larry Johnson is proving my point right now. I also dislike a running back who tells his coach he wants 2000 yards in a season, not "I want a Super Bowl ring" (like no. 5 on my list). First, I want to recognize 3 backs who are on the rise and the 3 toughest omissions.

Three on the Rise (no order)

Julius Jones - The biggest concern with this guy has to be durability after his track record with Notre Dame and so far with the Cowboys. When he does play, the guy is extremely quick. His numbers this season are not outstanding, but soem of his biggest and most impressive runs have been nullified by illegal motion and other stupid penalties by the Cowboys. Against the Chargers, Jones had two runs of 20+ yards called back for a false start and motion penalties. On one of those runs, Jones showed why he is impressive. He hit the hole extremely fast, juked a linebacker, bounced off of an arm tackle, and picked up 25. When Dallas opens a slight crack in the line, Jones pounds it. He can catch out of the backfield and when he played last year, was a workhorse and 'clutch'. If you look at his 2004 splits, when the Cowboys were down in tight games, Jones averaged 7.0 ypc and had 3 TDs. His 4th quarter stats and stats for carries 26+ (in a game) are all above the average of his normal stats. If Jones can remain healthy for 16 games, he will blossom into a top 5 back.

Steven Jackson - When Dallas had an opportunity to draft him, I was excited they would draft Jackson. They didn't. Julius Jones is a nice consolation prize and time will tell who was right, but Jackson is something to watch. His yards per carry are outstanding at 4.9 for his career, and now that Mike Martz is gone, he looks to get more touches. He is not a breakaway speedster like Julius Jones, but Jackson bounces off weak tackles and runs people over. In the Jacksonville game, Jackson did everything asked of him: catch, run and block. His size and strength wear defenses down. In the Jacksonville game, I saw him run over defensive backs and juke linebackers. That versatility is what you want in a franchise back. He is big enough (6'2" and broad) to absorb punishment and put in 25 carry games on a regular basis.
Rudi Johnson - This guy has grown out of the shadow of Corey Dillon. Johnson is a bruiser who works best between the tackles but has something very important: first step acceleration. When a hole opens up, Johnson has a quick enough first step that he can get to the hole prior to its closing or the plugging by a linebacker. He does not fear contact and has that Walter Payton "make them hurt for hurting you" style of running. He does need to work on his hands, and he does not have a ton of speed, running to the outside is not for him. I think that is why the Bengals drafted Chris Perry. Johnson is a perfect foil to the high powered passing offense. Teams can not accuse the Bengals of being soft when Rudi is ramming the middle of the line.

3 Toughest Omissions

Warrick Dunn - He's running great right now but the Falcons run offense could have 2 clowns in the backfield and still probably have the best rushing offense in the league. I still like him because of his lateral movement and quickness.

Deuce McAllister - Deuce is big, strong, tough, fast, and is an explosive player. The last couple of years have been odd. He's fought injuries and seems to be languishing with an idiot coach and super-moronic coach. Out for this year with a knee injury, you wonder if he is due for a huge rebound season when the Saints get a new QB or if this is the beginning of the end.

Clinton Portis - Clinton is a threat from anywhere on the field. He has great agility and quickness. He has bulked up and it has not slowed him down much. I think that he is a great runner on sweeps and tosses where he can watch his blocks develop & pick a hole or change direction. He is not a good receiver, but he is decent with screens and outlets. If the Redskins passing game can improve, pressure will be taken off Portis and holes might start to reappear when 8 men aren't in the box.

The Top 5 Running Backs in the NFL

5. Shaun Alexander - My entry last week explained how I feel about Alexander. I think he should be signed to a 5 year deal as soon as possible so the Seahawks can cram some of the salary into this season's cap numbers. A hang up I have on him is that he does not break out big numbers on great defenses or big games. I think it is because he lacks the creativity and ability to make something out of nothing that you see in others on this list or on the honorable mention list.

4.
Tiki Barber - I have been impressed with his rebirth in New York, and I wonder what took NY so long to use him this way. He spent 5 years fighting for time because of stupid coaching and failed experiments with splitting time/carries. He can catch well out of the backfield and has pretty good speed. People say he does not have top flight speed, but he does not get caught going around the corner often. The first play against the Redskins showed this acceleration. Barber took a toss and got tot he corner quick. The Giants had set up a wall well and he eluded one tackler and scampered down the sideline for 50+. He did not have the speed to outrun the secondary int he end, but he still quickly got to the outside. He is a strong back who fights through tackles despite being 'smaller'. His fumbling is an issue, but he has become better at protecting the ball. I think some of his problems with ball protection come from his ability to fight through tackles. By the time the second or third tackler is getting to him to take the ball away, he has carried a defender with him for a couple of steps.

3. Willis McGahee - I was surprised when the Bills took him in the first round after that horrific knee injury. Because of his speed and shifty moves, people forget that McGahee is a tough, big back (biggest back in the top 5). Against the Patriots this year, McGahee carried the anemic offense of the Bills. He has explosive moves and constantly bounced to the "A" gap on runs or hit the hole before defenders could make a move to stop him. if they did make their move in time, McGahee appeared to slam them and hammer away at the Patriots' interior defense. His leg power is amazing, as he can push through a hole and then shift into an open field speed that can leave linebackers in the dust. There were a couple of short yardage 3rd downs where the Bills passed rather than give the ball to McGahee, which made no sense with how effective he was all game. Willis was really moving the pile on some of his shorter runs and driving his legs. He has good hands out of the backfield, and has the open field speed to be a threat in the passing game. As a starter in 2004
, McGahee played in 5 games against playoff teams and had 3 games over 100 yards (averaging 92.8 ypg).

2. Edgerrin James - The Edge is playing some of the finest football in the NFL, yet the big focus has been on LT. James has quickness to run wide, yet still has the power to run up the middle. Against the Patriots, James hit a lot of holes between the tackles and carried tacklers with him. It seemed that he still gained 2 yards after each first contact. James has good lateral moves and can catch the ball very well. The Colts have once in a while run out and ups with James, which is a rarity with running backs. He does appear to have lost some speed after the knee injury, but still commits his body to blocking for the NFL's favorite son. I do think that his injuries are going to catch up with him. They are not minor sprains or bumps/bruises. His injuries are core injuries to the body or knees that can slow a back down. Despite that, he is performing extremely well in the Colts offense.

1. Ladainian Tomlinson - I just watched Tomlinson play against the NY Jets, and I saw him earlier this season against the Cowboys. He is a joy to watch. When he came out of college, people questioned his catching ability. He caught 100 receptions in 2003 for the Chargers. Tomlinson waits for holes to develop, and if they do not develop, he cuts to the "A" gap or bounces outside for yardage. On his first rushing TD against the Jets, he ran left, stopped on a dime, laterally moved to the right to miss a tackle and charged into the endzone. Tomlinson has great vision on sweeps and outside runs, as he waits for blocks to develop and picks his holes. He also has an instinct for the flow of a defense and when to take advantage of a cut back. On a swing pass, Tomlinson had a defensive back in his sights. He looked to where the DB's weight was centered, juked that way, then exploded to the left and left the defender in the dust.
Tomlinson has strength as well, which works well in the MartyBall offense which needs a power back to soften defenses. Think about his last 4 season and how they stack up to Priest Holmes. Now think about the offensive lines of each team. LT has doen so much with so little, and that is why he is the best today.

I think that the defense adjusted rankings provided by Football Outsiders show a top 5 similar to mine. I think that after 2 seasons, this top 5 list will have a couple of new faces. Alexander & Barber will still produce but not at their current levels. I am unsure how the Edge is going to perform into his next contract. While he is younger than Barber and Alexander, he has had knee surgery and nagging injuries already. The latest RB draft class and next year's will flood the league with even more quality backs, so the next few years will be great to watch for lovers of rushing attacks.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

NFL Week 9 Picks: TO suspended

I've been paying more attention this year to the lines and NFL gambling action. It might be because of my lack of a Fantasy Football league. The last few weeks I have been watching 5+ games, and making picks. My winning percentage is just over .600 against the spread. I will now share my picks with all y'all. (TO suspension discussed at the bottom) Here's a rundown of Week 9 action: (Home Team in Caps)

VIKINGS (PK) over Lions
Joey Harrington on the road against a team with a notoriously good home record the last few years. There is an extra added bonus as the Vikings lost a strugglinng QB, yet everyone feels like they lost a superstar. Look at Culpepper's numbers, Daunte Culpepper is stinking it up. I like Daunte. I think he is a good QB. I also think throwing to Moss & Carter helped inflate his numbers. Reverse McNabb and Culpepper, and the Vikings get to one or 2 Super Bowls. Hold on, Mike Tice would find a way to screw it up. Keep this in mind: Superstar in a scandal goes down....lowered expectations....a former SB QB steps in....4 more games in their weak division.

San Diego (-6.5) over the NY JETS
Vinny is still Vinny, and the Chargers have to be feeling a sense of urgency sitting at 4-4 in a super competitive division. Much talk has been made of the Patriots tough schedule, but the Chargers have faced just as tough opponents and faced more of them coming off of the bye week (this game being a cross country road game against a team coming off fo the bye). Hopfully, Marty gives LT the ball 25 times this game; that's how they are going to control the clock and soften up the defense so Brees can attack down field.

Titans (+3) over BROWNS
Trent Dilfer is still quarterbacking and putting up terrible numbers (60.53 rating last 4 games), and Romeo Crennel has no other decent options. An interesting stat about the Browns is that they have no rushing TDs this season. Steve McNair is not going to go wild in this game if he plays, and same goes for Volek if he plays instead. This has 19-13 written all over it. I'd strongly think about playing the Titans moneyline which is (+125).

CHIEFS (-4.5) over Raiders
No Moss, no win. How good does Moss look now that the Vikings are a mess offensively and off the field? Doesn't he look better now that the rest of the team can't hold it together? The Chiefs have one of the best home fields to play at, and without Moss, this game will not be pretty. The Chiefs might crack 40 in this game. The Chiefs also must know that the Chargers whupping them last week showed that the AFC West is really between the Chargers and Broncos (despite KC's record). I also question how good this 'revamped' defense is after giving up tons of points in the last five weeks (27.2 ppg). Keep this in mind, they still play Denver, San Diego, New England & Cincy at home AND Buffalo (tough team), Dallas and the NY Giants on the road. This season could have a nightmare finish at 6-10.

Bears (-3) over SAINTS
These Saints are toast. I've got a sick feeling that the Saints organization is now plotting to throw the rest of the year so they can get their hands on Matt Leinart, Vince Young or Brady Quinn. Do they want to waste another year with an airhead QB or start anew with a guy who has shown poise under pressure in big games in college? When the owner does not want to go to Baton Rogue, why should the players be expected to really show up.

Bengals (-3) over Ravens
The Ravens did show up and played hard against the Steelers last week. I don't think their defense will have problems with Carson Palmer, but Rudi Johnson is quietly having a good year. I'm a big Rudi fan, and he quietly broke the Bengals single season rushing record last year. They are not killing him with carries this year either by using Chris Perry. The Ravens offense will have some problems with Cincy. The Bengals do have a weaker defense than their Baby Triplet offense, but the Ravens have problems moving the ball. The Bengals can stack the line and make the Ravens try to go over the top of them. The Bengals air defense is a bit better than their run defense, and this will play into their hands.

Panthers (-1.5) over BUCS
The Bucs have the bad Simms calling the shots. I have no faith in him, even at home. The Panthers are going to blitz him play after play and force him to make quick reads. Simms does not excel in that environment. I don't think this will be a high scoring affair, but the Panthers will cover.

Texans (+13) over JAGS
This line should be used for Colts games only.

Falcons (-2) over DOLPHINS
I cannot believe this line is this low. I do not care how good the Dolphins have been at home; the Falcons have had a week to rest and watch film. The Dolphins defense is also a bit beat up and worn down. I can see the Falcons using the game plan that the Bucs used when they ran over the Dolphins.

NINERS (+10.5) over Giants
Eli Manning is rocking right now, but here's a few reasons why I am going against the hot Giants....

1. This is a road game. The Giants are 0-5 in their last 5 road games.
2. The 49ers defense is decent enough to bend but not break on the Giants and keep it close.
3. This is a classic trap game, and the Giants are coming off back to back emotional games.

CARDS (+4.5) over Seahawks
I feel the Seahawks will pull this out, but it will be a close game. Despite Dennis Green submarining his offense's chances at any consistency and playing musical chairs with the QB position, I feel they will keep it close. The Cards have been a tough home team the last few years. This is a divisional game, and after last week, we know how crazy divisional games can be. The Seahawks also have trouble on the road, and on grass, they 3-7 in their last 10. I would hedge my bet with a Moneyline bet (-200) on the 'Hawks to lessen the blow if the Seahawks walk away with this game.

Steelers (-3.5) over PACKERS
If the Steelers can finish drives, they have nothing to worry about. The Packers have no running game right now which places more stress on Brett Favre. Even worse, the Packers have no receivers. The Steelers are going to blitz Favre and make him force throws which will create turnovers with that secondary that the Steelers have.

REDSKINS (-3) over Eagles
I think that last week was the start of an awful stretch for the Eagles. Gregg Williams is going to blitz the heck out of the Eagles. Hopefully (for the rest of the NFC), they will knock McNabb out of the game. McNabb is one shot away from being out for 3-4 weeks and ruining the season for the Eagles. The Eagles cannot function without McNabb now. The NFC East is much better now than it was 2 years ago, and the Eagles are not as good. Success has stripped away some talent on the defense, and they have no running game (or receivers, besides TO). Hold on, ESPN is reporting that TO was just suspended indefinitely. The NFC East is officially anybody's division.

Is this the point of McNabb's career where he go down the path of Air McNair? Wasn't McNair battling chronic injuries when he was 29-30, playing games while shot up with painkillers? Doesn't that sound just like McNabb's 2005 season? They are both big, scrambling QBs and have taken tons of punishment over their careers. McNabb had the broken leg earlier in his career, but that was a freak injury he came back from quick. His body might start breaking down McNair style, where these smaller injuries slow him down. He's too much the warrior to miss games, which will only hurt him more. McNabb should have had the hernia surgery after the 33-10 loss to the Cowboys. They had a bye which would have helped with the recovery. I can see McNabb in 2-3 years trying to hold together an offense for a 8-8 record & a 6th seed, but getting knocked out of a game and talking about retiring.

Colts (-3.5) over PATRIOTS
I stated my reasons earlier why I believe the Colts will pull this game off in Foxboro. Maybe I have listened to hedge fund managers too much, but the moneyline on the Patriots is enticing (+175). If you lay a big bet (say $58 to win $50) on the Colts, it's not dumb just to bet $20 on the Pats to win outright (hedge). You come out ahead with a Colts cover, and with a Pat's victory, you only lose $23. A Colts victory with no cover kills you (-$78). I just think this game is either a Colts blowout or a Patiots 24-21 or 30-27 special.

I will not make any updates for the rest of the weekend unless something insane happens in the sports, political, or military world. TO beingn suspended does not qualify. He was going to be out 2 weeks. Sal Paolantonio said it is not for the whole season, just for now. It is because he was suppose to apologize to the whole team as well as the media, but he decided to apologize for his asinine comments about the Eagles and McNabb only to the media. I'll be back with an NFL Running Back rundown on Tuesday. Have a good weekend. Good luck with your wagers.