Key Questions for Week after ANOTHER Division Title

He'll Take the Ball in Game 1

On Monday night, as everyone knows, the Phils clinched their fourth consecutive NL East title.  How impressive is that?  How about this stat:  the Phils have just become the third team in NL history to make 4 consecutive post-season appearances.   Also, considering they clinched with 5 games still to play and little drama involved, it’s easy to forget that two months ago it looked like just making the playoffs would be a tough haul, let alone chasing down the Braves and taking the division.

In lieu of any more semi-weekly report cards, it’s time to shift our focus fully to the post-season.  The Phils are right on the verge of clinching the best record in the NL, which almost certainly means that they will be starting the playoffs a week from Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.  Let’s take a look at some of the key questions Phils fans should be following over the next week:

What will the rotation look like?  Not only was it a pleasure to watch Roy Halladay deal a two-hit shutout on Monday, but it also kept Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee from having to make any tough decisions regarding their Game 1 starter.  Halladay had been struggling (by his standards) of late, but his dismantling of the Nationals (even though it was the Ryan Zimmerman-less Nationals) seals the deal for him as the first pitcher to take the mound in the playoffs.  This also means that Halladay’s regular season is finished, though he’ll need to stay sharp with a side session or two over the next 8 days.  It’s obviously a luxury to be able to get him some needed rest.

My guess is that Hamels will go in Game 2, followed by Oswalt.  I absolutely agree with that order for a 7-game series, because I’d love to hand the ball to Oswalt for a potential Game 7, but for a 5-game series I’m not completely sure.  Either way, I think it will be Hamels in Game 2, and I have no problem with that.

What’s up with Rollins?:  All indications are that Jimmy will be in the starting line-up on Tuesday night, and for the remaining four games after that.  One of the most important aspects of these last five games is Rollins getting back into the flow, and the coaching staff evaluating what they have in him.  The guess here is that Victorino is in the lead-off spot to stay, and that Rollins will be hitting 7th, and maybe flip-flopping with Ibanez up to the 6-hole against lefties.

Who’s on the playoff roster?:  For the 5-game series, it will almost certainly be just 11 pitchers.  Besides the three starters, Joe Blanton will be there.  He could potentially slot into the bullpen and bump Durbin down a notch, but most likely he’ll be a just-in-case long man/extra starter.  Lidge, Madson, Contreras, and Romero will also be there.  That leaves two more spots to be filled by Bastardo, Herndon, Kendrick, or Baez.  I’d go with Bastardo and Kendrick, but a case could be made for the other two.  This could be decided by how these four guys pitch in these final five games.

That leaves room for 14 position players.  Besides the 8 starters, Valdez, Schneider, Gload, and Francisco are locks.  That leaves two spots for Sweeney, Dobbs, and Brown.  Honestly, none of these three brings much to the table.  I guess Sweeney should be on because of his veteran leadership and to give one more right-handed bat.  Dobbs and Brown is a tough call.  They’ve both done nothing, and Brown has been (not surprisingly) lost as a pinch-hitter.  Brown brings the speed, but is he really a good base-runner at this point?  Dobbs brings the experience.  Again, could be determined in these 5 games.

Who do we want to play in the LDS?:  With just 5 games left, there are still three potential first-round foes for the Phils:  San Francisco, San Diego, and Cincinnati.  We’ll certainly take a closer look at these teams next week but for now I most want to play the Padres, followed by the Reds, and then the Giants. 

The Giants as least appealing opponent is a no-brainer.  Tim Lincecum has been back to his old self in September, Matt Cain has been lights out for months, and Jonathan Sanchez has a sub-1.00 ERA in September.  The Phils have the better line-up, but the Giant line-up isn’t the pushover that many think it is, especially with Buster Posey raking in the middle of it.  It’s not hard to imagine Phillie-Giant games coming down to the bullpen, and they have an advantage there.  The Giants should scare you right now if you’re a Phils fan.

Reds or Padres is a fairly tough call, but I want the Padres because their starting pitchers, who are so important to their success, appear to have hit the wall.  Mat Latos is the ace of the staff, but he’s young and appears to have run out of gas.  Jon Garland and Clayton Richard are solid pitchers, but they’re pretty average away from Petco Park.  Yes, the Padre bullpen is absolutely lethal, but with their anemic offense and faltering starting pitching, I don’t think the bullpen will be able to play much of a factor.

The Reds are somewhat opposites to the Padres.  They lead the NL in runs scored, led by likely MVP Joey Votto.  But there is nothing resembling an ace on the staff, with Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto leading the way.  Aroldis Chapman is certainly an added weapon to their bullpen, but Francisco Cordero has had a sub-par season in the closer role, and the rest of the pen just doesn’t really scare you much.

Vick vs. Kolb: A Provocative, Passionate, Controversial, Polarizing Opinion

It seems like everyone in the country, with or without ties to Philadelphia, has some sort of opinion on the Eagles quarterback situation right now, so I guess it’s only fair if I chime in with mine, considering I try and run a website devoted to Philadelphia sports. 

So, here it is:

Q:  Who should be the Eagles quarterback right now?
A:  I have absolutely no idea.  No, really, I don’t know.

Have you heard? There's a QB controversy in Philly

I know that opinions like this aren’t exactly going to get me far in the business of modern sports journalism.  I know that the only real successful sports personalities are those that spew brash, polarizing, shocking opinions on every single event across the sports landscape regardless of whether or not they have any knowledge of the issue or any basis for the notions they fervently espouse.  I know that Skip Bayless, Colin Cowherd, and Angelo Cataldi (unadmittedly, but undoubtably, following the trail blazed by Jim Rome) are the guys that ultimately succeed in this profession, whereas pensive, analytical, and rational personalities, like Jody MacDonald, get pushed right out the door.  But, fortunately, I am not doing this as a profession, so I have the liberty to say, once in a while, “I don’t know” when, in fact, I actually don’t know.

So, with the understanding that I am really glad that I don’t have to make the decision on a starting quarterback, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each decision:

Naming Michael Vick as the starting quarterback:

  • PRO:  Vick has played six consecutive quarters at an elite level.
  • PRO:  Vick is a former #1 overall draft pick, who is only 30 years old, so he, arguably, has as much natural ability as anyone in the league.
  • PRO:  The offensive line is in shambles.  They are at least a full season away from any sort of prolonged continuity on the line, which means that whoever is under center for this team is going to face a good deal of pressure.  It’s pretty clear that Vick is better suited for a shoddy offensive line than Kolb–at least right now.
  • PRO:  All that Vick has gone through has humbled him, which means that the things that held him back in Atlanta (e.g. being ill-prepared for games; slacking off in the weight room, film room, and

    Randall? Is that you?

    practice field; not caring about being a strong leader or a good teammate) may have been corrected by Leavenworth Correctional Facility.  In fact, I believe that there is an outside chance that Michael Vick could become one of the top 3-5 quarterbacks in this league.  Before you laugh that off, think about how dominant he was in Atlanta (3 Pro Bowls, multiple playoff victories, a trip to the NFC Championship Game), and then think of the fact that he flat-out admitted that he didn’t really watch any film or scout his opponents and that he didn’t care at all about practice.  Now that he may be rehabilitated mentally, he has a chance of realizing the full potential of his talents–and no one can deny his natural abilities (I would even argue that he is among the handful of greatest pure athletes this country has ever produced).

  • CON:  It’s Michael Vick.  Can we really hitch our wagon to Michael Vick?  I heard a quote from Bill Walsh that went something like this:  “Coaches who get enamored with athleticism are doomed to fall victim to its inherent inconsistency.  And inconsistency is the one thing that inevitably derails any coach, no matter how brilliant he may be.”  I’m not sure to whom this was in reference, but it sure smacks of Michael Vick.
  • CON:  A lot of this Vick craze has been created because of his play in the last 6 quarters–2 of which were against the Packers in a prevent defense and the other 4 were against a really bad Lions secondary.  It’s not like he put up monster numbers against the Steelers or Jets.
  • CON:  The Eagles just traded the best quarterback in the history of their organization and handed $10 million to Kevin Kolb because they believe that he is the future.
  • CON:  Andy Reid offense relies on short drops, precision passing, and consistent play from the quarterback position.  This is not exactly a system tailored for Vick’s skill set.
  • CON:  Vick is 30 years old and plays a reckless style that has proven to lead to injuries.  Any long-term plans for this team that rely upon Michael Vick as the starting quarterback are inherently risky.

Naming Kevin Kolb the starting quarterback:

  • PRO:  There must be something there that makes the coaching staff believe–to the point of trading a franchise quarterback to a division rival–that Kevin Kolb is a future star in this league.  And, honestly, this coaching staff has built up enough capital for me to trust that opinion.
  • The future?

    PRO:  Kolb is younger, more suited for this offense, and the safer bet, long-term.

  • CON:  Did you see the first half of the season?  That concussion may have saved him from an epically bad full-game performance.
  • CON:  The way Michael Vick played against Green Bay and Detroit means that, if Kolb were to play against Jacksonville and then against McNabb’s Redskins next week, the pressure will be enormous.  Are we sure he’s ready to handle that and might it be too much for him at this point in his career?
  • CON:  Is he really fully healthy?  It has only been two weeks since a major concussion, and the way this offensive line is playing, is it smart to throw him out there so soon when we have a more than capable backup ready to play?  I know that Reid claims that Kolb is perfectly healthy, but no one seems to know anything about the science of concussions right now, so as long as there is a viable second option, why take a chance?

[Quick Tangent:  There is another real, distinct possibility, and I’ve been saying it on this website for 6 months now.  It’s a little crazy, but not out of the question if you really think about it.  What are the chances that Andy Reid (who has proven in the past to spit in the face of convention and act like he’s the smartest guy in the sport), behind closed doors, is trying to revolutionalize the position of quarterback?  What if the “starting quarterback” is nothing more than the guy who takes the first snap?  What if his plan all along has been to experiment with a two-quarterback system?  It sounds crazy, but ten years ago everyone scoffed at dual running back systems and now every team either has or wants to have two good running backs to share the load.  You have to admit with two guys with such opposite skill sets, a cruel schedule in a brutal division, and the youngest team in the NFL, this is the perfect season to do it.  Now, I’m not saying that I think it will work, and I’m not even saying that Andy Reid thinks it will work.  I’m just saying that I think we both think that it’s worth a shot, and now is a good time to do it.  Just throwing it out there…]

Okay, now, I still have absolutely no idea what is the right call in this situation.  My initial reaction was “there is no way that Kolb should lose his spot to an injury, especially with the big unknown of Michael Vick.”  But, to be honest, the more I’ve thought about it (and I’ve thought way too much about it), I have come around and now I believe that starting Vick is the right move, for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s really hard to turn your back on a guy with that kind of talent.  He is, without a doubt, a once-in-a-lifetime talent.  Now, whether he has the makeup, intelligence, and drive to become a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback is a whole other matter, but it’s really hard not to give him the opportunity to do it Eagle green.
  2. As young as they are (the youngest team in the league), I still believe that this team has a legit shot to win right now, and Vick is pretty clearly the better option for September 26, 2010.  Whether he is the best option for December 26, 2010, or November 26, 2012, is another question, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
  3. And, this is the one that, when I thought of it, finally convinced me that Vick is the right decision:  Whichever quarterback starts Week Three will have a boatload of pressure on him, and has a legitimate probability of wilting under that pressure and failing at some point this season. 

If Vick is the guy and fails, then he goes back to being a backup quarterback this year, Kolb rides in on a white horse to try and save the day, and whether he does or not, there is no question that he is the guy for the future because we tried Vick and that didn’t work.  We then cut ties with Vick at the end of the year, wish him well, and turn everything over to Kevin Kolb with a young, talented set of weapons around him, an improving O-line, and a backup named Kafka who is no threat to the job security of our young franchise quarterback.  2010 is just chalked up as a rebuilding year, and we’re ready to compete again in 2011 and beyond.  BUT…

…If Kolb is named the starter and he fails, then what?  Do we go to Vick in Week Ten to try and save the season?  What if he does?  What if he doesn’t?  Is Kolb’s confidence ruined?  Worse yet, do even have any clue whether he can play or not, considering the only shot he got was with another guy breathing down his neck on a team with a shoddy O-line and a struggling defense?  And, do we sign Vick and trade Kolb?  If he fails, does he even have any value, at that point?

Basically, here it is.  If Vick plays and fails, we’re no worse off than we were before Kolb’s concussion.  We’ve got, what we believe to be, a franchise quarterback ready to step in and play when the team is ready to compete in 2011.  But, if Kolb plays and fails, we have an absolute cluster-f#*& of a quarterback situation.  In what seems to be counter-intuitive, going with the older quarterback is probably the best decision for the long-run.  Sounds weird, but I think it’s probably true

The moral of the story…it’s hard to be an NFL head coach.  I’m glad we’ve got one of the best.

All in The Family: Weeks 1 & 2

Well, with the start of the NFL playoffs and the surging Phils, we’re not at the point of apologizing for a delay in updating our BSB fantasy football league (Jack-O vs. The Dix), but it’s getting close to that point.  And, there has been some fascinating upheaval in the All in the Family BSB fantasy football league.  So, let’s catch up on the big offseason news and then give recaps of the first two weeks of thrilling action.

Expansion
First of all, we are proud to announce that the All in the Family league has expanded AGAIN.  At the 11th hour of the inaugural season, our league expanded and brought in two more teams.  This first season will consist of six teams–all of which are populated by “brothers” (or at least guys with the same last name).

  • We all know that the league was formed in the spirit of The Dix–Waters team of all Johnsons
  • The impetus of the league was when Bry challenged Waters with the Jack-O’s (all Jacksons)
  • Doogan and J followed suit, entering Jones & the Last Name Crusade (all Joneses) and the Black Smiths (all Smiths), respectively
  • At the 11th hour, David wanted in with Big Willie Style (all Williamses), and Ina rounded out the 6-team league with Charlie Brown (all Browns)

So, that is where we our in Season 1:  six teams, an absolute grudge match every week, and all the marbles going to the winner of All in the Family.  We also included, in the rules, that there would be four individual defensive players each week (1 DL, 1 LB, 1 DB, and 1 Flex).

Week One
The kickoff was, well, everything we hoped it would be and then some, as there were grudge matches left and right, one semi-close game, and a ton of excitement and hype.  Let’s run down the games one-by-one, starting with the challenge that started it all.

The Dix 51 – Jack-O’s 20
There are no words to really express the statement that The Dix made in their very first game in this league.  They have been preparing for this game for 8 years now, playing exhibitions against “real” teams, and all of it came to a head, as they dominated the Jack-O’s to make a statement to the rest of the league that they are the big dogs. 

The biggest of The Dix made his mark in Week One

In fact, with the exception of one player, The Dix didn’t even really have a great week.  But, that one player, Chris (TEN) had 29 points, single-handedly outscoring the entire Jack-O team.  It was a down week for the usually fantastic receiving corps, as Andre (HOU) only had 3 and Calvin (DET) only had 5.  Bryant (DET) actually chipped in 2 for the best set of receivers in the league.  The other running back, Larry (WAS), got a point for the team he used to carry.  The leader of the defense was LB Derrick (KC), who had 11 tackles and a forced fumble.  Jarret (BAL) also chipped in a half of a sack.

On the other side, the Jack-O’s were not very good in this one.  Their best contributor was their captain, Steven (STL), who had 9.  Not having Vincent (SD) is brutal, but so is the poor performance of DeSean (PHI) didn’t help.  Fred (BUF) had 2 points as a starting RB, while Brandon (GB) scored 8 filling in for Ryan Grant, but wasn’t in the starting lineup.  Tavaris (MIN) didn’t play, so they got nothing from the QB spot.  The defense was okay, despite the late scratch of LB D’Qwell (CLE) from the Browns starting lineup.  Kareem (HOU), Tanard (TB), and Tyson (KC) all played well.

In the end, the Jack-O’s just had no answer for Chris Johnson and took a brutal beating on opening day.

Black Smiths 39 – Jones & the Last Name Crusade 30
With the two teams’ offensive stars essentially cancelling each other out, the closest game of the opening week came down to a big point total by, arguably, the best defense in the league–The Black Smiths.

Daryl leads the Black Smiths to a Week One victory

The Black Smiths did get 14 points from their big gun, Steve (CAR), which was enough to make up for zero points from the running back position.  The Other Steve (NYG) had 4, while Brad (NYJ) actually rushed for 27 yards and made a tackle on special teams for 3 points.  The big advantage of the Black Smiths over everyone else is that they actually have a quarterback, but this week, they won without him, as Alex (SF) only had 1 point.  But, again, the best defense in the league made the difference–particularly Daryl (JAX), who had a monster game with 5 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a pass defensed.  Eric (NYJ) and Antonio (HOU) also contibuted for this stellar defensive unit.

On the other side, Jones & the Last Name Crusade also prides themselves on their defense, but for its depth more so than its top-level talent.  The captain of the squad, Maurice (JAX), did his part with 11 points, while Felix (6) rewarded Doogan for starting him over Thomas (KC) by putting up 6.  The defense is deep, but depth is less important when there are only 4 spots.  Dhani (CIN) led the way with 7 tackles.

The Black Smiths got a nice victory here on opening day, despite no production from Alex Smith.  Their defense might be the best in the league, and Daryl Smith gets the game ball from this one.

Big Willie Style 50 – Charlie Brown 33
It was actually a pretty encouraging debut for an under-appreciated Charlie Brown team, but Big Willie Style really answered the bell and won decisively.  They may take exception to the crowning of the Black Smiths as the league’s best defense.  Theirs is not too shabby, and it carried them today–well, that and a couple of Mikes.

Mike & Mike are stylish for Big Willie

Big Willie Style might be a real sleeper team this year (especially if Yahoo! ever gets their act together and changes the starting lineup configuration like I asked them to before the first week).  Here, in Week One, they had the most balanced attack of all the teams in a nice win.  They were led by Cadillac (TB), who put up 10 points without a touchdown.  Their captain, DeAngelo (CAR), added 6, while a pair of Mikes (TB and SEA) added 10 and 6, respectively.  There wasn’t even any room for Ricky’s (MIA) 6 points on the bench.  And, that was only the offense.  The defense was fantastic, as well.  Tramon (GB) had a fumble recovery and 3 pass defenses.  Mario (HOU) had 2 tackles and a sack, and D.J. (DEN) had 9 tackles.  There even got 5 tackles and a sack from a guy on their bench, Corey (DET).  What a week for Big Willie Style!

On the other side of this game, you have to be somewhat encouraged if you’re a Charlie Brown fan, as they hung tough with a good team, despite only getting points from one offensive player.  Their captain, Ronnie (MIA), hit for 15 points.  The big advantage for Charlie Brown is that they have the only two kickers in the league.  Their starter, Josh (STL) gave them 8 points.  They also got a combined 10 points from their two defensive backs, C.C. (DET) and Sheldon (CLE).

People should take notice–Big Willie Style might just be a real contender for the title here.  They have a ton of balance and talent to boot.  I’m not so sure The Dix are “scared,” but they might be a little concerned.  The game ball here goes to Mike Williams–both of them.

Week Two
The rivalries of Week One gave way to another set of great games in Week Two.

Big Willie Style 45 – Black Smiths 41
The best game of the week pitted two teams that won their first games and were ready to try and go 2-0.  Another balanced attack by Big Willie Style proved enough to withstand a furious Monday night comeback, let by Alex Smith.  The battle of the two best defenses was swayed by a HUGE day from Mario Williams, and Big Willie Style is 2-0 heading into a Week Three showdown with The Dix.

Again, the Mikes combined for a big number, but this one was all TB Mike, as he had 11.  SEA Mike only had 1.  And, again, the running back combo of DeAngelo (CAR) and Cadillac (TB) proved potent, putting up 13 points.  Roy (DAL) continues to struggle, but there might be help on the horizon, as this deep team had some decent wide receiver performances on the bench from Roydell (WAS) and Stephen (ARI).  But, the real story here is the defense.  Maybe spurred on by people dubbing the Black Smiths the league’s best defense, this unit was fantastic.  Mario (HOU) had 3 sacks and 2 pass defenses.  D.J. (DEN) had 3 tackles and a 0.5 sacks.  Pat (MIN) added a forced fumble, while the other part of the Williams Wall, Kevin (MIN) had a sack on the bench.  This defense is really good.

Alex sure made Big Willie sweat on Monday night

Down 21 points heading into the Monday night game, the Black Smiths were almost carried all the way back by the league’s only quarterback, Alex (SF), who threw for 275 yards and 1 TD, but it wasn’t quite enough.  Good Steve (CAR) had 13, while Okay Steve (NYG) had 4.  The rest of the offense was non-existent…almost literally.  And, as for the highly-touted defense, well they struggled.  Antonio (HOU) had 0, Eric (NYJ) had 1 and Will (NO) had 3 to try and help the Monday night comeback (ironically, Will Smith couldn’t beat Big Willie Style).  The lone bright spot on this side of the ball was, again, Daryl (JAX), who followed up a big Week One with 7 more points in Week Two.

Although Alex Smith made it really interesting, Big Willie Style’s defense led the way to another victory.  Mario Williams was clearly the player of the game, and this team has a lot of confidence heading into its Week Three showdown with The Dix.

The Dix 44 – Jones & the Last Name Crusade 38
With the impressive win for Big Willie Style and a bit of a struggle for The Dix, this league might not be the runaway we thought it would be.  The Dix were very vulnerable this week, and Jones & the Last Name Crusade nearly pulled off the upset.  Both teams’ captains had monumentally terrible weeks, which made for an interesting matchup.  In fact, it was defensive personnel decisions that will have Jones fans wondering what could have been.  

Some teams tout their defense (Big Willie Style); some tout their running backs (Jones & the Last Name Crusade); some even tout the fact that they actually have a quarterback (Black Smiths), but no one has a unit quite like the wide receiving corps of The Dix.  (Yes, I said no has a unit like The Dix.)  And, they proved that in Week two.  Calvin (DET) put up 16 in the early game and maybe that inspired Andre (HOU) to top it, as he went for 24 in the late game.  This was very much needed, as their go-to guy, Chris (TEN), only had 2 points.  They didn’t get much from their defense either, as Derrick (KC) was the only starter to get any points whatsoever, logging 7 tackles.

Andre celebrates The Dix 2-0 start

Just like Chris Johnson of their opponent, the go-to guy for Jones & the Last Name Crusade faltered this week.  Maurice (JAX) only had 2 points.  His slack was picked up by touchdowns from Jacoby (HOU) and James (GB), and 83 yards rushing from Thomas (KC), but it still stings to lose to The Dix by 6 when your best player only rushes for 31 yards and a fumble.  But, the worst part of this loss for Jones is the points that were left on their bench on the defensive side of the ball.  Big days from Pacman (CIN) and David (JAX) were wasted on the bench, as poor days from Jason (TEN) and Brad (GB) counted as starters.

This is a real gut-wrenching way to lose a game for Jones & the Last Name Crusade, but what did we expect when we entered a league against a team that’s been playing this game for almost a decade?  The Dix just know how to win, and they got it done today without the help of their best player.  As good as Calvin Johnson was today, Andre Johnson was the clear MVP of this Week Two matchup.

Jack-O’s 49 – Charlie Brown 38
What an exciting week, as every game was within 12 points.  This one went to the Jack-O’s, as their two best players really stepped up big time.  Charlie Brown got a surprisingly great game from Donald Brown and a special teams touchdown from the unlikely source of Antonio Brown, but it wasn’t enough, and they fall to 0-2.

With Vincent out, the fate of the Jack-O's season rests in the hands of DeSean

This game for the Jack-O’s was all about DeSean (PHI), who, overly anxious to make up for the MIA Vincent (SD) in the first week, rebounded with a huge Week Two.  135 yards and a TD gave DeSean a big 22 points.  They also got 13 from their captain, Steven (STL), even though he failed again to reach the end zone.  It’s tough now with three running backs, as Brandon (GB) had 10 in the starting role, but they also had 10 on the bench from Fred (BUF).  The defense continues to be a big question mark for this team, as they only got 5 total points from their defense, and now it has gotten a lot worse, as safety Tanard (TB) has been suspended for at least the rest of this season for his second substance abuse infraction.  (By the way, am I the only person in the country devastated by the suspension of Tanard Jackson?  You know, other than, well, Tanard Jackson.)

Charlie Brown falls to 0-2 with the loss here, but there were some positives to take away here.  The offense might not be just the Ronnie (MIA) Show, as Donald (IND) had a huge day and Antonio (PIT) had a punt return for a TD.  And, on defense, the secondary continues to be the bright spot of the team, as Sheldon (CLE) has another interception, and C.C. (DET) plays another nice game.

Charlie Brown is going to struggle this year, but they do have a future here.  Donald Brown looked good and the defense is okay.  The Jack-O’s–led by game MVP DeSean Jackson–got the win here, but this was a really bad week for the team off the field.  Not only does their awful defense lose maybe its best player to suspension (Tanard Jackson), but Vincent Jackson wasn’t traded, which means he cannot play until Week Seven, and there are reports that he might not play at all this year.  This Vincent Jackson news is absolutely crippling to the Jack-O’s…but hey, they are still just one Brett Favre injury away from a starting quarterback.

Standings
2-0 Big Willie Style (96 points)
2-0 The Dix (95 points)
1-1 Black Smiths (80 points)
1-1 Jack-O’s (70 points)
0-2 Charlie Brown (71 points)
0-2 Jones & the Last Name Crusade (67 points)

Week Three Matchups
Week Three is a huge week to see where these teams really are, at this point, with some nice matchups, headlined by a battle for first.

The Dix (2-0) vs. Big Willie Style (2-0)
Clearly the best two teams in the league through two weeks and they get to prove it on the field in Week Three.  Both teams are 2-0.  Big Willie Style has 95.7 total points, while The Dix have 95.4.  Can the Big Willie Style defense, which is fantastic, overcome The Dix fantastic offense?  We will see.  Chris Johnson gets to run on the Giants, while Andre Johnson gets to catch passes against the Dallas secondary.  The matchups for Big Willie Style are not good at all.  DeAngelo Williams has to run on the Cincy defense.  Cadillac and Mike Williams have to face Pittsburgh’s defense (and might be benched), while Ricky Williams has to run on the Jets defense.  It’s not a great week for Big Willie Style to get their big test, but they are scared, as they are playing with a lot of confidence.  For what it’s worth, the Yahoo! projections have Big Willie Style winning this game 53-51.

Jack-O’s (1-1) vs. Jones & the Last Name Crusade (0-2)
The Jack-O’s will try and build upon their first win last week, while Jones & the Last Name Crusade will try and bounce back from a brutally tough loss to The Dix.  The big question mark in this game is Maurice Jones(-Drew) and whether he’ll be the guy that Jones fans hoped he would be.  The Jack-O’s still aren’t whole and are vulnerable here.  Coach Bry has a decision to make between Brandon Jackson and Fred Jackson, so it’s hard to say what will come of that.  The Yahoo! projections have Jones & the Last Name Crusade as favored to win this game 42-36.

Black Smiths (1-1) vs. Charlie Brown (0-2)
The third matchup pits a solid Black Smith squad against a young and hungry Charlie Brown team looking for their first ever victory.  The question mark for Charlie Brown is will Donald Brown match against Denver what he did against the Giants.  If so, they’ve got a real shot here.  On the other side, the Black Smiths were supposed to have a phenomenal defense, but, outside of Daryl Smith, it has been rather ordinary so far.  Another question for the Black Smiths is will they ever get anything out of a running back?  That remains to be seen.  This game might pivot around each team’s big advantage that they have over the rest of the league.  The Black Smiths have the league’s only quarterback, so will Alex Smith put up big numbers that can’t be matched?  Conversely, Charlie Brown has the league’s only kicker, so will Josh Brown be the difference this week?  We will find out.

Until next week…

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #15

Record since last Report Card:  7-0

Overall Record:  92-61 (1st in division, 6 ahead of Atlanta)

I could go on and on about what a great week this was, what a great month it’s been, and how good this team is, in general, but let’s cut right to the chase:  the Phillies are the team to beat.  Not in the division, not in the National League, but in all of baseball.  At no point in this incredible run of success that they’ve had over the last few years have I made that statement, but I made it after Monday night’s win, and obviously two more wins over a very good Braves team did nothing to change that opinion.

With all due respect to the other contenders, especially the Yankees and Rays, I see no reason why the Phillies, especially with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, shouldn’t be the favorite to win the World Series. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re some sort of lock to win it, or even win the pennant again.  I’ve heard some Phillie fans dismissing the thought of a team like the Reds or Giants beating the Phils in the first-round.  In a playoff series, anything can happen.  But with the pedigree of this Phillies team, the way they rise to the occasion again and again and again, with three aces in the rotation, and a back-end of the bullpen that is rounding into shape, they are the most likely team to win it all next month.

On to the grades:

Position Players:  A stellar week with the bats, highlighted by 19 runs combined in the first two games of the week (vs. Marlins and Nats) and a 4-run 9th inning to beat the Nats 7-6 on Sunday.  Seemingly in the middle of it constantly were Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez.  Werth’s power stroke has come back in a big way, as he hit 4 homers this week en route to a .440 (11-25) average.  His two-run bomb completed that comeback on Sunday. 

Ibanez delivered key RBI hits in the Atlanta series.  His two-run double in the 6th on Tuesday gave the Phils a 3-run cushion, and his RBI double in the bottom of the 8th on Wednesday accounted for the only run of the game.  He hit .464 (13-28) on the week, and over the last two weeks, he’s hitting .440 with 10 extra-base hits.

Utley and Ruiz each had another nice week, while Wilson Valdez continued to contribute, hitting .360 (9-25) with his usual handful of jaw-dropping plays at short.  Who knows how many runs this offense would have put up this week if the table-setters, Victorino and Polanco, hadn’t struggled.  Those two combined to hit .200 (12-60), with just one extra-base hit.  Polanco’s elbow injury continues to effect his power, as his homer-less drought has now reached two months, and he has just one long ball since May 9th.

Grade:  A-

Starting Pitchers:  Very similar to the last few weeks here, and that’s not just a good thing, it’s a great thing.  Oswalt and Hamels again vied for Start of the Week, and the nod has to go to Oswalt for his effort against Atlanta on Wednesday night, even though he got a no-decision.  He went 7 shut-out innings, allowing one hit and striking out eight.  In his other start of the week he beat the Nats by allowing one run in six innings.

Hamels lone start of the week came on Monday against Atlanta, when he set the tone for the series with 8 excellent innings, allowing one run.  Stat of the Week:  Cole has now allowed one run or less in 10 of his last 14 starts, including the last 5 in a row.  Halladay had two more good-but-not-great starts, allowing three runs in each and going 6 and 7 innings, respectively.  He’s allowed at least 3 runs in six consecutive starts.  It would be nice to see him throw up a real gem here in one of his final starts to go into the playoffs feeling strong.

Blanton and Kendrick were both decent, going 6 innings apiece against the Nats over the weekend.  Blanton allowed four runs and Kendrick gave up two.  In all, the starters combined for a 2.73 ERA, and struck out 44 batters while walking just 7.

Grade:  A-

Bullpen:  What an electrifying performance Lidge gave to close out the game on Monday.  He came in with a two-run lead, with the Bank rocking like a playoff game, and he was facing the 2-3-4 hitters in the Braves line-up.  His slider was diving like we haven’t seen in a while, and he had complete command of it.  He was very shaky in a non-save situation last Wednesday in Florida, but that could be chalked up to the old “closers struggle in non-save situations” phenomenon.  He converted four save opportunities after that.  His consistency is not at the level that it was in ’08, but for the most part he very much resembles the guy he was two years ago.

Yet another dominating week for Ryan Madson, who allowed no runs in his four outings.  There’s been a lot of talk about him being over-used, and there’s something to be said for that, but it’s worth noting that he missed two months with that toe injury early in the year, so his season innings total is still well below what it was the past two years.  Jose Contreras had a couple good outings and should have the 7th inning role locked down.  Not that the Phils need a 7th inning man that often considering how good their starters are.

Grade:  A-

Up Next:  An off day on Thursday before the Mets come to the Bank for three and then a trip to D.C. for three before going to Atlanta to close out the regular season.  To be frank, the division race is all but over.  These next 9 games will be mostly about answering certain questions going into the playoffs.  For example:  What will be the order of the aces in the rotation?  Can J.C. Romero be trusted in key situations?  Will Jimmy Rollins be ready to go, and where will he hit in the batting order?  Will Mike Sweeney, Greg Dobbs, and/or Dom Brown be on the playoff roster?

Quick Pitches: Here We Go…

The biggest series of the season kicks off tonight at The Bank, as the second-place Bravos come to town.  And, the Phils are perfectly set up for the stretch run. 

After a quick tweak of the rotation last week, the Phillies will now have the “Big Three” lined up to pitch all six remaining games against Atlanta, starting with Cole Hamels against Jair Jurrjens tonight.

What’s really amazing is that the Phillies, despite all their ridiculous issues throughout the year (a myriad of injuries, a faulty bullpen, having to play career minor leaguers in key roles), they are on pace for–get this–the franchise’s best record since 1977!  Yes, at this pace, this team will have the best Phillies record in a 33-year span that includes both of the team’s World Series titles.  Pretty amazing, if you think about it.

The Phils now have the best record in the NL by 3 games over Atlanta and FIVE games over each of the other two division leaders.  Finishing with the best record in the NL could be monumental for them this year for two reasons: 

(1) They will assure themselves homefield advantage in any playoff series, including the World Series (thank you, Brian McCann).  This is important because the Phillies have been so incredibly good at home during the past two World Series runs that it really manifests itself as a nice advantage.  Furthermore, pretty much all of other potential playoff teams in the NL (Atlanta, Colorado, San Diego, San Francisco, and Cincinnati) are disproportionally good at home, so homefield could make a big difference in the NL playoffs.

(2) They will get to choose the NLDS with the extra off-day.  This one is actually gigantic for the Phils, the way they are constructed right now.  If they are able to take the 8-day, 5-game series in the NLDS, they can assure themselves of playing every Division Series game with either Halladay, Hamels, or Oswalt as their starting pitcher.  And, even though a team like San Fran can also throw a hefty three guys, no one has horses like we have horses right now.

One other note of interest–apparently, Jayson Werth is poised to hire Scott Boras as his agent.  If this is true, I think it’s safe to say that Dominic Brown and Raul Ibanez will be the Phillies corner-outfielders next year.  My man crush aside, I think that that’s probably best for long-term future of the organization anyway.  Jayson’s next contract will probably be far more than he’s actually “werth,” and Dom Brown is ready.

Phillies Semi-Weekly Report Card #14

Record since last Report Card:  5-1

Overall Record:  85-61 (1st in division, 2 ahead of Atlanta)

Another injury strikes, but the Phils keep right on rolling.  In the heat of a pennant race, it’s all about winning series, and after knocking off the Marlins on Tuesday night, the Phils have now won six consecutive series since being swept by Houston late last month, winning 15 of 19 in that stretch.  It sounds like a broken record at this point, but the pitching was great this week, and the offense was good enough.  

No doubt, things are moving in the right direction, but with six games against the Braves still to come, the division is still up for grabs.  As an added challenge, Jimmy Rollins could be out for the rest of the regular season, with a strained hamstring.  It’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be in there for the last series of the year, against Atlanta, if the division is still on the line, but we’ve seen already this year how hitters take some time to get their timing back after an injury.  In the meantime, Wilson Valdez is (again) an everyday starter.

On to the grades:

Looking good leading off

Position Players:  For the ’08 or ’09 Phillies, this would’ve been a fairly average week for the offense, but for the ’10 squad, it was a breath of fresh air.  They averaged 6 runs a game, including two double-digit run totals, and weren’t shutout once!  Victorino has settled in nicely into the lead-off role, hitting .407 (11-27) this week, with 2 steals and 8 runs scored.  He will most likely remain in the lead-spot for the rest of the season.  Utley and Howard continued their recent production in the middle of the order, combining to hit .341 (15-44) with 4 homers and 16 RBI, including 6 RBI’s by Howard in last Wednesday’s win.

Carlos Ruiz continued his career year, hitting .500 (9-18) with a homer and 6 RBI.  That production is made more important with him bumped up to the 7-hole due to the Rollins injury.  Raul Ibanez also had a big week, hitting .409 (9-22) with 5 extra-base hits, including 2 homers.  Valdez continued his solid contributions, hitting .304 (7-23) with 2 doubles.

On the negative side, Polanco had an usually poor week, hitting .185 (5-27), though he did have a big RBI double in Tuesday night’s tight win over Florida.  And Jayson Werth’s somewhat up-and-down season was ‘down’ this week, as he hit .192 (5-26).

Grade:  B+

The '08 Cole is Back

Starting Pitchers: How good has the starting pitching been for the Phillies?  Well, over the past few weeks, Roy Halladay (AKA the best pitcher on the planet and a Cy Young favorite) has been clearly the third best pitcher on his own team.  Cole Hamels continued to dominate this week in his two starts against the Marlins.  He pitched 7 shutout innings, allowing 4 hits, to beat them last Wednesday, then struck out 13 Marlins in 6.2 innings, allowing 1 run, on Tuesday.  That 1 run snapped his 25 inning scoreless streak.  All Phillie fans remember well the last time Cole was pitching this well: October 2008.  That is pretty exciting.

Neither of those two efforts by Hamels, however, were enough to secure him the Start of the Week for a third straight time.  That honor goes to Roy Oswalt, who looked effortless in throwing a four-hit, complete game shutout against the Mets on Sunday.  How about Oswalt’s stats since becoming a Phillie: 6-1, 1.98 ERA.  If you take away his first start, when he was admittedly too “amped up”, that ERA statistic reads 1.57, over 57.2 innings pitched.

As for Halladay, he’s been far from bad lately, but he hasn’t been his normal dominant self, either.  He allowed 4 runs in 7.2 innings on Friday.  He’s now allowed at least 3 runs in four straight starts, and more than 3 runs in back-to-back starts for the first time all season.  It’s probably just a minor blip, but it’s worth considering that Halladay may be starting to run out of steam a little bit, having already thrown 228 innings on the year.

At the back of the rotation, Joe Blanton was excellent on Monday, allowing 1 run in 6 innings pitched, and Kyle Kendrick was left in the rotation, giving up just 2 runs in 5 innings in Saturday’s loss.  All told, Phillie starters allowed just 8 runs over these 6 games, good for a 1.74 ERA.

Grade:  A

Bullpen:  The Phils received good news when it was determined that Brad Lidge’s elbow soreness was nothing serious.  He was ready to go on Friday night, but no save opportunities came until Tuesday, so he got some extra rest, which can’t be a bad thing at this point of the season.  He put the Marlins down 1-2-3 to convert that opportunity.  Here’s an interesting stat on Lidge: his WHIP (walks x hits/innings pitched) is actually lower this year than it was in ’08 (1.17 vs. 1.23).  Since giving up that walk-off, 3-run homer to Ryan Zimmerman on July 31st, he’s allowed just one earned run in 16.1 innings.  The key to that success seems to be his improved control, as he’s walked just three batters over that span.

Ryan Madson continues to dominate.  Phillie fans should be feeling pretty good about the Madson-Lidge combo at the end of games.  It’s the rest of the bullpen that is still some cause for concern.  Though Contreras and Durbin haven’t been as effective lately, there is still plenty of reason to have confidence in them, and they will continue to get the key 6th and 7th inning calls.

If you were looking for answers to the lefty reliever situation, you got absolutely none this week.  Romero made one appearance and gave up hits to both hitters he faced before being lifted.  Bastardo also appeared just once and faced two hitters, striking out one and giving up a hit to the other.  The Nate Robertson experiment came to a very quick halt, as he gave up 6 runs in one inning of relief and was cut loose the following day.

Grade:  C

Up Next:  They’ll go for the sweep against the Marlins tonight before flying home, where they’ll get the Nationals over the weekend before welcoming in the Braves for what will surely be a playoff atmosphere at the Bank.  The rotation has been set-up so that the Big Three will start the three games vs. Atlanta.

A Note on Baseball Announcers

As a subscriber to MLB.tv, I get the broadcasters of the opponent’s team for every Phillies road game.  Among the things I’ve learned from listening to the other broadcast teams around the league is this: Phillie fans are lucky to have Chris Wheeler.  I was never a huge Wheeler fan.  He was in the shadow of Harry Kalas, of course.  And way back when we had Whitey Ashburn calling games, Wheeler just seemed like an unnecessary third wheel.  He didn’t have Harry’s baritone.  He didn’t have Whitey’s experience (he never played the game, let alone had a Hall of Fame career).  It seemed like he just didn’t bring anything to the table.

But Wheeler has gotten a lot better.  I’ve always been of the mind-set that color analysts should be someone who played or coached in the sport they’re announcing.  Wheels has changed my mind.  You might not love his personality (I actually don’t), but the knowledge he brings to a broadcast, combined with his skill in conveying that knowledge and knowing what the viewer needs to hear, is fantastic.

This is something you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve listened to the other announcers around the league.  The majority of color men basically fall into two categories.  First, there are the guys that get the job done but are really boring, only touch the surface of what’s happening in the game, and basically sound exactly like 70% of the other color men out there.  The other type of guy is completely incompetent, and only bearable at all because you’re waiting to hear what ridiculously dumb thing they’ll say next.

Recently fired Nationals color man, Rob Dibble, falls into the latter category.  You may remember Dibble from his years as a “Nasty Boy” with the Reds, who helped them win the ’90 World Series, and who apparently had some sort of interesting personality.  You may also remember him as an incompetent analyst for Baseball Tonight on ESPN for a number of years.  Well, the level of awfulness he brought to Nationals broadcasts was something to behold.

He constantly acted like the Nationals were one of the best teams in baseball.  During an April series against the Phillies this year, he was talking about how the Phils’ hitters really work counts and wear out opposing pitchers, then he says, “Just like our hitters do to opposing pitchers.”  Uh, yeah, the only difference being that the Nats ranked 22nd in baseball in runs scored in ’09, while the Phils were 4th.  Another minor difference being that the Nats lost 205 games in ’08-’09, while the Phils were NL Champs both years.

In that same series he talked about Jason Marquis like he was a perennial All-Star, and claimed that it would be so great for the Nats young pitchers to “watch and emulate” him all year.  Too bad Marquis has a 4.56 career ERA, and a 8.13 ERA in just 8 starts this year.  Hopefully the Nats pitchers have been watching him very closely.  He also compared Nats SS Ian Desmond to Alex Rodriguez.  The only difference there being that, when A-Rod was the same age as Desmond is now, he had 189 career homers and 133 stolen bases, while Desmond has 13 and 15, respectively.  But why let facts get in the way of delusional conjecture?

So, it was with a certain amount of joy that I read about Dibble being fired a couple weeks ago, for saying that Stephen Strasburg should “suck it up” and “stop crying” about his arm pain.  Also, check out Dibble’s reaction a few weeks ago to spotting two women at a Nats game.  I’m sure the Nats were just looking for a reason to give him the axe, and he provided it with those Strasburg comments.  However, before he disappears completely, I’d like to welcome him into the BSB Broadcaster’s Hall of Shame.

It's 2010, Mr. Scully

And one further note on announcing.  The Phils’ series in LA a couple weeks ago gave me a chance to hear the legendary Vin Scully call the games.  He’s the only announcer I know that does the whole game by himself, and listening to him makes you feel like you’re watching a game from 50 years ago.  He comes to each game with so much information about the players.  But, I think he might be starting to lose it a little bit.  On two separate occasions in the series, he claimed that Carlos Ruiz is the only hitter to ever pinch-hit for Johnny Bench!  Now, a Google search reveals that the only player to ever pinch-hit for Bench was actually a player named Chico Ruiz, in 1967.  So, it’s not an entirely insane mistake.  BUT, Johnny Bench last played in 1983, when Carlos was 4-years-old.  Carlos’s ML debut came in 2006, a mere 23 years after Bench’s last game.!

BSB NFL Two-a-Days: The Playoffs

Well, here we are.  We completed Week Seventeen and now we’re on to the playoffs.  The playoff picture fell together rather nicely this year, as no team can really have a beef (unless the 9-7 NFC teams like Minnesota and Carolina want to complain about the hollowness of San Fran’s 9-7 and their bad division).  Tiebreakers were only used for seeding, as everyone who got in did so on their records.  This is going to be good.

Saturday, January 8:
4:15 – #6 Cincinnati 20 – #3 New England 31
The Bengals had a great year, and they have the horses to win this game, but there was just too much Tom Brady.  Tom Brady throws for three touchdowns, including a 68-yarder to Randy Moss late in the second quarter, and the New England defense bends but doesn’t break.  Carson Palmer, who had a bounce-back regular season, throws a key interception in the fourth quarter and the Patriots are off to San Diego in the Divisional Round.

8:30 – #6 Atlanta 29 – #3 New Orleans 31
A thriller on Saturday night, as the Saints hold on to beat Atlanta.  The Saints jumped out to an early 14-0 lead on two quick scoring drives, but the Falcons didn’t go away.  The Falcons scored a touchdown with just over two minutes left in the half to cut the New Orleans lead to 14-10, but it was too much time for Drew Brees and company.  The Saints went right down the field in their two-minute offense and added, what seemed to be a momentum-killing touchdown to go into halftime up 21-10.  The two teams matched field goals with their first possessions of the second half to make it 24-13.  After a Pierre Thomas fumble led to another Atlanta field goal, the Falcons were within eight points until Reggie Bush took a punt return to the house right at the end of the third, and things looked bleak for Atlanta, down 31-16 after three quarters.  But, they weren’t done.  Matt Ryan and Michael Turner led them right down the field for a another quick score.  After a Saints three-and-out, the Falcons, again, went down the field for another touchdown.  With five minutes left, Mike Smith opted to go for two, but the Saints defense held.  But, again, the Falcons defense held up, forced a Saints punt and Ryan had the ball, down two, with just over two minutes left.  The Falcons got one first down, but then Matt Ryan threw a season-ending interception, and the Saints survive and move on to Dallas.

Sunday, January 9:
1:00 – #5 Pittsburgh 19 – #4 Baltimore 16
In an old-school brawl of a football game, the Pittsburgh Steelers end the Ravens dreams of a Super Bowl with a 19-16 win at M&T Bank Stadium.  Neither offense really moved the ball with any consistency, but both defenses made some big plays.  The Ravens got their only touchdown when massive pressure caused Ben to throw into coverage and it was intercepted and returned 38 yards for the first score of the game.  The Steelers had a little bit of offense, with three drives resulting in field goals in the first half, but were only in the red zone once.  The Ravens led 10-9 at the half.  The one big drive of the game came midway through the third quarter, when the Steelers offense came together and pulled off an impressive 16-play, 84-yard drive for the only offensive touchdown of the game to go up 16-10.  The Ravens answered with a field goal, but a Flacco fumble in the fourth handed the three points back to the Steelers, who were up 19-13.  The Ravens had a drive stall at the 27-yard line with just under 5 minutes left and John Harbaugh decided to kick the field goal on 4th and 4.  They never again crossed midfield, as the Steelers defense held firm.  Pittsburgh will now head to Indy for a showdown with the defending AFC champs.

4:15 – #5 Philadelphia 20 – #4 San Francisco 6
Alex Smith’s first ever playoff game was not exactly how he drew it up.  The young quarterback, who had an okay season, threw two and added a fumble, as the Eagles defense really came to play.  Kevin Kolb wasn’t off-the-charts, but he was handed good field position for most of the day, and did what he needed to do, throwing for 186 yards, 2 TDs and, most importantly, 0 INTs.  The Birds will head to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field for a Week One rematch with Aaron Rodgers and the Pack.

Saturday, January 15 (aka…the start of the best sports weekend of the year that doesn’t include 48 NCAA tournament games):
4:15 – #3 New Orleans 13 – #2 Dallas 31
In an absolute shocker, the Cowboys roll over the defending Super Bowl champions.  The Cowboys took the opening kickoff and went right down the field, scoring on a 2-yard Tashard Choice touchdown.  The Saints, though, came right back and matched the ‘Boys with a touchdown of their own, and it looked like we were in for an old-fashioned shootout.  But, it wasn’t to be, as the Cowboys dominated the final 52 minutes of play, holding the Saints to two long field goals the rest of the way.  The Cowboys will await the Philly-Green Bay winner in the NFC Championship Game.  Dallas is now one win away from being the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

8:30 – #5 Pittsburgh 24 – #1 Indianapolis 14
Two games on Saturday and two shocking results.  The first one was because of the non-competitiveness of the defending Super Bowl champs, and this one because of the home upset of the defending AFC champs.  The Steelers went into Indy and just phyiscally manhandled the Colts, going up 10-0 early and never looking back.  Peyton Manning engineered two good touchdown drives–one at the end of the half and one midway through the third quarter–but other than that, this defense made him look almost ordinary.  Rashard Mendenhall ran for 108 yards and two TDs and the Steelers are on to the AFC Championship Game against either New England or San Diego.

Sunday, January 16:
1:00 – #5 Philadelphia 13 – #1 Green Bay 24
On a frigid day in upper Wisconsin, the Packers showed why they were the best team in the NFC this year.  Their defense held the Eagles to very little production all day, while the offense showed signs of brilliance.  It was a business-like playoff win for a very dangerous team.  Aaron Rodgers, despite the cold, still threw for 242 yards and 2 TDs.  Kevin Kolb, on the other hand, had a pretty rough day in the elements.  Aside from an 82-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the second quarter, it was not a day to remember for the young QB.  All in all, the season has to be considered a success for the Birds, and the future is bright for the youngest team in the league.  The Packers have their sights set on bigger things, though, and will host Dallas in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

4:30 – #3 New England 42 – #2 San Diego 31
The 2010 Pats looked quite reminiscent of the 2007 Pats in this one, as they ran up and down the field at will against an overmatched Chargers secondary.  It was a good thing, too, that the Pats were so offensive because their defense got exposed by Rivers and the Chargers O.  Antonio Gates, Ryan Matthews, and Malcolm Floyd had huge days, so Phillip Rivers racked up almost 400 yards in defeat.  But, there was no stopping the Pats O, as Brady throws for 6 TDs, including 3 to Randy Moss.  The Pats, the #3-seed, will get to host the AFC Championship Game thanks to the Steelers upset of Indy.

Sunday, January 26:
1:00 – #2 Dallas 20 – #1 Green Bay 24
Despite the cold day at Lambeau Field, Tony Romo actually has a decent day, but the Cowboys are done in by three big fumbles (one each by Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Miles Austin) and fall just short of a return trip to the Super Bowl.  Aaron Rodgers has another good day with 237 yards and 2 TDs.  The unexpected hero of the game was Ryan Grant, who stepped up in a big way, taking control of the game and dominating the second half.  The Cowboys dream of playing a home Super Bowl goes up in smoke on a cold day in Green Bay.

4:30 – #5 Pittsburgh 27 – #3 New England 17
The New England defense just wasn’t good enough, and the Pittsburgh defense was.  The Steelers did not stop Brady, but they contained him in the red zone, and, most importantly, kept him off the field, as their offense ate up a ton of clock as they marched up and down the field repeatedly on the Pats.  Roethlisberger throws for a workmanlike 191 yards and 1 TD.  Rashard Mendenhall had another big day with 114 yards on the ground, and Hines Ward scored on a 48-yard touchdown run on an end around.  A tough loss for the Pats, as the Steelers head to Dallas in search of championship number 7.

Sunday, February 11 (Dallas, TX) – Super Bowl XLV:
Green Bay 31 – Pittsburgh 7
Aaron Rodgers is not only a Super Bowl champ, but the Super Bowl MVP, as he throws for 284 yards and 3 TDs against the best defense in the NFL.  Greg Jennings caught two of those TD passes and had 114 yards receiving.  The Packers scored the first 10 points and never looked back.  Roethlisberger, on the other hand, had a day for the ages.  Four interceptions and two fumbles in the worst game of his career.  He was even pulled in the fourth quarter for Dennis Dixon, who led the Steelers down for a late touchdown drive to avoid the ignominy of being shutout on the biggest stage.  Karma’s a bitch, huh Ben?

BSB NFL Two-a-Days: Week Seventeen

Week Sixteen is in the books.  One week left.  All the marbles.  And, the NFL did a great thing this year–every single Week Seventeen game is a game between division rivals.  That has created some amazing final week matchups.  Before we get to the games, let’s look at some final-week playoff scenarios:

The NFC is easy.  Five teams have clinched (GB, NO, Phi, Dal, SF), and two teams play each other for the final spot (Atl-Car), with the winner getting in and loser going home.  Also, the Cowboys and Eagles play for the NFC East title.  As for seeding, the Packers will get the top seed with a win.  If they lose, it could be NO, Phi, or Dal, depending of various combinations.  SF has locked themselves in the #4-spot.

The AFC is much more complicated.  The Colts will get the top-seed with a win or a Patriots loss.  The Chargers have the edge over NE for the #2-seed, but it’s not a lock.  The Pats have clinched the East.  The North will go to the winner of Week Seventeen’s game between Baltimore and Cincy.  The loser of that game is in a fight for a wild card.  Right now, three teams sit at 9-6 (Pit, Mia, and Ten).  If two of them lose, the loser of the North title game will get in, otherwise there will be a crazy tiebreaker.  The Raiders, Texans, and Jets all sit at 8-7 and not mathematically eliminated, but they would need some serious help.

Sunday, January 2:
1:00 – Miami (9-6) at NEW ENGLAND (11-4)
The Super Bowl for the Dolphins, but they have to play in Foxborough with the Pats having something to play for.  A tough game, but I like New England at home.

1:00 – Buffalo (1-14) at N.Y. JETS (8-7)
The Jets get a break in Week Seventeen with a home game against an abysmal team.  Will it be enough?

1:00 – Cincinnati (10-5) at BALTIMORE (10-5)
The AFC North Championship Game is in Baltimore.  The Ravens are just too tough and too good at home to lose this one, although it should be a phenomenal game.

1:00 – PITTSBURGH (9-6) at Cleveland (3-12)
After the 1-3 start without Ben, the Steelers now finish 9-3 with him and have a shot at the playoffs.  I can’t see them losing here in Cleveland with the season on the line.

1:00 – Jacksonville (6-9) at HOUSTON (8-7)
The Texans are most likely going to be the only team of these two with anything to play for.  They should win this game at home.  Will it be enough?

1:00 – Tennessee (9-6) at INDIANAPOLIS (12-3)
Obviously, my take on this game would be a lot different if the Colts have nothing to play for here because we all know that they won’t hesitate to rest everyone.  But, in this scenario, the Colts do still have homefield advantage to play for (actually, they are still at risk for a #3-seed).  If this is true, they will win this game.

1:00 – Oakland (8-7) at KANSAS CITY (6-9)
At this point in the season, it’s more likely that the Chiefs will still be playing hard.  Yes, in this scenario, the Raiders still have a glimmer of playoff hope, but I think, no matter what, the Chiefs should win this game at home.

1:00 – DALLAS (10-5) at Philadelphia (10-5)
Three years in a row the NFC Beast has come down to these two teams on the last day of the season.  In 2008, the Eagles waxed the Cowboys to take the division.  In 2009, the Cowboys got them back, won the division and won again in the wild card rematch.  This year, I just think that the Cowboys, in these circumstances, are the better team and will win in Philly.  And, yes, it will really, really suck…again.

1:00 – N.Y. Giants (8-7) at WASHINGTON (3-12)
No one circles the wagons like the Washington Redskins.  They will put it all together for one last game for pride.  With the Giants eliminated, the ‘Skins will have the edge they need and win this game at home.

1:00 – MINNESOTA (8-7) at Detroit (6-9)
Now, let me preface this.  If the Vikings are completely eliminated in Week Sixteen, I think they might walk in here and lose.  In this scenario, they are, but I still think that there’s enough of a chance that they will play for pride here and win, that I am going to give it to them here.

1:00 – Chicago (8-7) at GREEN BAY (11-4)
Green Bay has it all at stake here and should be able to beat their arch-rivals in Lambeau to lock up the homefield advantage.  A season that started so promising for Chicago ends at .500.

1:00 – Carolina (9-6) at ATLANTA (9-6)
A playoff game before the playoffs.  Winner goes to the playoffs; loser goes home.  The Falcons are coming off a really tough game on Monday night against New Orleans, but I think, with their entire season on the line, they should rebound and beat the Panthers at home, sending them back to the playoffs.

1:00 – Tampa Bay (3-12) at NEW ORLEANS (10-5)
If the Saints need a win in Week Seventeen, they have the perfect co-conspirators to get it done.  Tampa at home?  Atlanta or Carolina better win this division before the final game because this is a walkover for the defending champs.

4:15 – SAN DIEGO (11-4) at Denver (4-11)
It was really just two years ago when these two teams played in Week Seventeen for the AFC West title?  Well, they have both gone in opposite directions since then.  The Chargers should handle the Broncos with ease and take the #2-seed in the AFC again.

4:15 – Arizona (6-9) at SAN FRANCISCO (8-7)
Even if Arizona keeps it close through the year, the Niners get this final game at home and should be able to take care of business and win the division.  It’s a nice hammer to have for them, knowing that they only have to stay within a game and they get their shot, at home, in Week Seventeen.

4:15 – St. Louis (2-13) at SEATTLE (4-11)
A long trip for a bad game.  I’ll take the Seahawks.

FINAL STANDINGS
NFC EAST
11-5 Dallas
10-6 Philadelphia
8-8 N.Y. Giants
4-12 Washington

The Cowboys win the Week Seventeen title game and win the NFC Beast for the second straight year.  The Eagles are going to the playoffs with a solid 10-6 “rebuilding” year.  The Giants finish a disappointing 8-8, while the Redskins don’t even improve on last year’s win total.

NFC NORTH
12-4 Green Bay
9-7 Minnesota
8-8 Chicago
6-10 Detroit

The Packers wrap up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Vikings finish a disappointing 9-7.  The Bears, after a strong start, come back to reality and finish 8-8.  The Lions have the arrow moving in the right direction.

NFC SOUTH
11-5 New Orleans
10-6 Atlanta
9-7 Carolina
3-13 Tampa Bay

The Saints are the first ever back-to-back NFC South champs.  The Falcons go back to the playoffs with a big win over Carolina.  Tampa struggles again.

NFC WEST
9-7 San Francisco
6-10 Arizona
5-11 Seattle
2-14 St. Louis

After a ton of hype for several years, Mike Singletary finally leads his team to the playoffs, winning the NFC West.  This division was really, really bad all season long.

AFC EAST
12-4 New England
9-7 Miami
9-7 N.Y. Jets
1-15 Buffalo

The Pats beat Miami, but will fall short of a first-round bye.  The Dolphins loss this week eliminates them from the playoffs, and the Jets will also be watching from home.  The Bills win the Jake Locker sweepstakes with a putrid 1-15 season.

AFC NORTH
11-5 Baltimore
10-6 Cincinnati
10-6 Pittsburgh
3-13 Cleveland

The Ravens win the AFC North Championship Game against Cincy and take the division.  With losses to Tennessee and Miami, this division will take both AFC wild cards.

AFC SOUTH
13-3 Indianapolis
9-7 Houston
9-7 Tennessee
6-10 Jacksonville

The Colts clinch the top-seed…again.  The Texans fall a game short of the playoffs…again.  The Titans took a big loss here and are going to miss the playoffs…again.  Jacksonville should (but probably won’t) fire Jack Del Rio…AGAIN.

AFC WEST
12-4 San Diego
8-8 Oakland
7-9 Kansas City
4-12 Denver

The Chargers clinch the first-round bye with a win and an Indy win.  The Chiefs finish out an encouraging year with a win over Oakland.  The Raiders lose six of their final seven games to ruin a promising start.  The Broncos have a lot of rebuilding to do.

THE PLAYOFFS
NFC
#6 Atlanta (10-6) at #3 New Orleans (11-5)
#5 Philadelphia (10-6) at #4 San Francisco (9-7)

t.b.d. vs. #2 Dallas (11-5)
t.b.d. vs. #1 Green Bay (12-4)

The Packers are the top-seed, as the only NFC team to win 12 games.  Dallas’s Thanksgiving Day win over New Orleans wins them the tiebreaker over the Saints and gives them the all-important first-round bye.  New Orleans, NFC South champs, are #3.  San Fran, who has been in the #4-spot all year, finishes there and will host the Eagles on wild card weekend.  The Birds beat Atlanta in Week Six to earn the #5-seed.  The Falcons win over Carolina got them in and sends them to New Orleans as the #6-seed.

AFC
#6 Cincinnati (10-6) at #3 New England (12-4)
#5 Pittsburgh (10-6) at #4 Baltimore (11-5)

t.b.d. at #2 San Diego (12-4)
t.b.d. at #1 Indianapolis (13-3)

Six teams with double-digit wins and six playoff spots.  That is how it’s supposed to work.  The Colts clinch another #1-seed with a league-best 13-3 record.  The Chargers, on the strength of their Week Seven win over New England, get the first-round bye.  The Pats have to settle for the #3-seed.  The Ravens, after winning the AFC North are the #4-seed and will host their arch-rivals, the Steelers, who snuck into the playoffs and took the #5-seed on the back of a season-sweep of Cincinnati (Weeks Nine and Fourteen).  The Bengals have to settle for #6.

Click here for The Playoffs (available 9/11 at 7:00 pm).

BSB NFL Two-a-Days: Week Sixteen

Week Fifteen went a long way to separating the men from the boys, and Week Sixteen should go even further.  We should get a somewhat clear playoff picture after this week.

Thursday, December 23:
8:20 – Carolina (9-5) at PITTSBURGH (8-6)
The Steelers will need this one desperately, as might the Panthers, but the Steelers are a better team and playing at home.  The Panthers may be looking ahead to a big-time showdown against the Falcons in Week Seventeen, as well.

Saturday, December 25 (Christmas Day):
7:30 – DALLAS (9-5) at Arizona (6-8)
The last stand for the Cardinals might come here on Christmas Day, as they host the Cowboys.  Dallas, coming off of a nice win over Washington has to get back up for this road game.  But, it’s not that far of a trip, and like Thanksgiving, it might be more of a distraction to be at home on holiday games than on the road.  I like the ‘Boys to take this one.

Sunday, December 26:
1:00 – N.Y. JETS (7-7) at Chicago (8-6)
This the last stand for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, and I think they will come through.  They may be devastated from four straight losses, but they’re not eliminated, and I see them playing with a ton of pride here.  The Bears, who also need this game, are coming off of a tough Monday night game in Minnesota and are staring at a trip to Lambeau Field in Week Seventeen.

1:00 – NEW ENGLAND (10-4) at Buffalo (1-13)
The Pats need this game to clinch the division, and they should be able to get it with ease.  The Bills stink, home or away.

1:00 – BALTIMORE (9-5) at Cleveland (3-11)
This is a nice, cushy game for the Ravens, heading into a Week Seventeen tussle with Cincinnati.

1:00 – Tennessee (9-5) at KANSAS CITY (5-9)
This is a really tough one.  It’s hard to imagine that a playoff-caliber team could lose a Week Sixteen game against the Chiefs, but (1) I don’t really think of Tennessee as a true “playoff-caliber” team and (2) this game is smack-dab in the middle of their two biggest games of the year, with Houston last week and Indy next week.  This looks like a trap to me.

1:00 – Minnesota (8-6) at PHILADELPHIA (9-5)
This might be a de facto playoff game here in Week Sixteen.  Again, the schedule-makers give the Birds a bit of a break, as the Vikings have a short week before this game on the road.  Yes, it’ll be a tough one, but I like the Eagles to get it done, at home, against a beat-up Vikings team.

1:00 – Seattle (4-10) at TAMPA BAY (2-12)
A very long trip.  A 1:00 game.  A bad Seattle team.  I don’t care who it it, Seattle’s not winning this game.

1:00 – SAN FRANCISCO (7-7) at St. Louis (2-12)
A very long trip.  A 1:00 game.  But, this is not a bad San Fran team.  This is where the “men” that Singletary has created step up and show their coach a little something.

1:00 – Detroit (6-8) at MIAMI (8-6)
This is a nice spot for the Dolphins in a place where they may just really need a win.  I like the ‘Phins at home.

1:00 – Washington (3-11) at JACKSONVILLE (5-9)
I can’t wait to not care at all about this game.  In fact, the only people that might care less than I will about this game are the players in it.  Both teams will have quit for the season by now, so give me the home team.

4:05 – HOUSTON (7-7) at Denver (4-10)
A game that the Texans will desperately need.  The Broncos stink.  Give me Houston, on the road.

4:05 – INDIANAPOLIS (11-3) at Oakland (8-6)
A playoff preview?  Haha…no.  The Raiders are now paying the price for a relatively easy opening schedule, as the Colts (if they need this game, which in this scenario, they do) should have no trouble winning on the Left Coast.

4:15 – N.Y. Giants (8-6) at GREEN BAY (10-4)
Lambeau Field on the day after Christmas.  A Green Bay team that is just better than the Giants and is looking for homefield advantage through the playoffs.  Sounds like a recipe for a nice Packers win here.

8:20 – San Diego (11-3) at CINCINNATI (9-5)
This one is really tough.  It has all the makings of a trap game for Cincy with a division showdown against Baltimore coming up next week, but I just don’t trust Norv Turner in a game like this.  Plus, the Chargers should have the division wrapped up by now–granted, they will be playing for a bye, but is it enough to motivate a San Diego team playing in freezing Ohio in late-December?  In a tough one, I like the Bengals (on whom, if you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty bullish this year).

Monday, December 27:
8:30 – NEW ORLEANS (9-5) at Atlanta (9-5)
The game of the week is, as it should be, on Monday Night Football.  This game should decide, at least, the NFC South, if not a bye or even homefield advantage in the NFC.  The Saints have to play this game, on the road, coming off a brutal trip to Baltimore.  The Falcons get this game after a viciously long road trip to the Pacific Northwest.  Fortunately, for both teams, they get an extra day of rest for it.  I have gone back and forth several times about this game, and I’m still pretty unsure of my thoughts on it.  But, my final decision comes down to having more trust in the experience of the New Orleans coach-quarterback combination than I of the Atlanta coach-QB.  But, only by a hair.

STANDINGS AFTER WEEK 16
NFC EAST
10-5 Dallas
10-5 Philadelphia
8-7 N.Y. Giants
3-12 Washington

For an amazing third year in a row, the 2010 NFC Beast will come down to a Week Seventeen game between the Eagles and Cowboys.  The Giants loss to Green Bay essentially ends their playoff hopes.  The Deadskins are, well, dead.

NFC NORTH
11-4 Green Bay
8-7 Chicago
8-7 Minnesota
6-9 Detroit

A really tough loss for the Vikings in Philly puts them on life support.  An equally devastating loss for the Bears at home against the Jets has them there, as well.  The Packers win over the Giants clinches them the NFC North and puts them a win away from the #1-seed.

NFC SOUTH
10-5 New Orleans
9-6 Atlanta
9-6 Carolina
3-12 Tampa Bay

A monumental win for the Saints in Atlanta on Monday night puts them in complete control of this division.  The Panthers were right there, but suffered a tough loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday and are now enter a de facto playoff game in Atlanta in Week Seventeen.

NFC WEST
8-7 San Francisco
6-9 Arizona
4-11 Seattle
2-13 St. Louis

An Arizona loss at home against Dallas on Christmas, coupled with a San Fran win in St. Louis the next day, give the 49ers the NFC West, and renders the Week Seventeen Arizona-SF game meaningless.

AFC EAST
11-4 New England
9-6 Miami
8-7 N.Y. Jets
1-14 Buffalo

The Pats clinch yet another AFC East title and are fighting for the bye.  The Dolphins got a big win to stay in the playoff hunt.  The Jets got a must win and are just barely breathing.  At least the Bills got that win over Jacksonville in Week Five.

AFC NORTH
10-5 Baltimore
10-5 Cincinnati
9-6 Pittsburgh
3-12 Cleveland

The Ravens beat Cleveland on the road, while Cincy handles San Diego at home, setting up a division championship game between these two in Baltimore in Week Seventeen.  The Steelers beat Carolina to inch closer to a possible wild card.

AFC SOUTH
12-3 Indianapolis
9-6 Tennessee
8-7 Houston
6-9 Jacksonville

The Colts win another AFC South.  The Titans take a huge loss in Kansas City and are now in trouble.  The Texans win in Houston to stay alive–barely.

AFC WEST
11-4 San Diego
8-7 Oakland
6-9 Kansas City
4-11 Denver

You can stick a fork in the Raiders, after losing this week at home against Indy.  The Chargers also lose and now are in jeopardy of losing out on the bye.

PLAYOFF PICTURE AFTER WEEK 16
NFC
#6 Carolina (9-6) at #3 Philadelphia (10-5)
#5 Dallas (10-5) at #4 San Francisco (8-7)

t.b.d. vs. #2 New Orleans (10-5)
t.b.d. vs. #1 Green Bay (11-4)

Still Alive:  Atlanta (9-6)

The Packers still hold a one-game lead for homefield advantage.  The Saints have now gone back into the #2-spot, thanks to their advantage in conference record over the NFC Beast leaders, Philly, who are #3.  The Niners have completely clinched #4.  The Cowboys are #5.  Right now, the Panthers are #6 because of their Week Fourteen win over Atlanta, but this will be settled on the field.  And, because the Falcons and Panthers play each other Week Seventeen, they both can’t lose, so the 8-7 teams (Giants, Vikings, and Bears) are all out.  The top 5 seeds have all clinched playoff berths.

AFC
#6 Tennessee (9-6) at #3 New England (11-4)
#5 Baltimore (10-5) at #4 Cincinnati (10-5)

t.b.d. at #2 San Diego (11-4)
t.b.d. at #1 Indianapolis (12-3)

Still Alive:  Miami (9-6), Pittsburgh (9-6), Houston (8-7), N.Y. Jets (8-7), Oakland (8-7)

The AFC, all of a sudden, is much murkier than the NFC.  The Colts are a win away from the homefield advantage.  The Chargers hold a tiebreaker over the Pats for the #2.  The AFC North has its championship game in Baltimore Week Seventeen, but right now it’s the Bengals at #4.  The Ravens are #5.  There is a three-way tie for the last spot.  The Titans are in the driver’s seat, considering they beat Pittsburgh in Week Two and Miami in Week Ten, but the Titans have Indy this week, so we’ll see.  The Texans, Jets, and Raiders are still technically alive, but it would take a miracle.

Click here for Week Seventeen (available 9/11 at 11:00 am).