Sunday, August 31, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: NFC North

Photo courtesy of Barron Network 
This is one of the most intriguing divisions in football, because all four teams have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. The NFC as a whole is very competitive conference, so attrition will cause some of these teams to have a worse record than they deserve. Overall, this will be the best division in the game according to my predictions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Green Bay Packers
2013 Record: 8-7-1
Yards Per Game: 400.2 (3rd in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 26.1 (tied-8th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 372.2 (25th in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 26.8 (tied-24th in the NFL)

The Packers made two free agent signings this offseason, as they continued their long-standing strategy of not worrying too much about using their cap space in free agency, and rather building their roster through the draft.

Even without Aaron Rodgers for most of eight games, the Packers wound up winning the division. That had more to do with the Lions and Bears failing down the stretch, but it also shows that the Pack were decent enough to stay afloat while Rodgers was out.

The offense could possibly be the best in the NFL, because obviously, Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, and should most likely have both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb healthy for the majority of the season. Jarrett Boykin looked good out of the slot last year, even with the revolving door of Seneca Wallace, Matt Flynn, and Scott Tolzien throwing him the ball.

The running back should be very good as Eddie Lacy will be even better in his second year in the league. He should be one of the best running backs in the NFL this season, especially behind an offensive line that's pretty good, as I expect to see the Packers commit to the running game more often.

One of those free agent signings was Julius Peppers, a contract that I didn't really like at the time, but we'll see how he plays this season. B.J. Raji is wildly overrated, and I'm not so sure how much the Packers will miss him on the interior of their line.

The rest of the defense has a chance to be great, given that Clay Matthews is healthy, which is never a guarantee. Nick Perry, Brad Jones, and A.J. Hawk are decent linebackers next to Matthews, and the secondary is awesome. HaHa Clinton-Dix joins Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams, and Sam Shields in what will be one of the better defensive backfields in the game.

All in all, the Packers are primed and ready for another very good season, and should be one of the early favorites to win it all.

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: AFC North

Photo courtesy of Dynasty Nerds
In terms of competitiveness, the AFC North may be the best division in all of football. There are no amazing teams in this division, but none of the four teams can be considered bad. They're all going to finish with between 7 and 11 wins. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns.

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report
Cincinnati Bengals
2013 Record: 11-5
Yards Per Game: 368.2 (10th in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 26.9 (tied-6th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 305.5 (3rd in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 19.1 (5th in the NFL)

I picked the Bengals to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and when the playoffs began, I hadn't seen anything to deter me from repeating that same prediction. Yes, major injuries on defense caused Cincy to be without they best defensive lineman, Geno Atkins, and their best defensive back, Leon Hall for the postseason. But they were missing those guys for most of the season, and still ended up with one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL.

I'm not worried about Andy Dalton. I'm not a believer in clutch, and as we've seen in the past with Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, average quarterbacks can have a big playoff run, taking their team farther than expected. And I know that the Jets didn't make the Super Bowl in 2009 or 2010, but they were ahead of the Colts at halftime and nearly came back to defeat the Steelers in each year, led by game manager extraordinaire Mark Sanchez.

The point is, you do not have to have an elite quarterback to win in the NFL, especially when that quarterbacks has a great collection of talent around him. A.J. Green is one of the best wideouts in the game, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are pretty good extra options, and tight end Tyler Eifert should have a big year because another receiver, Andrew Hawkins, left in free agency.

According to NFLSavant, the Bengals ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing attempts. Expect that ranking to jump to third or fourth this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

Jackson has coached many different position groups in his career, and even became a head coach for one season. I don't know if this exactly counts as an NFL coaching job, but he led the Oakland Raiders for a year before being senselessly fired by new General Manager Reggie McKenzie, after leading the team to an 8-8 record; their second in a row (yes, Tom Cable was fired after an 8-8 season the year prior, because logic is ignored in Oakland), and second non-losing season since 2003.

Other than to get myself worked up about how stupid the Raiders have been over the last few years, the point of that was to tell you that under Jackson, the Raiders had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, led by Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, and Marcel Reece.

I love me some Marcel Reece, but the combination of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill is better than that crew he had to work with in Oakland. The Bengals will be able to run on just about everybody this season, and set up a lot of easy passes through play action.

Losing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer should be a pretty big loss on defense, but I think that the talent is good enough to sustain themselves even without a great coach. Also, it's a chicken and egg situation where it's impossible to tell whether Zimmer made the defense much better than it should have been, or the defense was good enough on its own that it made Zimmer look like a genius.

What I do know is that Geno Atkins is an elite talent at defensive tackle, and having him play a full 16 game season should be huge for what was one of the best defenses in the NFL last year. They're also getting back cornerback Leon Hall, and drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round to play corner.

They lost Michael Johnson to Tampa Bay, which shouldn't be a huge loss, so I expect more of the same from the Cincinnati defense this season.

Once again, I think they will be one of the better teams in the NFL this coming year.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: NFC East

Photo courtesy of Hound Sports
This is definitely not the worst division in football, which I've been hearing a lot recently. There are two teams that definitely have a chance of making the playoffs, and two teams that could potentially be fine.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports
Philadelphia Eagles
2013 Record: 10-6
Yards Per Game: 417.2 (2nd in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 27.6 (4th in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 394 (29th in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 23.9 (tied-17th in the NFL)

Chip Kelly's arrival in Philadelphia brought a great amount of offensive success, as the league could not catch up with him. Their run and gun offense was super successful, allowing them to overcome their defensive faults.

Coming into this season, they added Darren Sproles in a trade with the Saints, a move that I absolutely loved at the time, while getting back Jeremy Maclin from injury. They did however, lose DeSean Jackson by cutting him after a whirlwind of trade rumors was followed up by an accusation of gang ties before he was finally cut loose. Of course, the Eagles and Chip Kelly insist that the release was only for "football reasons," but I guess we'll never know the truth on this one. The bottom line is that Philly lost a very good wide receiver, leaving them with Maclin and Riley Cooper as the starting wideouts.

They also didn't do much to improve the defense, as signing Malcolm Jenkins to replace Patrick Chung was a lateral move.

Overall, I think that the defense is about the same as it was last year, as the very good pass rush struggles to make up for the deficiencies at the back end. Meanwhile, Nick Foles and the offense regresses just enough to where the Eagles will not be a playoff team in 2014. I love Chip Kelly and I think that his system may have created a new paradigm in the NFL, but with a full offseason of adjustments under their belt, the other 31 coaches will figure out ways to stop them.

In order for this team to make the postseason, the offense has to be just as good as last season, when they were probably the second best in the league. This year, I think they'll be more like the fourth or fifth best in the NFL, a difference that will cost them a shot in the playoffs.

NFL Preview Extravaganza 2014: AFC East

Photo courtesy of Dynasty Nerds
I've been hearing a lot of chatter recently about how bad this division is outside of the New England Patriots, and I must say that I disagree. Outside of the fact that I'm a New York Jets fan, I think that the team will be rather frisky this year, as will the Miami Dolphins. The Bills have a lot of issues, and probably will not have many wins, but are by no means a team that should be clearly at the bottom of the NFL.

I'll be previewing each team in the order of last season's standings, so let's kick it off with last year's winner, and the team that's most likely to repeat as the division champion.

Photo courtesy of Zimbio
New England Patriots
2013 Record: 12-4
Yards Per Game: 384.5 (7th in the NFL)
Points Per Game: 27.8 (tied-2nd in the NFL)
Yards Per Game Allowed: 373.1 (26th in the NFL)
Points Per Game Allowed: 21.1 (10th in the NFL)

After losing in the AFC Championship Game in 2013, the Patriots stood pat (no pun intended) this offseason, outside of two major defensive acquisitions. They lost cornerback Aqib Talib which would have been a huge blow, granted they didn't replace him with the best corner in the NFL, Darrelle Revis.

And he wasn't the only major corner that they signed this offseason, as the Pats reeled in former Seahawk Brandon Browner. While he'll be missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension, he'll be a major boon to an already very good secondary upon his suspension.

The defense was almost the definition of "bend but don't break" last season, as you can see by looking at the above stats. With those two guys now covering the outside, they won't bend nearly as much.

The offense hasn't changed much from last season, when the skill position players were generally average. Rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were not very impressive, while Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski only played in 12 and 7 games, respectively. Stevan Ridley looked good for most of the season, until he was infected by the fumble bug, and he fell out of favor with Bill Belichick, whose official position with the team according to Pro-Football-Reference is "Head Coach/de facto General Manager."

Somehow, even with what was the worst supporting cast that Tom Brady has had to work with in many years, New England's offense was among the best in the league. Obviously most of the credit for that can be given to Brady for making the most of his situation.

The two bright spots on the offense were slot receiver Julian Edelman, and running back Shane Vereen, who were important parts of the team's passing game. The Pats ran the third most passing plays in the league that were short and over the middle. Edelman's 105 receptions while working almost primarily out of the slot and Vereen's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield allowed for the short passing game to become New England's bread and butter.

The fact that they liked working over the middle more than most teams means that should Gronk be available for most of the regular season, and throughout the playoffs, the Patriots offense can be unstoppable. He gives them a huge target over the middle, just the way they like it.

Another player to keep your eye on is tight end Tim Wright, who was just acquired by New England in the trade that sent Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers. He's young and athletic, and in an offense that is built around the tight end, he has the chance to become the replacement for Aaron Hernandez that the Pats were missing last season.

Combine the offensive improvements that are inevitable even without Gronkowski, as Thompkins and Dobson get better in their second season and Brandon LaFell adds another decent target, with the fact that the defense will be better, the Patriots could win the Super Bowl this season.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

New York Knicks Mailbag 1

Photo courtesy of Turn on the Knicks
As we get closer to the 2014-15 NBA season, there are a lot of questions to be answered about the Knicks and the new regime that has taken over and changed the team's identity. I've received quite a few questions from readers, so here are my answers to some of the more pressing issues facing the Knicks.

Q: Can the current Knicks roster and the Triangle offense co-exist? -Mark

A: Yes, I think that the Knicks roster can thrive in the triangle. The main lineup will revolve around Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, two players that fit very well into the offensive system. The triangle relies heavily on the post game, whether it be as a vehicle to set up other players for shots, or for the post player himself to score, which is a perfect situation for Stoudemire. Anthony will be the focal point of the offense, as usual, and should have a prolific season as a lot of the action in the triangle is tailor-made to his offensive game.

As for the guards, their primary role in the triangle is to pass to the forwards, and make cuts to create separation for open three pointers, or going towards the hoop. There's also an option for the triangle to turn into a classic two man pick-and-roll. Each of New York's guards has the skill set to fulfill their role in the triangle. Pablo Prigioni is a great shooter, and is used to playing off the ball, a role that he's played often in his two seasons with the Knicks. Jose Calderon is a good passer, and one of the best shooters in the NBA, leading the league in three point percentage two years ago. Shane Larkin is a respectable jump shooter, and his best position is as the ball handler in a pick-and-roll. Iman Shumpert is a smart off-ball cutter, and should find many lanes for drives, which is his best offensive skill. Tim Hardaway, Jr. is a young, athletic scorer, who should find all sorts of opportunities to put the ball in the bucket while playing in the triangle. J.R. Smith can be deployed as both a shooting guard, and be slotted into Carmelo Anthony's role when playing with the second unit.

Even guys Cleanthony Early, Travis Outlaw, and Andrea Bargnani, all three of whom are perimeter oriented players, can be slotted into their roles in the triangle and form a decent second unit that can at the very least, keep the team afloat while the starters rest.

Q: Who do you think will be our starting two guard this season? -Donta

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jets at Bengals Preseason Recap

Photo courtesy of NY Post
Final Score: Jets 25, Bengals 17

First Star: QB Andy Dalton- 8/8, 144 passing yards, 1 passing TD, 158.3 passer rating

Second Star: S Calvin Pryor- 3 tackles, 3 assists, 1 fumble recovery

Third Star: RB Chris Johnson- 10 rushes, 63 yards, 2 receptions, 1 yard

The Good
Calvin Pryor looked great in his first in-game action. He constantly found himself in the backfield after breaking through the offensive line. It was a very good sign for the rookie's future.

Geno Smith and the rest of the offense found their footing towards the end of the second half, putting together two touchdown drives in the second quarter.

Antonio Allen was bad at times, but for someone playing cornerback for the first time in his career, actually looked decent overall. Still, he'll need to improve quickly if Rex Ryan is going to need him to play an important in the regular season.

I.K. Enemkpali showed off his speed and agility by exploding off the line to block a punt through the back of the end zone for a safety. It doesn't really mean much, as it's only one play, but it's a good sign.

The Bad
The offense only looked good when they were matched up against Cincinnati's second team unit.

The Ugly
Penalties. The Jets were called for 12 penalties totaling 133 yards over the course of the game. Offensive linemen Willie Colon and Breno Giacomini were playing generally undisciplined football early and caused a few scuffles between the two teams.

Tajh Boyd looked absolutely terrible in the fourth quarter, going 1 for 5 with 6 passing yards. I'd like to see him get another chance later in the preseason to compete for the third string job along with Matt Simms, but he didn't do himself any favors yesterday.

The Weird
Both Calvin Pryor and running back Alex Green wore #25 in last night's game. I know it's just preseason, but I've never seen that before. And I doubt it's legal.

Quarterback Playing Time
1st Quarter- Geno Smith
2nd Quarter- Geno Smith
3rd Quarter- Michael Vick
4th Quarter-Tajh Boyd
Did Not Play- Matt Simms

Saturday, August 16, 2014

New York Mets Mailbag 1

Photo courtesy of Random Baseball Stuff
Recently I posted in a few Facebook groups looking for people to comment questions for me to answer in an article. The response for the Mets has been great so far, and I'll have to split up the questions I've received into two articles. The second edition will be coming soon.

Q: Do you think the Mets will contend next year? -Mohit

A: Yes, I do. There are certainly a few holes that need to be plugged up in the offseason, but the foundation for a playoff contender has been laid. The rotation has the potential to be one of the best in the major leagues (I got another question about the rotation, so I'll cover that in depth in Part 2.) and the offense needs a couple of extra pieces (I'll get to that later as well), but overall we should be expecting to see the Mets in the thick of a playoff race next September.

And I'm not the only one, FanGraph's Eno Sarris agrees with my belief as well:

Q: What free agents would you like to see the Mets go after this winter if they can up the payroll to $110-120 million and they can shed Colon's salary? -Al

A: It's a little bit hard to tell exactly how much the payroll will be with Bobby Parnell, Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee, Lucas Duda, Eric Young, Jr., Ruben Tejada, Jenrry Mejia, and Anthony Recker all eligible for arbitration, but Baseball-Reference estimates to all of those cases will cost about $22 million. The rest of the contracts aren't guaranteed, because of the way pre-arbitration contracts are structured in the MLB, but Baseball-Reference estimates that it will cost $6.5 million to lock up everyone else.

So far, the payroll stands at $71.5 million for 23 players. Obviously these are just rough estimates to give an idea of exactly how much the Mets can spend this winter.

I don't think that the Wilpons will be willing to increase the payroll to the number that Al mentioned in his question this season, but rather in preparation for 2016, after seeing the team be at least a fringe playoff team in 2015. I see them paying up to $90 million on the team next season, and that's being generous. Still, I'm all for hypotheticals and thought experiments, so here we go:

I do not think that Gee will be on the team next season, and in this world where the payroll skyrockets to $110-120 million, there's no need for Jonathon Niese to be in Flushing either, because the Mets can sign an ace in free agency. Look at that! I just whittled down the payroll to $60.5 million for 21 players.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Exciting News

I returned from my trip to Ghana last Friday, and I'd say that my vacation was a successful one, as I got some valuable experience working at a newspaper, where I got seven articles published over the course of my four weeks working.

But that's in the past. As for the future...

I've secured a job writing for Mets Merized Online, one of the most fun, and most visited, Mets sites out there. It's a great opportunity to significantly expand my audience.

Of course, everything that I write for them and every other website will still appear on this blog. 

Speaking of this blog, I'll be starting my NFL Preview Extravaganza later this month. Being that my trip cut into the beginning of August, I did not have nearly enough time to preview every team in the NFL separately, so I will be previewing each division as a separate article over the course of eight days leading up to the season opener on Thursday, September 4. 

After my division previews, I'll power rank all of the teams, and finish it all off with a full preview including team records, standings, playoff predictions, awards, and other random predictions. 

As this website continues to allow me more and more opportunities, I need to thank the loyal readers who have continued to check out this blog even though it's not the most famous. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The True Value of Juan Lagares

Photo courtesy of Mets Blog
As the New York Mets near the end of their ongoing rebuilding process, it's time for Sandy Alderson to re-evaluate the entire team and see who can help the team on a day to day basis over the next few years. Once that task is completed, it's time for the front office to work to get rid of the dead weight, or those who aren't seen as useful in the coming years, and to plug up the holes with quality talent. They also need to look at where there's a surplus of talent, and where there's a dearth, and to plan accordingly.

Some of the answers are rather obvious when taking a look at the Mets. David Wright looks to be regressing, but for now at least, he's still a very useful player. Obviously, the pitching depth is incredible both at the major league level and coming up through the farm system. Guys like Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Steven Matz are well-known to Mets fans, but even in smaller prospects like Jack Leathersich and Cory Mazzoni, the Mets have the ability to put together a historically great rotation and bullpen filled with homegrown talent.

It's clear that the team needs some more bats in the lineup. The question is, how many? Shortstop is an issue because while Ruben Tejada has improved upon an absymal 2013, he still hasn't been anything to write home about. He's been getting on base at a very nice pace, flashing a pretty .355 OBP, but his complete disregard for extra base hits, as evidenced by his .285 SLG, is an issue.

Outfield help is a necessity. The Young boys in left field have been nothing short of a disappointment, which is why Chris Young found himself Designated for Assignment last week. The really interesting debate begins when looking at who stands next to either of them in the outfield grass.

Juan Lagares has been an elite defensive player since his career began last April. The problem is, that his offensive success has come and gone periodically. Is it worth locking him in as the center fielder when there's no guarantee that he'll ever develop into anything more than an inconsistent hitter?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Future of Terry Collins

Photo courtesy of NY Daily News
As the Mets move toward completing their plan and becoming a playoff contender in the 2015 season, there are still many questions regarding the team. Can Noah Syndergaard play up to his nickname, Thor, in his first season in the big leagues? Can Rafael Montero improve upon what was a lackluster debut in 2014? Can Sandy Alderson find a left fielder who can hit/isn't named Young? Is Daniel Murphy going to continue his All-Star level of play?

My answers: yes, yes, yes, and no.

But the biggest problem facing the team is: who will be manning the dugout day in and day out? Right now that task belongs to Terry Collins, but it's clear that he's a certified fool. I've been calling him Clueless Collins for the past year, because that's what he is. His ever-changing lineups include asinine decisions that included batting Matt den Dekker leadoff simply because he's fast, ignoring the fact that his career .250 OBP makes him by far the worst option on the roster to hit first. In fact, I would have rather seen Bartolo Colon hit leadoff. The production level wouldn't have been much worse, and at least we would have gotten to see some hilarity: