Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 MLB Postseason Predictions

I didn't post them yesterday, but here are the total postseason predictions.


PHI over STL in 4
MIL over ARZ in 3


PHI over MIL in 6


TB over TEX in 4
DET over NYY in 5


DET over TB in 6

2011 Fall Classic: PHI over DET in 6

NHL 30 in 30: Vancouver Canucks

How can a team bounce back from a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in their own barn? Plan, and train. Hard. That's what Alain Vigneault's team has been doing, and they should be contending again for a Stanley Cup. They have very little that changed from what got them so close last season, so will the result stay the same, aside from the gut wrenching Game 7 loss?

Strengths: Up and down the roster, there is so much depth and talent. Everyone knows about the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and others, but there is so much more to it than that. They have depth on defense, especially headed by Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, and Dan Hamhuis, but they did lose Christian Erhoff to Buffalo this offseason, and it remains to be seen who will be able to replace him. Up front, they have other great players besides the big boys. Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson, Marco Sturm and others are big threats, alongside the young players that have big promise, such as Cody Hodgson, Jannick Hansen, and others. In net, Roberto Luongo is about as good as they come in net, but young goalie Corey Schneider is going to challenge him for starts this season, and that may be a very good thing for both guys.

Weaknesses: Now, there are questions about who will replace Christian Erhoff on the blue line. Keith Ballard is one that many want to replace him, but he has not lived up to his potential in Florida, and in Vancouver. There are also questions about whether the big guys can stay healthy this season, and to whether the guys aside from the Top 4 can perform to big levels like they have done in the past.

Any Help Coming? RW Nicklas Jensen has some good talent offensively, but may need to add some muscle to his frame at some point to contribute. D Chris Tanev is a light defenseman with offensive potential, but he could use to add some strength and grit to get better. G Eddie Lack has some promise too, but he may be buried behind both Luongo and Schneider on the depth chart.

Outlook: They are the odds-on favorite to win the Northwest Division again, but they have their sights set beyond that. They want to win that elusive cup, and they sure have the talent to be able to. However, can this team totally come together like they did last season in order to to beat Detroit, LA, and Chicago in the West this season.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

2011 LDS Previews

So, did you enjoy "Wild Card Wednesday"? It was truly the best night in the history of the sport, or at least the regular season. Now, the postseason awaits, and if it can only be half as good as that night was, then we'll all be really happy baseball fans.

4 Tampa Bay Rays vs. 2 Texas Rangers

This is a rematch of last year's LDS series, and in that one the road team won every game and the Rangers moved on. This year though, expect the result to be different. The Rays have to scare every team they may play due to their pitching, and mostly because of the depth of their pitching. David Price is their best pitcher, and he wasn't their best pitcher in September. This doesn't include the wild card of the staff, Matt Moore. The Rangers have the offense to fight that though. The Rangers pitching staff is good, but there are some questions about guys like Alexi Ogando, and the potential fourth starter behind him, C.J Wilson, and Colby Lewis. They have a great lineup up and down, but it's the pitching that is key in the postseason, and the Rays have a better pitching staff, and that will decide this series.

My Pick: Rays over Rangers in 4

1 Philadelphia Phillies vs. 4 St. Louis Cardinals

The Phillies just set a franchise record for wins in a season with 102 wins this year, and there is good reason for that. They are the best team in baseball right now. The Cardinals are coming into the postseason off of the Braves epic collapse, and it sure helps to be on a roll going into the postseason. It also helps that they took 6 out of the 9 meetings between the two teams in the regular season. Of course the Phillies have the superior rotation, and a slightly better offense, but the bullpens will be key in this series. The Cardinals have a suspect bullpen, and the Phillies 'pen has been up and down this season. It will also be interesting to see how the Cardinals use Matt Holliday as he tries to come back from an injury. The Phillies are just a better team than the Cardinals right now, and that will show in this series.

My Pick: Phillies over Cardinals in 4

1 New York Yankees vs. 3 Detroit Tigers

The Tigers may have been the most consistent team from about September 1 on, so that consistency should be pretty helpful as they go up against the AL's best team in the regular season. Both teams have the lineups to dominate offensively, although the Yankees have a better lineup, but not by much. The pitching is where this series will be decided. The Yankees may have a better bullpen, but the Tigers may have the deepest rotation in the AL. With Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello, and Fister, they should be able to dominate lineups easily. The key is whether the Yankees can jump on Justin Verlander in Game 1. If they can, the series complexion will change dramatically. But, I don't think that is going to happen. The Tigers are going to be a scary team this postseason.

My Pick: Tigers over Yankees in 5

2 Milwaukee Brewers vs. 3 Arizona Diamondbacks

The D'Backs are this year's Rays from 2008, or the Rockies from 2007. They surprised everyone by upending the defending World Champions, and under Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers, the team changed dramatically for the better. The Brewers were impressive from start to finish this season, and with their amazing offense, they will be tough for any team to beat. The D'Backs are a scrappy team with a surprise 20 game winner, and an offense that has guys get big hits when they need to, just like last year's Giants. The Brewers have a good rotation, and a good bullpen, so it will be tough for the D'Backs to compete. It looks like their magical ride will end at the hands of the Brew Crew, who could end up becoming the team that ends the Phillies ride.

My Pick: Brewers over D'Backs in 3

Week 4 2011 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good Week 3? We are now at the point where your fantasy team is clearly defined by what you have, and what you may be able to get on the waiver wire. Trades are key, but making good lineup decisions are the break between winning and losing. That's why you come here, to make good decisions, right?

Who to Start:

QB Eli Manning (NYG) vs. ARZ: He sure surprised me last Sunday with his performance against the Eagles without his top 2 wideouts, and he should feast upon a bad Arizona pass defense with big numbers, and possibly bigger rewards for his owners.

RB Tim Hightower (WSH) vs. STL: It seems that he's been a mainstay here so far this season, and there is good reason why. He's been really good. That should continue this week against a pretty poor Rams rush defense, which has been fourth worst in the league in fantasy points allowed to running backs.

WR Denarius Moore (OAK) vs. NE: He has become a very viable option in the past 2 games after his explosive performance in Buffalo in week 2, and he goes up against a New England pass defense that has been pretty dreadful in the first 3 weeks of this season, which bodes well for him.

WR DeSean Jackson (PHI) vs. SF: Despite the fact that many of his owners are starting him anyway, you have to keep on starting him despite his slow start. He should have success against a bad San Francisco pass defense this week, and Mike Vick will surely try to get the ball to him.

TE Jimmy Graham (NO) vs. JAX: With the injury to David Thomas still lingering around the Saints, and the fact that there is a favorable match-up ahead for the Saints, Jimmy Graham should be in almost everyone's starting line-up this week.

DEF Tampa Bay vs. IND MON: The Colts offense is horrendous, and going up against a better than average Tampa defense should hamper their efforts there again. This is a great start this week for you if you need one.

Who to Sit:

QB Joe Flacco (BAL) vs. NYJ: Even though he may be facing a Jets defense that didn't look too good last week, it is still too much of a risk to start him against a Rex Ryan pass defense, where he will see an incredible amount of pressure this week.

RB Felix Jones (DAL) vs. DET: Jones still is dealing with a bad shoulder right now, and going up against a very good Lions D (How odd is this for me to write), he should have some struggles this week, which means try to avoid him in your lineup.

WR Sidney Rice (SEA) vs. ATL: He had a big week last week in his return to the lineup, catching 8 passes for 109 yards. This week however, he may have some troubles against a good Atlanta pass D, and it doesn't help him that he was playing a poor Arizona pass D last week.

WR Nate Washington (TEN) vs. CLE: Even though he will now be the number 1 option for the Titans now because of the loss of Kenny Britt, expect some problems with him going up against Joe Haden, who is one of the most underrated corners in the league.

TE Kellen Winslow (TB) vs. IND MON: Luke Stocker is starting to get more targets than Winslow right now, and it doesn't help that Winslow has had a bad first 3 games of the season. Avoid him if you can.

DEF Pittsburgh vs. HOU: They didn't look amazing against a bad Colts offense last week, and it doesn't help that they now go against a very powerful Texans offense this Sunday. They may have some serious problems on Sunday.

3 Sleepers:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. SEA: The Seahawks defense has been pretty bad this season, and Matt Ryan needs to have a game where he will impress. This game probably will be the one for him.

RB James Starks (GB) vs. DEN: Not only is the Denver defense bad, but with Ryan Grant ailing, Starks is getting the bulk of the touches right now. With that combo, he should be a good flex option, even maybe a number 2 option.

DEF Minnesota vs. KC: The Chiefs offense has been really bad this season, and even though the Vikings defense hasn't been amazing, this could be a decent option if you have no one else to choose from.

Buyer Beware:

QB Tony Romo (DAL) vs. DET: Even though he has proven to be one of the toughest QB's in recent memory, he will actually face a very good defense this week in Detroit, and could be without both Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. If you can avoid him, try to.

Good Luck in Week 4!

NHL 30 in 30: Ottawa Senators

It's been a little more than 4 years since the Sens went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and since then there have been some problems. Free agent acquisitions that were made didn't pan out they way they were hoped, and the veteran core needed to be changed. So, Bryan Murray set out to change that. Will this much younger team with some veteran pieces be able to even contend for a postseason birth?

Strengths: Even though the overall team has more weaknesses than strengths, there are still good players on this roster. Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are still the big guns offensively for this team, and it will really help to have Alfredsson back after he missed much of last season. Behind them, there isn't much, and Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno, and former Blue Jacket bust Nikita Filatov will have to step up in order to get this team to perform well. They have potential, especially Filatov, and there needs to be a way to get the talent out of them to become the main secondary scorers on this team. Chris Phillips, Erik Karlsson, and Sergei Gonchar lead the way on defense, and while that is not an amazing group, it sure is very solid. In net, Craig Anderson is a hot and cold goalie, and when he is on, he is really on.

Weaknesses: There are plenty of them, so going over all of them will be tough. But there are some pressing ones. First, how will new coach Paul (don't call him John) MacLean will try to institute a fast paced offensive style that may not totally suit what the Sens roster has on it right now, especially with very little scoring depth. There is little depth overall on this roster, and possibly the biggest question is whether Craig Anderson will perform the way he did in Florida and Colorado some of the time, when he was regarded as one of the more promising goalies in hockey?

Any Help Coming? D David Rundblad is an offensive defenseman, who has great skills and size all around, but there are questions about his defensive game, and that he plays a bit too much of a complicated games at times. D Jared Cowen is a big player, and has amazing size and strength, but there are questions about how he will recover from a pretty nasty injury. C Mika Zibanejad has some offensive talent and promise, but he may be a while away from making the trek over from Sweden to North America.

Outlook: They have a ton of problems, and they will have a lot of work to do to make the postseason. They need to change their entire philosophy with this new coach, and with very little scoring depth, this team will have trouble scoring, and possibly defending their own net. They may have to go down a little further, before they go up again.

NHL 30 in 30: Chicago Blackhawks

After hoisting Lord Stanley's cup in 2010, last year was a bit of a sobering reality for the Blackhawks. It ended in heartbreak in Vancouver, but not before they nearly did something unthinkable. They are restocked and reloaded this season, but will the new grit and toughness carry the Blackhawks back to the Stanley Cup?

Strengths: There is still an amazing amount of talent on this team. Everyone knows about Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp, but they did make some moves to add grit and toughness to a team that has plenty of scoring depth. Andrew Brunette, Steve Montador, Jamal Mayers, and Dan Carcillo are just some of the new faces that were brought in to tough out games and be the veteran toughness and fight that this team lacked in some ways last season. They did lose Brian Campbell to Florida this offseason, but they are very confident in their young defense corps to be as good as it has been in the past two seasons. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, and others are still incredibly talented and they are holdovers from the cup winning team, so they still know how to win, and win big. In net, Corey Crawford has been impressive over the past couple of seasons, and he is still is very impressive and figures to stay around the discussion as one of the better goaltenders in hockey, and he goes under the radar too. Combine this with great coaching, this team is still supremely impressive up and down.

Weaknesses: There are some scoring and overall depth questions, especially up front with the forwards. They have the great  top 2 lines, but the bottom 2 leave something to be desired. They are the grinding lines, but it remains to be seen  as to whether they can have some offensive impacts, let alone with guys like Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg not living up to their potential at this point.

Any Help Coming? LW Jeremy Morin is a pure goal scoring forward, and is extremely creative with the puck on his stick. He may be a bit slower skating wise, but his offensive talents are still very promising. C Marcus Kruger is a very good playmaker with some great ability, even though he could still use some strength and muscle. C Mark McNeill is about as close to a true power forward as you can get, and he does have some good offensive talents, but there are questions about his focus.

Outlook: They have aspirations for a Stanley Cup this season, and this season they will be contenders in the West, There are questions about the scoring depth, but the new veteran grit and toughness should get them pretty far this season, but how far remains to be seen.

NHL 30 in 30: Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are a Stanley Cup team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, and without them, they are still pretty good. Sure they lost in 7 to Tampa last season, but they know that as a team they may be one of the best in hockey. So, now that the Penguins are getting at least one of the two back, can they head back to the Stanley Cup?

Strengths: Everyone knows about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the Penguins have other pieces that will pay dividends this season. James Neal is a big piece that the Pens acquired last trade deadline, and he should be able to get much better on the wing of either Crosby or Malkin. The same goes with Chris Kunitz, newly acquired Steve Sullivan, Tyler Kennedy, and a host of others. They are all well known names, and they can all play at a very high level, as proven by last season. In the defense corps, it's the same situation. It's filled with great talent, and those players can carry a team, as evidenced by last season. And, they have a great goaltender in Marc Andre-Fleury, and he can carry a team to a Stanley Cup, as evidenced by 2 seasons ago. Up and down the roster, they have the talent that can carry any team, and they have it from top to bottom.

Weaknesses: It is all on keeping Geno and Crosby healthy, and that's no easy task. Even though the Penguins have proven to be just fine without them, but having them makes them an amazing team up and down. If they can stay healthy, they can win easily, but there should be no problem with the depth on this team.

Any Help Coming? There are good prospects in this organization. RW Beau Bennett has plenty of offensive talent, and do almost everything well with the puck. He needs to add strength to his frame, but he can still become a potential top 6 forward. D Simon Despres has a good combination of skill, size, and hockey IQ.  He may not play as physically as he should, but that may come with time. LW Eric Tangradi is a great power forward prospect, and he has the complete package of leadership and skill.

Outlook: This team has the potential to win a Stanley Cup, and this roster has enough depth up and down to replace almost anyone if he gets hurt. They can take anyone in the East, and almost anyone in the West. If they can stay healthy, they may very well get another Stanley Cup to add to their trophy case.

NHL 30 in 30: New Jersey Devils

Last year was a tale of two halves for the Devils. One half was an absolute disaster, the other was a nearly amazing comeback. Overall though, it combined to have the Devils missing the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Can new head coach Peter DeBoer take this team back to the postseason?

Strengths: The Devils are getting back a major piece in their jigsaw that they didn't have last season: Zach Parise. He can create major scoring opportunities for a team that had major scoring deficiencies a season ago. Combined with Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and eventually some others including a healthy Travis Zajac, the scoring should improve for the Devils. It should help that they'll finally have a healthy defense corps, led by Henrik Tallinder, that they'll now allow fewer goals than they did a season ago, even more so with a healthy Martin Brodeur in net. It is a team in transition, and chemistry could be a key within DeBoer's system that he takes with him from Florida, and he should be able to do better in the swaps of NJ, mainly because he has more talent than he had in Florida, even in the season where the Panthers were a tiebreaker away from making the postseason.

Weaknesses: There is very little scoring depth behind Kovalchuk, Parise, and Zajac, and there needs to be development behind those guys in order to propel the Devils above the 3 top teams in the Atlantic. There isn't a bevy of options behind those guys, and now one unknown guy will have to step up in order to give this team a chance. Also, they need a patchwork defense corps to gel together, even though it is better than it was before, especially with newcomer Adam Larsson. And, can Marty Brodeur regain his past form, or will last season's Brodeur appear again, and cause struggles for this team?

Any Help Coming? Aside from Adam Larsson, there are some very good prospects in the system. D Jon Merrill has great upside, and projects to be a top pairing D-Man in the future. C Jacob Josefson is highly skilled, and has all of the tools to become a crafty top 2 centermen in his future, however he does need to add some muscle bulk. LW Mattias Tedenby is flashy and has plenty of skill and talent. He is small, but that means he can be crafty with the puck and he can shift in and out of checks to create plays.

Outlook: There seems to be too many questions for the Devils this season. It remains to be seen as to how an offensive system that DeBoer wants to implement will work in a place like New Jersey, where defense has been king. The overall depth on this team is in question, and whether they can consistently score is another big question. They would have to overcome a lot to make the postseason, and there is doubt as to whether they can do that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Florida Panthers

What happens after your team hasn't made the playoffs since 2000? Change. And in the Panthers case, there is a lot of it. From the majority of the roster, to the PA announcer and the color of the seats at the Bank Atlantic Center, this has truly been a "Redvolution" (Just for you Yormark), for the Panthers. Now, the question is, will this radical change net in an actual playoff birth?

Strengths: To be brutally honest, last year, this team was no better than an AHL team. And because of that, at the trade deadline and this offseason, numerous faces were let go, but not too many of them will be major losses, sans one. To fill all of those spots on the roster, the Panthers went out on a spending spree. Here a just a few of the new faces sporting Panther red this season: Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Kris Vertsteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley, Ed Jovanovski, Brian Campbell, and Jose Theodore. That's a lot of new talent coming in, and most of them are here as good veteran influences and possible scoring threats to go along with the host of young players the Panthers are bringing up. Two Panthers mainstays did stay on though, David Booth and Stephen Weiss, and they are the players who will most benefit from this. Weiss has been very consistent in his career, and Booth has been a 30 goal scorer in the past. The young kids are the ones that the Panthers are really excited about, especially Keaton Ellerby, Evgeny Dadonov, Jack Skille, and many others. In net, Jose Theodore comes over from Minnesota, and should be a decent stabilizer in net.

Weaknesses: The problem with Jose Theodore, is that Tomas Vokoun left to make room for him, which is a downgrade. Vokoun was incredibly solid for the Panthers, and the only blemish on his resume was not making the postseason. Theodore has a lot of pressure on him to perform, or at least wait until the talented prospect Jacob Markstrom is ready. The other question surrounds the ability of the many new faces to gel together under new head coach Kevin Dineen, and whether they will be able to effectively is the major question surrounding this team. They will improve their offense, but a legitimate number 1 scoring threat needs to emerge.

Any Help Coming? This "Redvolution" has also had a dramatic effect in the farm system, which for the Panthers is now arguably the best in hockey. C Jonathan Huberdeau is an offensive wizard, and is completely well rounded as an overall player. He has a chance to make the roster this year, but he'll likely go back to the QMJHL. G Jacob Markstrom is the best goaltending prospect in hockey, and is incredibly skilled and mentally tough. D Erik Gudbranson is a Chris Pronger type defenseman who can hit hard, and is a future captain for this team. And those are just the top 3.

Outlook: Even if they don't snap their playoff drought this season, this season will be one to remember in Florida. Just the scope of the overall changes to the roster and the promise of the amazing farm system which may only get better with time. This is a team on a meteoric ascent, and the playoffs are not out of the question this season, even if they will be tough to get to.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: San Jose Sharks

A wild season for them last year that culminated in a crazy exit from the postseason in the Western Conference Finals, culminated with a crazy offseason that saw the Sharks wheel and deal to a very different team. The core mainly stays the same, but will the new guys be able to get this team to the elusive Stanley Cup Finals?

Strengths: Scoring was not a problem for the Sharks last year, of course when you have Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski, it probably shouldn't be. But, Heatley was traded to Minnesota in a blockbuster move on that netted the Sharks Marty Havlat. He likely will not replace Heatley's scoring threat, but Heatley himself looked a bit slower last season, and maybe the change in scenery will help Havlat, as he'll be a secondary scorer in San Jose as opposed to Minnesota. In a separate trade with Minnesota, the Sharks got Brent Burns, who will now help Danny Boyle in becoming a decent pairing of offensive threats along the blue line. The departures of many Sharks pluggers from a season ago will allow the decent amount of young guys like Jamie McGinn, Benn Ferriero, and Jason Demers to plug those holes and become permanent spots on the team, and they have good talent to boot. In net, Antti Niemi did step up a season ago, and has filled the void left by Evgeni Nabokov, except in the playoffs, where he was much better.

Weaknesses: When a team that made the Western Conference Finals makes alterations as big as what Doug Wilson did, there are going to be some questions. Even though the Sharks addressed needs, who will they plug in on the third and fourth lines, which have lacked serious production in the past couple of seasons. On the blueline, will Brent Burns help the defense group that has had a serious confusion in roles in the past few seasons, especially with guys like Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Even though they have plenty of scoring depth, Dany Heatley's scoring touch will be tough to replace, and the question is who will replace him?

Any Help Coming? The Shakrs don't have an amazing farm system, but there are some good young players on their way up. D Taylor Doherty is 6'7'', a huge Zdeno Chara type defenseman, who can become a bruising blue liner at some point. G Harri Sateri is a good Finnish goaltending prospect who may end up for the first time in his career playing in the U.S. C Tommy Wingels is a great two-way forward who can do everything pretty well, or a jack-of-all-trades kind of prospect.

Outlook: The Sharks have reigned suprme over the Pacific for 4 years straight, and with the stern test coming from the other California teams, the Sharks had to make some changes to keep up. They did, so now it's a question of how far can this team with the current core go? The Western Conference Finals are step 1, and the Stanley Cup Finals are in step 2, and do they have enough to finally break through? If they don't, a cry for more sweeping changes may need to be answered.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators, up until a season ago, did not make it out of the first round of the postseason. Last year though, was a different story. They finally were able to crack the second round, and nearly chased Vancouver out of the playoffs. This offseason though, the Preds took some serious hits to their roster this offseason, and now the only coach the Preds have ever known, Barry Trotz, will try to keep the Preds ship steered towards the postseason.

Strengths: The best part of this team is their defensive depth, and they maintain from the possible best top pairing in the NHL in Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, all the way down to the young guys moving their way up such as Ryan Ellis and Jonathon Blum. They have never had trouble with defensive depth, as David Poile always seems to draft well in this area, and this year will be no exception. These guys can check, captain the power play, and set up the scoring plays. Behind them, Pekka Rinne has proven to be one of the league's best goaltenders, and he'll look to keep that up this season. He'll be expected to mask the Preds limited offensive capabilities, and he was able to a season ago, so now the question is can he repeat that performance? While the Predators have limited offensive capabilities, they do have some weapons that can perform highly. Sergei Kostitsyn, the leading scorer from a year ago, comes back with Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher, and Blake Geoffrion, who has some goal scoring in his genes, as he's the grandson of the great Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion.

Weaknesses: They did lose a good deal of veteran depth on the team this offseason. They lost their playoff MVP in Joel Ward, who went to Washington, vets Steve Sullivan and Marcel Goc, who went to Pittsburgh and Florida respectively, and Matthew Lombardi, who never panned out in Nashville due to concussions. These vets will test the depth of the organization, as they transition from the older core to a new younger one with limitless potential, but it has not been fully recognized yet. The scoring depth will be tested once again, as they don't have a true big-time number 1 scorer, but a boatload of secondary scoring. Who will carry the torch for the Preds this season in that area?

Any Help Coming? They have one of the best farm systems in hockey, and that is proven when people take a glance at the prospect list. Aside from Jonathon Blum and Ryan Ellis, there are other good prospects in the organization too. LW Taylor Beck is a power forward who can become an elite scorer someday, and RW Austin Watson is a great two-way forward with some heart and soul to boot. D Roman Josi is a complete prospect, with great talent on the blue line, and with some offensive potential as well.

Outlook: This team has the potential to go deep in the playoffs once again, but the depth of the organization will be tested. There is no doubt that this team can do what they did last year again, but they need to continue to find th scoring threats in order to keep this team heading towards the playoffs.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Week 3 2011 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good Week 2? This week is a transition week, because of the many injuries we've seen over the past 2 weeks, fantasy line-ups are switiching and are in a constant state of flux. So, this advice may be more important than ever this week.
Who to Start:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. JAX: For now, I retract any "Scam Newton" comments until he comes back down to earth. He has shocked everyone with his play, and there is no reason to wait for it to fall just yet. He faces a Jags D that has back 4 questions, even though it hasn't been as bad as many people think it has been.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) vs. PHI: Tom Coughlin should subscribe to the power football theory already. The strength of a battered Giants offense is cleary their running game, and against an Eagles rush defense that has been woeful in the first two games, Bradshaw should get the perfect combination of more touches and great matchup to have a big game.

WR Steve Johnson (BUF) vs. NE: No one, circles the wagons, like the Buffalo Bills (Chris Berman Voice), or at least so far in the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been lights out for the Bills so far this season, and that means great things for Steve Johnson, who goes up against a Pats pass D that has been lit up so far this season.

WR Santana Moss (WSH) vs. DAL MON: The Cowboys secondary has been cobbled together to say the least due to injuries, and combine that with Moss' recent success against Dallas, they make a recipe for success for him on Monday night.

TE Rob Gronkowski (NE) vs. BUF: Ordinarly, no one would have any idea of who would be the big TE attraction for the Pats on any given Sunday, but due to the injury to Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski will see big targets, and likely big numbers as a result.

DEF San Diego vs. KC: The Chiefs have been woeful on offense this season, only scoring 10 points. Missing Jamaal Charles sure doesn't help. San Diego's D should have a field day.

Who to Sit:

QB Jay Cutler (CHI) vs. GB: Wait, I know you're asking yourselves, "Hasn't the Packers pass defense been bad so far?" Well yes, but remember that the Bears offensive line is a trainwreck, so poor Cutler will be under constant pressure all day. Watch out if you start Cutler.

RB Michael Bush (OAK) vs. NYJ: This is an off the board pick, and even though he still is not a bad choice, beware that going up against the 9th ranked rushing D in the NFL, he may have some struggles. He has only had 13 total carries this season, so watch out for that too.

WR Percy Harvin (MIN) vs. DET: He has seen very little offensive action this season, and with the Vikes going up against a great Lions pass defense, he may be one to totally avoid this Sunday.

WR Hakeem Nicks (NYG) vs. PHI: I know it sounds crazy to bench him, but think that he will be matched up against Nnamdi Asomugha on Sunday, so he will see few targets, and through that, he'll create few fantasy points.

TE Kellen Winslow (TB) vs. ATL: He has had very little success against the Falcons in his career, and despite the fact that Atlanta does not have a very good pass defense, he may be one to avoid, if you have a better option on Sunday.

DEF Houston vs. New Orleans: I know the Texans have the number 1 overall defense right now, but mind you those numbers were put up against a punchless Colts team and a Dolphins team that is awful at home. This is their first true test, and until they pass it, I see no reason to start them against a proven offense this Sunday.

3 Super Sleepers:

RB Ryan Mathews (SD) vs. KC: Almost anyone on the Chargers offense should be a start on Sunday, but Mathews would normally be second to Mike Tolbert, but due to his injury, he may be a decent surprise option if you need one.

WR Steve Smith (CAR) vs. JAX: He may not truly fall into this category, but he will likely be on someone's bench on Sunday, and that's a shame. His career has seen a major resurgence with Cam Newton, and Jacksonville's D is not going to pose a huge impasse for his resurgence.

WR A.J Green (CIN) vs. SF: He had an explosion of sorts last week in Denver, and going up against a porous San Fran pass D should help him and Andy Dalton gel even more.

Buyer Beware:

RB Beanie Wells (ARZ) vs. SEA: He hurt his hamstring in a practice on Thursday, so if he plays, he may not be at 100%. That is something to take into account if you have him in your lineup on Sunday.

Good Luck in Week 3!

NHL 30 in 30: New York Rangers

They needed an assist from the Carolina Hurricanes in order to sneak into the postseason a year ago, and flamed out in the first round against Washington. This season though, the Rangers and Glen Sather did what they are known to do, go out for the blockbuster move. They did that, but will it help them get past the first round and beyond this season in a very tough East?

Strengths: They have an eclectic, but very good mix between veteran and young players. The major problem last season was scoring, and Brad Richards should alleviate that problem easily. Not only can he score 30+ goals this season, he is pretty familiar with John Tortorella from his days in Tampa when he won the cup in 2004. His presence should help the majority of the young potential on this team. The young potential is all over this roster, including with Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, and of course, the new captain Ryan Callahan. Richards' presence should also help Marian Gaborik regain his Minnesota form, as the Rangers could desperately use him to become a 1-2 scoring punch with Richards. On defense, the youth is evident there too along with the veteran presence, including Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, the much hyped Tim Erixon, and Marc Staal, who may end up missing time with post-concussion symptoms. Their biggest strength is of course in net, with King Henrik. The amazing thing is he is only 29, so he will continue to have big seasons for a long time coming for the Broadway Blueshirts.

Weaknesses: Getting this team to gel together and play the way many expect them to may be quite difficult. The consistency may be the biggest challenge for this offense, and especially getting it from Marian Gaborik will be the challenge posed to Brad Richards. If they can find this scoring depth and the consistency they need, they will be awfully tough to beat. They may need to find someone to step up and take Marc Staal's place at the top of the defensive totem pole while he heals, and that too may be a tough challenge for the Rangers to deal with, even though they have King Henrik to mask most of the issues.

Any Help Coming? LW Chris Kreider is a promising prospect, who is a speedy power forward. He can score with the best in college hockey, and is very solid on both ends of the ice. D Ryan McDonagh is a very fast defenseman, and speed may be his biggest asset on the ice. He can also play an all-ice game, which is a great thing for a young defenseman to be able to do. RW Christian Thomas is small, but fast again with a nice scoring touch.

Outlook: The Rangers have reason for optimism this year, and if the team can gel they will be finally able to possibly make their way out of the first round for the first time since 2007-08. Brad Richards was the biggest free agent name available for a reason, and he should be able to possibly turn this team around. How fast he can do it, and how well he can do it, in conjuction with the mix of new and old, will be the biggest challenge for this team under the lights of Broadway.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Dallas Stars

They snuck up on almost everybody, and nearly made the playoffs because of it, falling short because of a last day loss to the Minnesota Wild. The Stars may have taken a bigger hit this offseason, losing their heart and soul in Brad Richards. But, they enter deeper then before. But, how will this team truly in transition everywhere fare this season?

Strengths: There are a decent amount of new faces this season that should help with veteran leadership, and more. Michael Ryder comes over from the Stanley Cup Champs, and he is a good top 6 forward, and along with him comes Radek Dvorak, Vern Fiddler, and others, who will be able to add some grit, and versatility to this team. This newfound depth is something Dallas did not have much of last season besides Richards and Jamie Benn. This newfound depth should also help new coach Glen Gulutzan make a stamp on this team. They have some scoring threats in Loui Eriksson, Breden Morrow, Steve Ott, Mike Ribiero and especially the young burgeoning star of the team, Jamie Benn. He has a ton to prove that he can become the face of the franchise, but he looks like he's well on his way to becoming a star, and the Dallas Stars need that badly. He needs to improve on his 22 goals from a season ago, and if he can, it will really allow this team to take a step forward. In net, Kari Lehtonen is a good goaltender who still has something to prove.

Weaknesses: Behind some of the main players, there is not much depth still at scoring. Ryder will help with that, however there is no major second scoring threat, or even one that makes you gameplan against him. The blueline is also a slight sore spot, despite having D Alex Goligoski, and some other players who can help. The whole team has a sense of needing to prove something to everyone after falling just short of the postseason, and Brad Richards departing, so that chip on their shoulder could help or hurt them.

Any Help Coming? This team may be one of the only ones in hockey that has a top prospect that is a goalie. Jack Campbell has the makings of a possible star. He is athletic, a proven winner, and competes hard on every play, no matter how small. D Philip Larsen is a bit small, but has all around skills to become a decent defenseman at some point in his career, and that may happen this season. RW Alex Chiasson has a good blend of size and skill, and could become a decent second or third liner at some point.

Outlook: They were 2 point shy of making the postseason a season ago, but they may be a bit further than that this year. They will be competitive, and likely out of the Pacific basement, but the playoffs seem like a stretch this season. With Joe Nieuwendyk at the helm, there is reason for optimism along with a new owner, but another season without the postseason in Dallas seems likely.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Philadelphia Flyers

For most of the 2010-2011 season, the Flyers looked like Stanley Cup contenders. But, something never seemed right after the calendar turned to March, and they barely held onto their second seed in the East. Whatever it was that had changed, it boiled over in their sweep at the hands of the Stanley Cup Champs. There was an extreme makeover this offseason, but will it change anything?

Strengths: For the guys that they did bring in, the biggest name was of course, Ilya Bryzgalov. He signed a monster deal, and now has the expectations of a city on his shoulders. He may be the first sure thing goaltender since Ron Hextall retired, and that is tough to live up to. But, he should be better than the revolving door at goaltender they had last season. They did bring in some new faces that may really change the culture of this team, led by Jaromir Jagr, who has not played in the NHL since the 2007-08 season when he was with the Rangers. There is some doubt as to how much he'll be able to do, but he should have a spark on the offense, along with the other new faces such as Max Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and the possibility of seeing the young kids Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier make the team. The holdovers are no pushovers either, with the Flyers now getting a healthy Chris Pronger back, along with the dynamic scorers in James Van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere. The new youth on the team is very good, and a welcome change to a team that was incredibly veteran driven in the past.

Weaknesses: The losses of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards cannot be replaced quickly, even though the Flyers still have big scoring threats all around. The question is, will the young guys be able to replace the big scorers that left? There remains some speculation as to whether the focus of the Flyers has shifted from offense to defense and goaltending, and if they can, it would be a major change from the offensively slanted team under Peter Laviolette. Another major question is: How much better are the Flyers with Bryzgalov as their goaltender? He has won a Stanley Cup in his career, granted he was the back up to J.S Giguere in Anaheim. As a starter, he has not taken a team past the first round in the postseason, so taking a team like the Flyers with all of the expectations to a Stanley Cup may be a challenge.

Any Help Coming? They had a very weak farm system up until this offseason, where the youth movement changed that. Aside from Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, there isn't much in the system. LW Eric Wellwood plays a lot like his brother Kyle, and that means a limited offensive output for him in his future. D Erik Gustafsson has some promise as a lower pairing defenseman in the future, and LW Brendan Ranford has strong offensive talents, but he has a size issue that is magnified because he doesn't skate well.

Outlook: The Flyers have changed plenty this offseason, and it may not help this team in the short term. They are a much better team in the long term, but this year and next, they may have to take some lumps this season. They won't miss the playoffs, as they are a better team than that, but the big boys of the East such as Washington, Pittsburgh, and Boston, are better than this team is right now. The moves were needed, but the Flyers are a team in transition without the big guns they are used to having.

Monday, September 19, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Anaheim Ducks

This team surprised a lot of people by finishing fourth in the West last season, led by Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry. The Ducks resurgence last season meant that the LA hockey had a competitive hockey rivalry that almost ended with the teams playing each other in the postseason. The Ducks want to once again challenge for an open Pacific division title, with their loads of offensive talent, but will they be able to overcome last seasons issues this year?

Strengths: They have an offensive juggernaut going with the likes of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan, all of whom can score in bunches, and quickly. Offense wasn't a problem a season ago, and it surely won't be an issue this season. They don't have much depth behind the dynamite top line, but they do have Teemu Selanne, who decided to come back for one more season, the Captain Saku Koivu, new acquisition Andrew Cogliano, and they also boast the highest scoring defense corps from a season ago led by Lubomir Visnovsky and young star Cam Fowler. Bob Murray went out this offseason to try and address the depth problems up front, and he did so with some good additions such as Cogliano in order to improve the scoring problems behind the top line. When goalie Jonas Hiller is healthy, he can be one of the best goalies in the NHL, however it is still an open question as to whether he will be able to rebound from his spell with Vertigo last season and not looking so amazing in the postseason.

Weaknesses: The scoring depth is still a problem, and they will need guys like Andrew Cogliano and Luca Sbisa to score more in order to try to mask the depth issues. There are also questions with Jonas Hiller and whether he will be ready to carry the load for the Ducks this season. They did acquire Dan Ellis just in case there is a serious problem with Hiller and his health. The defense can score a lot, but can they be a rock solid defensive unit? There are also some doubts about that as well.

Any Help Coming? The farm system is a an issue, mainly because there is not a ton of depth in it. However, there are some bright spots.RW Emerson Etem could be blossoming into a great, two-way offensive weapon for the Ducks soon, as he did so well in major junior hockey. C Peter Holland is a good power forward prospect, but there are some questions about his hockey sense and some other questions brought up by his interview at the 2009 draft. RW Kyle Palmieri is a great agitator and is a hard worker, but his skills are not amazing, and doesn't have amazing upside.

Outlook: To replicate the success of a season ago, they will need not only Corey Perry to repeat his Hart Trophy winning performance of a season ago, they will also need big years from both Getzlaf and Ryan in order to compete for the Campbell Bowl. They have some issues with scoring depth and on the back end, and the questions about Jonas Hiller are still cropping up. They may have playoff potential, but not much more than that.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have made the postseason for 20 straight seasons, and they always seem to take the hits in the offseason pretty well. They lost 3 big players to retirement this offseason, but they kept a major one in the fold. As always, they are a cup contender again. Will they be able to keep the momentum up?

Strengths: They still have the veteran core that is tried and tested for winning. They were able to keep Nicklas Lidstrom from retirement, even though they lost 3 other key veterans, and his presence alone keeps the blue line for the Red Wings stable. The major veteran pieces are still around, including Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, and others who should keep this team in transition stable. They did sign some new players to replace the ones that they lost, and the big one was D Ian White, who will try to replace Brian Rafalski. For what little youth there is on the big club's roster, the goalie, Jimmy Howard, is a very good young goaltender who continues to be one of the better younger goaltenders in the NHL. They also have something else this season that they have rarely had in the past, and that is cap space, to make a move or two at the trade deadline if they have to.

Weaknesses: The losses of Brian Rafalski, Chris Osgood, and Kris Draper are going to hurt this team, because the replacements the Wings have right now may not be totally adequate. Due to the veteran losses, there are some younger players that have to impress and perform very well to replace those that retired, and the major player that fits this is D Jakub Kindl. He has a lot of expectations around him, because of his performances last year due to the blue line injuries, and he'll need to continue to impress.

Any Help Coming? D Brendan Smith is a very good offensive defenseman with soft hands, and can become a great top pair offensive defenseman at some point. C Tomas Tatar is a promising offensive talent for the Wings, and his offensive instincts and talents are unquestioned. RW Tomas Jurco has some amazing talent, but he needs to round his skills together in order to become a very good NHL-er.

Outlook: Because Nicky Lidstrom decided against retirement, the Wings are still a cup contender, even though they play in possibly the toughest division in hockey. They have the veterans to win the close games and perform in the postseason, but one can wonder whether the losses they suffered this offseason will really come back to bite them in the postseason chase this season.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Columbus Blue Jackets

10 years, endless struggles, and a near financial collapse later, Scott Howson has decided to put his foot down. Or, his pen down, as he has been writing big contracts all offseason in order to get the Blue Jackets to be relevant. Now, everything rides on this season, and whether they can make the postseason or not. This is a tough task, but will the many new guys be able to help them get there?

Strengths: They reeled in some big names this offseason, and the biggest of the big was Jeff Carter. He should form a top line combo with Rick Nash, and become a deadly scoring duo. The presence of Rick Nash will make Jeff Carter better, and vice-versa. They also acquired very good defenseman James Wisniewski from Montreal and signed him to a big deal this offseason, along with former Islander mainstay Radek Martinek. They also have a very good young group aside from these major newcomers, in Derick Brassard, Matt Calvert, and others, who will have to step up in order for this team to have success. But maybe the biggest question, is whether goalie Steve Mason will be able to regain his Vezina contending play from from a few seasons ago in order to propel this team after having a sub-par season last year.

Weaknesses: They have a lot of young talent, and with that brings a lot of questions. There is some good veteran depth, but there isn't an amazing amount of it. There are a decent amount of holes on the roster where the abundance of young talent could fit in, but those players have questions as to whether they are ready or not. There is also some worry about secondary scoring, behind Carter and Nash.

Any Help Coming? The fourth overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, Ryan Johansen is the best of a very good bunch of prospects. He is a good puck mover, and is also a very good power forward. D David Savard is a very good balanced D-Man who is powerful on the blue line, yet can generate a good offensive output as well. D John Moore is a good skating defenseman who has great offensive potential, and may become a good powerplay captain at some point.

Outlook: Columbus fans have hope for the first time that maybe, their team is finally on the way up. The new additions have sparked the optimism, and even Rick Nash is feeling it to. The many, many young players should be a cause for optimism as well. There are still questions that Scott Arniel will have to answer, and whether he can or not may determine whether the Blue Jackets taste the postseason again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Washington Capitals

If you could compare the Washington Capitals to any other team in sports, the best comparison may be drawn with  the San Diego Chargers. Great in the regular season, yet they can never quite break through in the postseason, and last year was just more of the same. This offseason though, George McPhee made some moves that may dramatically alter the perception of this team, and they are one of the favorites to hoist the cup. Now, will they be burned by the expectations?

Strengths: This team is so deep at almost every position, that it makes many wonder why they can't get past the second round of the postseason. The big guns haven't changed in Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Alexander Semin are still there, and they will still score big as they always have. They resigned Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble, who could be good primary scorers on any other teams, but here they are great secondary scorers. Mike Green is still in district, and he hopes to rebound from a sub-par season. They added some grit and toughness this offseason in Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, as well as Roman Hamrlik, and Dennis Wideman from an in season trade with Florida from last season. But the biggest acquisition overall was Tomas Vokoun, who they not only got on the cheap, but they have a proven regular season big time goaltender with fewer questions than any goalie they have had since Olaf Kolzig. However, the playoffs have eluded him because of where he played, so he'll feel the weight of higher expectations this year more than any other.

Weaknesses: As good as this team is, there are still questions. Will they be able to meet the lofty expectations this season more than any other? Will Tomas Vokoun prove to be the goalie that the Caps needed to take the next step more than their plethora of young goaltenders? Will they finally be able to breakthrough in the postseason? All of these questions are going to possibly take a toll on the team's psyche, and it will be interesting to see how Bruce Boudreau deals with them.

Any Help Coming? RW Evgeny Kuznetsov is their best prospect. He still has a lot to learn, but the talent is there to become a breakout star. He has a good mixture of scoring skill and physical ability, and he can create with his supreme skating abilities and other ones too. G Braden Holtby is the best goaltending prospect they have, and he has the size and style to be a great goaltender in this league some day. D Dmitri Orlov is a good offensive defenseman, who needs to round out his skills some.

Outlook: This team has a ton of expectations to meet, and they are incredibly high. The team has amazing depth and may be the deepest top to bottom in the NHL, and their regular season prowess will not be in question. What will though, is their mental toughness, especially when the calendar turns to April and May.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

2011 Week 2 Fantasy Advice

Did you have a good week 1? Now, we are learning a bit more about who may be good starts, and who are going to be the good waiver wire pickups. We also have the questions surrounding injuries and others, so checking out the waiver wires and your lineups is a good thing to do.

Who to Start:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. SEA: Last week was about as abysmal as it could get for Big Ben. He had accounted for 3 picks, and the Steelers only scored 7 points. This week though, he gets a suspect Seattle defense and this is their second roadie in a row, and the Steelers are not happy. This has blowout central written all over it.

RB Tim Hightower (WSH) vs. ARZ: He was a good sleeper choice a week ago, but he's a very good start this week. He's facing his former team this week, and the Redskins should try to establish tempo with a good ground game, so Hightower looks like a good start this week.

WR Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. JAX: Even though the Jags defense was pretty stout a week ago, Kenny Britt had a big day with 2 TD's, and with the Jaguars not having Derek Cox, their second corner, this week due to a rib injury, Holmes could have a very big day.

WR Mario Manningham  (NYG) vs. STL MON: With the injury to Hakeem Nicks, Manningham should see increased targets this week. With that, and the fact that he's facing a weakened Rams secondary, Manningham may have a very big game on Monday Night.

TE Owen Daniels (HOU) vs. MIA: After last week's demolition of the Dolphins by the Pats, no one will even hesitate to start any Texans offensive players this week. Daniels should have a big game against a Dolphins defense that allowed 189 yards and 2 TD's to Pats Tight Ends a week ago.

DEF Dallas vs. SF: The 49ers may have scored 33 points a week ago, but remember that 14 of them came via Ted Ginn kick returns. They had trouble moving the offense all day against a bad Seahawks D, and Dallas' is much better.

Who to Sit:

QB Donovan McNabb (MIN) vs. TB: He threw for 39 yards TOTAL a week ago. That's all you need to know.

RB Mark Ingram (NO) vs. CHI: Now we know a bit more about how much Ingram will be used in the 3 back rotation in New Orleans, and it involves Ingram getting the fewest amount of carries. Until something changes, Ingram is not a player to start.

WR Chad Ochocinco (NE) vs. SD: He had only one catch a week ago, and with the plethora of weapons that the Patriots use, Ochocinco may not be targeted too much, and that is not a good thing in this offense.
Try to start a guy like Deion Branch or Rob Gronkowski instead.

WR Davone Bess (MIA) vs. HOU: He had a good game on Monday night, but Houston's defense is very good, and even with all of the hype, there should be a sign of worry about starting him this week. The Pats and Texans defenses are completely different.

TE Zach Miller (SEA) vs. PIT: He only had 2 catches for 19 yards a week ago against San Francisco, and their defense is nothing like the Steelers defense. And, it doesn't help that Tarvaris Jackson will struggle to get the ball to him.

DEF San Diego vs. NE: Watch out here. Even though the Chargers defense is very, very good, the Vikings are much different than the Patriots. It should be a shootout, which does not bode well for the Chargers defense and their fantasy numbers.

The 3 Sleepers:

QB Mark Sanchez (NYJ) vs. JAX: He's not an auto-start in every league, but going up against a Jags secondary that does not have their second cornerback due to injury should help improve his numbers, even though he had very good numbers a week ago.

RB James Starks (GB) vs. CAR: It seems that he is getting many more touches than Ryan Grant is right now, and because of that, he should see the field more against a Carolina run defense that got torched by Beanie Wells and the Cardinals last week.

WR Nate Burleson (DET) vs. KC: After Matt Stafford's big game a week ago in Tampa, it should come as no surprise that he may pull off the same trick against Kansas City. Their defense was awful last week against Buffalo, and that should mean Burleson will possibly get big yards this week.

Buyer Beware:

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. DET: Was I not right about him last week? And, with that said, his numbers were awful a week ago, and facing a very good Detroit defense, he may not have any new found success this week.

Good Luck in Week 2!

NHL 30 in 30: St. Louis Blues

Injuries and failed expectations derailed the possibility of the Blues making the postseason a year ago, and even two years ago, off of the playoff visit of 2008-09. They made some big moves in order to change the team during the season, and even in the offseason, so now, do the Blues have enough to make it back to the postseason?

Strengths: The youth on this team continues to be the big strength. Part of the blockbuster Erik Johnson trade a year ago, was bringing in winger Chris Stewart, who scored 23 points in 26 games, and D Kevin Shattenkirk, who had a +7 rating a season ago. This is only one example of the youth on this team. They lost David Perron, T.J Oshie, and Andy McDonald to injuries for parts of last season, but they will all be back and healthy this year, as well as integral parts of the young team. David Backes is the captain, and the major offensive cog in the team, as well as younger offensive players like Patrik Berglund and Chris Porter. They added two big veteran influences this offseason in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to help with the veteran influences on this very young team. And of course, Jaroslav Halak is a very good young goaltender who has some lofty expectations to live up to, but he has the potential to do so easily.

Weaknesses: There is a lot of youth on this team, so the typical problems with young teams could challenge Davis Payne. Also, the depth on this team could be a question mark, as well as the lack of amazing, proven big scorers. This team needs one, especially playing what is arguably the toughest division in hockey, the Central. They will also need strong veteran guidance from the newcomers, and also some breakout performances from the good young talents.

Any Help Coming? The Blues have possibly one of the top 5 farm systems in all of the NHL, and it's lead by one of the most promising prospects in hockey: Vladimir Tasarenko. The RW can score with ease, due to his quick hands and sudden release. He will play in the KHL again this season, and possibly will make the jump next season. Also around are C Jaden Schwartz, who is a very good passer, G Jake Allen, who is fast between the pipes, and D Ian Cole, who is very strong.

Outlook: The Blues will need a combination of breakout performances by a good chunk of their young talent, and some luck in the Central, to challenge for the postseason. They have a good young team that is on their way up, however there is some doubt as to whether the time is right for this team to take the next step after missing the postseason 5 out of the last 6 season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Carolina Hurricanes

If it wasn't for an egg that they laid against the Lightning in their final game of the season, the young Carolina Hurricanes may have made the postseason. They are a young team with good, driving veteran influences, and have a very good and promising future. The question is, does the promising future start this year?

Strengths: The Hurricanes have gotten younger this offseason, but they did add a notable veteran to the mix. He, is Tomas Kaberle, the Stanley Cup champion defenseman who began to impress the Boston faithful in the postseason. He will end up quarterbacking the power play, and possibly become the Hurricanes best defender. They also added Alexei Ponikarovksy from the LA Kings as a low line winger. However, the youth on this team is their biggest strength. Jeff Skinner is an amazing young centermen who has the potential to possibly be one of the league's best one day, and he's only 19. Captain Eric Staal is only 26, and he has the great leadership abilities to lead this mix of young and old to new heights. They have other good players around on the roster to, such as Chad LaRose, Anthony Stewart, Tuomo Ruutu, and others, that make up the good roster overall. In net, Cam Ward is one of the most under-appreciated goaltenders in the NHL, as last year he had a 2.56 GAA.

Weaknesses: Their defense corps is not a major strength of the team, despite the fact that they have good players in the group like Kaberle and Brian Allen. They did lose Erik Cole and Joe Corvo to free agency, and that is a loss of some of the key veteran scoring players on the team, however some of the youth should replace them. However, the youth is still youth, so the problems with a young team could pop up here.

Any Help Coming? C Zac Dalpe may be the best prospect in the the Hurricanes system. He needs to mature physically, but he will become a great, well-rounded scorer and a possible Top 6 forward at some point. D Ryan Murphy was the Canes first round pick this year, and projects to be a solid, possible top pair D-Man at some point. C Zach Boychuk is an offensively gifted prospect who could crack the big club this year.

Outlook: The Canes are one of the many teams that will be fighting for a playoff spot in the crowded East. They will have a tough time with some of the issues the team has, but they should be in the race until the final horn, and they may very well make it. They probably won't replicate the success of 2006 this year, though.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Montreal Canadiens

Another year, and another head scratching ending for the Canadiens and their fans. They went to OT in game 7 with the eventual Stanley Cup Champs, even though they looked decent throughout the series. Now, with the East getting better and better, can the Habs keep up with the pack?

Strengths: They are led by Carey Price is net, who had a career year in the face of the criticisms that he wasn't as good as Jaroslav Halak, but he fought back and squashed everyone's gripes. He may need to do that again this season in order to keep the Habs involved in the East. They do have some good veteran players right now, and they include the electric Mike Cammalleri, who was the Habs leading scorer a season ago, Andrei Kostitsyn, who is another dynamic scorer, and of course, Scott Gomez, who has a lot of pressure on him this season to perform big. Erik Cole comes in to help score more goals, as they were 22nd in that department last season, despite having a Top 10 power play. On defense, P.K Subban is one of the most exciting young defensemen in the NHL right now, Hal Gill is a decent veteran, and Jaroslav Spacek is a Habs mainstay on the blue line.

Weaknesses: They lost some good players from last year's team in free agency this season. Roman Hamrlik went to Washington, Brent Sopel packed up and went to the KHL, and James Wisniewski was traded to Columbus. These losses may prove to be bigger than many think on the blueline, and they do need some more help in that area because of depth concerns. Offensively, they should be OK, but they have to have some of the major players live up to high expectations, and possibly to exceed them in order to continue to have success.

Any Help Coming? Nathan Beaulieu was the Habs draft pick this year, and he can become a QB on the power play very soon for the Habs, and they may need one quickly. He is well rounded, and projects to be a top 3 defensemen soon. Yannick Weber is another defensemen that has potential and flashed it in his Habs stints a season ago, but needs to play more in the NHL to realize his potential. RW Danny Kristo could become a speedster winger although he is undersized.

Outlook: It seems that the Habs are in a precarious position this year. With the East much better than it has been in the past, they have a lot of work to do in order to maintain a playoff spot, and there is doubt that they will do anything past getting into the dance. This could be a year of surprises, or another one where it ends with Habs fans scratching their heads and wondering what could have been.

Monday, September 12, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have been knocking on the door of North American wide recognition for the efforts of Dean Lombardi for some time now, but two first round exits in the last 2 seasons have delayed that process. GM Lombardi made some big splashes this offseason, so will it finally translate into respect, and possibly Stanley Cup contention?

Strengths: They already have an amazing young nucleus, aside from the acquisitions this offseason. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson form a formidable top defensive pairing that can rival almost any in the NHL, and their is decent depth behind them with Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi being the best of the depth. Offensively, of course the big guns are Anze Kopitar, who may have done even more if he hadn't suffered a bad knee injury late in the season. Dustin Brown is also a very good centerman and captain. But the big focus is on the two big newcomers, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. Former Flyers teammates, they both should open up the offensive firepower even more than a season ago, and Richards and Kopitar could be the best one-two goal scoring punch in the NHL this season. They also have good depth at the wings as well. Goaltending is another strong suit, with Jonathan Quick coming on last year as a premier goaltender in this league, and it helps to have the up and coming Jonathan Bernier behind him.

Weaknesses: There aren't many to find on this team. They did lose Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn in the Richards trade to Philly, and they also lost Michal Handzus and Alexei Ponikarovsky to free agency, but that shouldn't be such a big problem for a team that only lost 1 of their Top 7 scorers this offseason in Ryan Smythe.

Any Help Coming? They lost Brayden Schenn to the Flyers in the Richards trade, but their are some good prospects left in the system. Aside from Jonathan Bernier, Andre Loktionov is a good center prospect with some potential to do almost anything from penatly kill to possibly lead the power play. D Derek Forbort projects as a possible top pairing defensemen at some point in the future, and D Thomas Hickey has yet to fully develop, but has good potential to.

Outlook: The LA Kings are gunning for the Sharks in the Pacific division, and possibly the Canucks and Blackhawks and Red Wings in the West. They have legitimate Stanley Cup Contender written all over them, and all that is left to do now is try to live up to the hype.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Calgary Flames

It seems that since 2004 when the Flames were one win away from hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup, they have been in neutral. They haven't  been out of the first round since 2004, and they have basically maintained the same veteran core. Can Jay Feaster eek a bit more out of this group, or will it be high time to start from scratch?

Strengths: There are good veteran players on this team right now. Of course, their heart and soul has been RW Jarome Iginla, and even though he has had some bad seasons recently, he still may be the best offensive player on this team. Other decent offensive veteran players include RW Rene Bourque, LW Curtis Glencross, and LW Alex Tanguay. The veteran presence on this team is maintained through the blue line group too, with guys like Jay Bouwmeester, Scott Hannan, Mark Giordano, and Anton Babchuk. Miikka Kiprusoff has been between the pipes for awhile, and he has been very consistent, and consistently good for Calgary for quite some time, and this has kept some stability around this team in times of chaos.

Weaknesses: This is a very old team. There is not much youth on the prospective roster, with only 1 player under age 23 and 3 under age 25. The other problem is that there is very little depth on this roster anywhere you look, because of major salary cap problems. Gone are Robyn Regeher and Ales Kotalik to help mend that, but nothing's come of it. There are no major scoring threats, and very few are coming down the pipeline. Depth and age may completely undo this team by trade deadline time.

Any Help Coming? LW Sven Baertschi is a solid young prospect coming from Portland in the WHL, and he is the most promising one in the Flames farm system. He is gritty, and can play very good offensively too. Other good prospects include D T.J Brodie, RW Greg Nemisz, and G Leland Irving.

Outlook: If they can't win with this veteran group now, it may be time to blow it up and start over. They have enough veteran talent for a playoff spot competition, but likely not enough to make it past the first round. This team is getting older, and with very little youth coming up through the system, it looks like square one could be rapidly approaching.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes are always subject to talk of relocation and imminent to departure, first to Winnipeg, and now possible Quebec City and Kansas City. However, this is an on-ice preview, so the focus will be on Dave Tippett to see whether he can put in another Jack Adams like performance to take a team on the decline up again back to the postseason.

Strengths: There really is not a unit of strength on this team, but there is a good collection of individual players. The secret is out on D Keith Yandle, who has proven to be an amazing weapon on the blue line as he is mobile, and can score too. C Shane Doan is the heart and soul of this team, as he has been ever since they were the original Winnipeg Jets, and his leadership will be key. They have some other good veterans like D Rostislav Klesla, D Adrian Aucoin, C Daymond Langkow, and good young players like RW Viktor Tikhonov, D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and C Kyle Turris.

Weaknesses: There are plenty. They lost their heart and soul between the pipes in Ilya Bryzgalov, who went to Philly for a ridiculous sum of money, and they also lost a captain in Ed Jovanovski, who went back to his original stomping grounds in Florida. Mike Smith is an admirable replacement, but there is doubt as to whether he will be good enough to fend off the challenges faced by a team that doesn't score very often. There really is no legit top scorer on this team, and for the past couple of years, that was masked by good goaltending, but that may not be the case anymore. There are depth problems most everywhere you look, and as long as they have trouble scoring, the problems will persist for this team.

Any Help Coming? D Oliver Ekman-Larsson has bounced between the AHL and NHL for awhile, and he has the tools to become a bookend on the blue line. D Brandon Gormley is a sold two-way defensive prospect who can become a solid potential top pair D-Man, and they have other young players who could be on their way to making the big club, on a team where that is entirely possible.

Outlook: This is really a trial and error year in Phoenix. There are too many questions on the ice for them to make the postseason. If they do, then Dave Tippett will lock up the Jack Adams in early April. They shouldn't worry too much about the off-ice issues, but the on-ice issues will be the ones leaving Coyotes fans scratching their heads this season.

Friday, September 9, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season was all about change in Tampa, and it sure proved to pay dividends, immediately. Steve Yzerman showed his chops as a talent evaluator and great overall GM, and Guy Boucher proved he may be one of the best up-and-coming coaches in hockey. However, they still fell one game short of the Stanley Cup Finals. Will they be heading forwards, or backwards this time around?

Strengths: When you think of the Lightning, what do you think of? Most around hockey would say offense, and the Bolts have that in spades. Of course, it all starts, and ends, with Steven Stamkos, who may be the league's most dynamic scoring threat. Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier are two Tampa mainstays, who will play big roles in the offense again. The depth that took them as far as they went last year is still there in spots, with guys like Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, and Dominic Moore, as well as some newcomers in Tom Pyatt and Ryan Shannon. Defensively, there is a good mix of depth and youth with Victor Hedman leading the charge. He is still young and learning, but he will become one of the better defenders in this league very soon. He has some good help on the blue line with him, with guys like Marc Andre-Bergeron, Eric Brewer, and Pavel Kubina helping him out.

Weaknesses: Goaltending seemed to be an up and down area for them last season. When Dwayne Roloson struggled, Mike Smith came in and played admirably, but he went off to Phoenix, so they brought in Mathieu Garon to help with depth. The question is, can a 42 year old goaltender keep replicating his previous successes, or will goaltending become a serious problem again? There were also some key free agent losses this year such as Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne that could impact the scoring depth as well. There are also some issues with defensive depth, too.

Any Help Coming? Brett Connolly is an amazing offensive center prospect who has pure scoring talent and can really open up this amazing offense even more, however he will have to adapt to the more physical NHL game first. RW Carter Ashton is a good two way winger prospect, and G Cedrick Desjardins, who played well in spot duty last season.

Outlook: The Lightning may not replicate last season's successes, but they should have the ability to make the postseason and challenge in the east. Every game they are in may end up 4-3 or 5-4, but they should be able to keep up with the questions between the pipes and the suspect defense. The question is, for how long?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Edmonton Oilers

5 years ago, the Oilers were one win away from skating off of the RBC Center ice with Lord Stanley's Cup. History reminds us that they didn't win that night, and it also reminds us that the Oilers have failed to make the playoffs since. It's been a long, tough rebuilding process for Steve Tambellini and Tom Renney, but they are making significant progress (that's what being the worst team in the NHL will do for you). How much closer are they to a return to their former glory?

Strengths: The youth of this team is innumerable, and the team is constantly getting younger. Of course, all of the focus is on the two #1 overall picks in the draft, Taylor Hall from a year ago, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from this year, but there are other young players who have made impacts. Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagner are just some of the players in this youth movement that have made impacts up front. But there are new additions that will help this team too, and most of them are good veteran presences. The big one though is Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth. He played for the Oilers from 1994-2007, and should end up being a great coach for the young players while trying to continue his streak of scoring 20 goals or more. Other newcomers include D Cam Barker, C Eric Belanger, and D Andy Sutton, and they should provide the veteran stabilizing force that this team needs.

Weaknesses: As with any team that is very young and inexperienced, there are problems. The major issue is between the pipes. Nikolai Khabibulin has been a good goaltender in the past, but he's 38 now, and injuries are going to mount. The backup is Devan Dubnyk, who is still raw, and hasn't shown the flashes of the franchise goaltender that Edmonton wants him to become. There are concerns with injuries, especially Taylor Hall, who needs to prove he can recover from his season ending injury from a season ago. They need a turn around at almost every position on the ice to be competitive, and it's very hard to get a marked improvement at every position from a team that was last in almost every category last year.

Any Help Coming? Of course, C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have the spotlight on him all season, if he makes the big club or not. He can make plays like few others can, and get into open ice quickly. Other key Oilers prospects include offensive RW Linus Omark, who dazzled many with his shootout moves last season, D Oscar Klefbom, and D Jeff Petry, who is a great two-way defenseman who will likely see more action this year on the big club.

Outlook: Well, rebuilding a team like the Oilers have to requires patience, and even though Oilers fans have it, time is still needed to get this team back to postseason contention. The team is too raw now to compete and drastically improve in every department in order to contend for a playoff spot, but they will be improving. Last in the West is not unlikely, but it may be the most helpful thing for a team that needs time to restore its former luster.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NHL 30 in 30: Buffalo Sabres

Even though the Sabres had a bad series against the Flyers, the combination of Ryan Miller and timely scoring extended the series to 7 games. Pegulaville 2011 is now fully stocked and ready to go, so will the new ownership spur a change in fortune and get the Sabres out of the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2006?

Strengths: Pegula's mere presence provided a spark to the entire organization, and enabled them to go on a spending spree this offseason. Robyn Regehr is the shut down defenseman that Lindy Ruff has wanted for so long, and he should anchor the shut down portion of the defense. Christian Erhoff comes over from Vancouver to captain the power play, and he got a nice payday to come with it. Ville Leino takes his puck handling skills over from Philadelphia to help find some more offensive spark, along with Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and Tyler Ennis. The Sabres are not known to score so many goals, but they should see an uptick in that department this season. They have a better set of defense pairings this season, and now that they have specific shut down and power play guys, the offense and defense should both see upswings this year. And of course, there is Ryan Miller, who is very, very good.

Weaknesses: There are questions still for this team. For one, what is Brad Boyes? He's probably not a center, so what is he? A low line winger perhaps, or even better, a cap casualty. Jochen Hecht is also a player that may struggle to find a defined role in Lindy Ruff's system. Another cap casualty, and with his penchant for injuries, he may not even see past training camp.

Any Help Coming? LW Marcus Foligno is coming on as a good left wings prospect, and may possibly make the team this season. Luke Adam is a promising center prospect, who may also challenge for a roster spot this season. RW Zach Kassian may be the most promising prospect the Sabres currently have in their system, and he should make the big club this season. He is a power forward prospect, and can crash the net, which the Sabres need this season.

Outlook: The Sabres are light-years better than the team that nearly made the second round a year ago. This should be a fun year for Sabres fans desperate to see some movement upward. They should see that this season. They may not be better than Boston, but they will be much, much better. The Pegula influence has been noticed, and felt, throughout hockey, not just in western New York.

Week 1 2011 Fantasy Advice

The column is back, and it should be an exciting fantasy season. Plenty of new players in new uniforms should impact your fantasy team in many ways, and so should the lockout. Enjoy the 2011 fantasy season!

Who to Start:

QB Kevin Kolb (ARZ) vs. CAR: One of the many old faces in new places, and he will totally benefit from the change of scenery. He has the advantage of his first game as a Cardinal coming against the Panthers, who may have a decent pass rush, but a weak secondary. He's a great start in 2 QB leagues.

RB LeGarrette Blount (TB) vs. DET: He exploded onto the scene towards the end of last season with some very good numbers. The Lions gave up an average of 4.5 yards a carry last season, so Blount should see a decent amount of touches, and yards too.

WR Brandon Lloyd (DEN) vs. OAK MON: With the departure of Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raiders pass defense is noticeably worse. Lloyd is the top target for Kyle Orton, and look for him to have a big day against the worse Raiders pass D.

WR Santana Moss (WSH) vs. NYG: This is a very iffy start because of the uncertainty surrounding Rex Grossman, but look to the Giants injury depleted secondary to cause problems, and possibly open up Moss for a few more catches and yards.

TE Lance Kendricks (STL) vs. PHI: Here comes the return of the fantasy column staple: "Who?" The Rams new TE gets a chance because of the departure of Daniel Fells, and he will have a great game on Sunday because the Eagles have historically been bad at defending the TE, and it doesn't help that the Eagles have a rookie MLB calling the shots.

DEF Cleveland vs. CIN: When a rookie QB is making his first career start, and his preseason has looked very iffy, you should start the defense he's playing against. Turns out, that the defense in question is Cleveland. So, start them.

Who to Sit:

QB Kerry Collins (IND) vs. HOU: The reason why he's here is for two reasons. One, there really isn't a clear picture of how much of the offense he's grasped yet, and two, we have to give the Texans some credit for their defensive changes this offseason, before it may go wrong.

RB Felix Jones (DAL) vs. NYJ: Until there is any reason to believe otherwise, expect the Jets run defense to be as stout as ever. This doesn't bode well for Felix Jones, even though he'll likely be leaned on to run the ball.

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. BUF: There are questions surrounding the health of Matt Cassel, and if he doesn't play, that drastically drops his value. Also, Buffalo's pass defense was surprisingly second best in the NFL a season ago, so he may be one to avoid.

WR Lee Evans (BAL) vs. PIT: He'll get an experience in his first game as a Raven, as he plays the Steelers. He won't do much, as neither offense traditionally does in this series, especially a deep threat receiver. Avoid.

TE Brent Celek (PHI) vs. STL: Since Mike Vick became the starter, Brent Celek has seen a drastic drop in targets. When you see that, you know that a player has become less important in the offense. Such is the case with Celek, and that should continue this season.

DEF New Orleans vs. GB THU: Just as a reminder, the visiting team in the Thursday kickoff game hasn't won since 2003, and usually the games aren't close. This doesn't bode well for the New Orleans D going up against the Super Bowl MVP and his potent offense.

3 Sleepers of the Week:

RB Tim Hightower (WSH) vs. NYG: He had a breakout preseason, and looks like the feature back for Mike Shanahan. Knowing his tendency to revive and bring the best out of running backs, Hightower may be a worthwhile option.

QB Matt Hasselbeck (TEN) vs. JAX: Despite the defensive improvements, the Jags pass D may still have some issues to work out, and Hasselbeck should likely be able to exploit them.

WR Kevin Walter (HOU) vs. IND: The Colts secondary took some hits this offseason, and with Matt Schaub's ability to put up amazing numbers on offense, expect some big things possibly from Walter on Sunday.

Buyer Beware:

WR Chad Ochocinco (NE) vs. MIA MON: There are still questions as to whether he can immerse himself in the offense and gel with Tom Brady, and going up against a very good Miami pass defense, he may not do much this week. Wait a little bit on him.

Good luck in Week 1!

NFL 32 in 32: Official Season Predictions

In the last month, you have seen my team previews for all 32 NFL teams, and now you will see the official record and playoff predictions. Of course, these are final now, and came after much deliberation.

NFC East: 1) PHI 11-5 2) NYG 9-7 3) DAL 8-8 4) WSH 5-11
NFC North: 1) GB 13-3 2) DET 9-7 3) CHI 8-8 4) MIN 7-9
NFC South: 1) NO 12-4 2) ATL 10-6 3) TB 8-8 4) CAR 4-12
NFC West: 1) STL 9-7 2) ARZ 7-9 3) SEA 6-10 4) SF 5-11
AFC East: 1) NE 13-3 2) NYJ 10-6 3) MIA 7-9 4) BUF 5-11
AFC North: 1) BAL 11-5 2) PIT 10-6 3) CLE 6-10 4) CIN 3-13
AFC South: 1) HOU 10-6 2) JAX 9-7 3) IND 7-9 4) TEN 6-10
AFC West:  1) SD 12-4 2) KC 9-7 3) OAK 6-10 4) DEN 5-11

Playoff Predictions:


Wild Card Round: 6) DET over 3) PHI
                             5) ATL over 4) STL
Divisional Round: 1) GB over 6) DET
                           2) NO over 5) ATL
NFC Championship: 2) NO over 1) GB


Wild Card Round: 3) BAL over 6) NYJ
                             5) PIT over 4) HOU
Divisional Round:  5) PIT over 1) NE
                            2) SD over 3) BAL
AFC Championship: 2) SD over 5) PIT

Super Bowl XLVI: 2) NO over 2) SD

Award Winners:

Coach of the Year- Jim Schwartz
MVP- Philip Rivers
Offensive ROY- Julio Jones
Defensive ROY- Von Miller

NFL 32 in 32: Green Bay Packers

The Super Bowl champions last year won the Super Bowl as a 6 seed, and with a multitude of injuries. Now, the Packers get most of the injured players back, and they keep the key piece, Aaron Rodgers. Many say that this time is the most likely champ to repeat in a long time, but will they be the first team to repeat since the Patriots of 2004-2005?

What's New:  Not much, if anything. The losses that they suffered in free agency weren't that major, but they will create some impacts. They lost OG Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz to Arizona and Jacksonville respectively, DE Cullen Jenkins to Philadelphia, and SS Atari Bigby to Seattle. Also, some Packers stalwarts were released, and they include LB's Brandon Chillar, Nick Barnett,  and Brady Poppinga, and T Mark Tauscher. The only major addition was the drafting of OT Derek Sherrod from Mississippi State.

Biggest Strength: As the Super Bowl Champions, everything should be a strength, and most things are for this team. Aaron Rodgers is an elite QB, and he has truly come into his own. He has a good running game with Ryan Grant who returns from injury, and playoff standout James Starks, and a bevy of passing game weapons including Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, and TE Jermichael Finley, just to name a few. Their offensive line is very good, and should be able to keep Aaron Rodgers upright for most of the season. On defense, they have a powerful defensive line that can generate an impressive pass rush, a linebacking corps led by Clay Matthews which is very impressive and can do anything, and a secondary with players such as Charles Woodson, and Tramon Williams, and can shut down almost every receiver in the league.

Biggest Weakness: There isn't a major weakness on this team, and as with every team, injuries are going to be a problem, but they completely fought through them last season, so why can't they this year? There may be depth issues on the offensive line, and possibly in the secondary, but they shouldn't become major problems.

Outlook: They have a very good chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, because they have everything in tow. They are the team that everyone will have a target on, but they should be able to fight through that. They are the champions and the best team right now in the league. They are the ones that everyone wants to beat, and they should be able to fight back against all of the challenges.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Baltimore Ravens

In the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era, they have made the playoffs in all 3 seasons, and won at least one game in every trip to the playoffs. But in the last 2 seasons, they have failed to get beyond the divisional round. How much longer will it take for the Ravens to get over the hump?

What's New: There are a pretty decent number of changes on the Ravens roster. Gone are many offensive stalwarts such as TE Todd Heap, WR Derrick Mason, RB Willis McGahee, and FB Le'Ron McClain, and the replacements for these losses include, WR Lee Evans from Buffalo, FB Vonta Leach from Houston, who may be the best blocking fullback in the league, and RB Ricky Williams from Miami. They also lost players on the offensive line, in G/C Chris Chester, and LT Jared Gaither. However, they did sign OT Bryant McKinnie in order to stem some of these losses. They also lost players on defense too, and they include NT Kelly Gregg, SS Dawan Landry, and CB Josh Wilson. In to replace some of these losses, they drafted CB Jimmy Smith from Colorado, and picked up corner Chris Carr as well. 

Biggest Strength: Joe Flacco is a very consistent, very efficient QB, who can make all the throws he needs to and has to, and has been a proven winner, which the Ravens never really had. He has a good running game with Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, and a great pair of receivers in Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans. The offense should prove to be more dynamic than last year, even though they lost a decent amount of pieces from a year ago. The defense as always is a strength, and the front 7 is very good, with amazing depth as always. The heart and soul of the Ravens has been this front 7, and it will continue to be this season.

Biggest Weakness: Their offensive line is newer, and has some depth issues. Even though the unit is very good at the top, depth could become an issue if injuries become prominent. The secondary was a problem last year, and it could also create some problems this season too, because of the losses in free agency. The secondary still has good talent, but it could be the undoing of the Ravens this season.

Outlook: The Ravens still are a very good team, but there are some issues that need to be tended to. The Ravens have to compete with the Steelers, and it will be a tough fight. The Ravens should still be able to make the playoffs and challenge many of the AFC's elite, but their small faults may be their own undoing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Philadelphia Eagles

Here comes the dream team! Or so Vince Young thinks. The Eagles last season surprised many people with the resurgence of Michael Vick, and they won the NFC East. They went on a signing spree in free agency, and many think that this is a team that can outlast many in the league. However, does being the Super Bowl champions of free agency mean that they will become the Super Bowl Champions of 2011?

What's New: This team has more change than possibly any 2 random teams in the NFL combined this offseason, as will be proven with 8 new starters on defense. Of course, the major offseason signing was CB Nnamdi Asomugha from Oakland, and he should form maybe the best trio of corners ever in the NFL with Asante Samuel, and newcomer Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who came over in the Kevin Kolb trade. On defense, they also added DE Jason Babin from Tennessee and DE Cullen Jenkins from Green Bay, who should help a very good defensive line get even better this season. And that's only the tip of the iceberg of the defensive changes. Also, they added a slew of players on offense, including WR Steve Smith from the New York Giants, WR Johnnie Lee Higgins from Oakland, RB Ronnie Brown from Miami, QB Vince Young from Tennessee, T Ryan Harris from Denver, TE Donald Lee from Green Bay, G Evan Mathis from Cincinnati... (pants, out of breath, takes deeper breath)... And this doesn't even include the many losses the Eagles had too. So, the amount of changes that this roster underwent were numerous, but it was all for the better and vast improvement of the talent.

Biggest Strength: With Mike Vick's resurgence last season, expectations are incredibly high, especially due to the shiny new 6 year, $100 million contract he just signed. He has a lot of weight on his shoulders to perform well, and it does help that he has great players at the skill positions. RB LeSean McCoy is incredibly explosive, and can create big plays quickly, and he should partner well with newcomer Ronnie Brown, and form an impressive tandem in the backfield. The Eagles also have impressive wideouts like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Steve Smith, etc, and they have a great TE in Brent Celek too. On defense, they have a very impressive pass rush that only got better with the acquisitions. Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, and a host of others should be able to generate a fierce pass rush. The cornerback group may be the best in the league with their group, and it should be able to shut down receivers well.

Biggest Weakness: Their offensive line was a problem last season, and it could be a bigger problem this season. They lost Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles to free agency, and they will replace them with inexperienced, younger players, and the bulk of the new changes are on the right side of the line (Mike Vick's blindside). This has been a major problem in the preseason, and could continue to be one in the regular season. With Vick only having one injury free season in his career, injuries could become a major concern for him. On defense, they are starting a rookie MLB in fourth round pick Casey Matthews, and while he may be related to a certain LB in Green Bay, he is still a rookie, and has to captain and whole new unit and new defense led by new D-Coordinator Juan Castillo. The Eagles historically have also had problems defending the tight end in the past, and a rookie middle linebacker may only hurt that. There are also issues at the safety position, but that might be masked by the presence of great corners.

Outlook: The Eagles should have no problem with winning the NFC East, but they may have some problems beating the best in the NFC such as New Orleans, Green Bay, and Atlanta. They will have to fight through some of the roster deficiencies that they have, but they should be able to. But, their true test comes in the postseason, and it remains to be seen whether they will be able to pass it or not.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have been around for 9 years (already), and they have never been able to crack the postseason. But, many believe that this is the year that they do so. With a potent offense, and a vastly improving defense, there is a consensus that the Texans are close to taking the AFC South title away from the Colts. Can they?

What's New: Plenty, mostly on the defensive side of the football. The biggest addition was the adding of Johnathan Joseph, the corner from Cincinnati. He should help out a secondary that was the worst statistically in the NFL last season. They also added S Danieal Manning from Chicago, and drafted 3 corners in the draft as well. There was more attention paid to the defensive side of the football, with the drafting of DE J.J Watt, and the shifting around of many players due to the implementation of the new 3-4 scheme from Wade Phillips. That addition may be the biggest of all, as he tries to take a defense that was one of the league's worst last season, and in a few others. The defense was all that truly needed attention this offseason, and the Texans and Rick Smith did all of that very well this offseason.

Biggest Strength: On offense, they have Matt Schaub, who is a great QB, and underrated because he plays in Houston. He can make all the throws he needs to make, and has deep threats to use to make all of the throws. He has possibly the league's best wideout in Andre Johnson, and a very good TE in Owen Daniels to boot. There is also noticeable depth at the wide reciever position, with Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones, as well as last season's rushing leader, Arian Foster. Despite his injuries he should still be a very good running back this season, even though he may not be quite as good as last season. They have good depth at the running back position too, with Derrick Ward and Ben Tate. On defense, they have a good group of pass rushers on both the front 3 and the linebackers. Examples include J.J Watt, Antonio Smith, DeMeco Ryans, and Brian Cushing. The secondary of course got a massive and well-needed facelift, and is now better at the top end than it has ever been.  

Biggest Weakness: The offensive line is an area of concern, with some young players, and others who have not impressed. They need to perform at a high level to keep Matt Schaub upright, and spur on the running game, which added a much needed second dimension to the running game. They had problems last season, and they need to improve by a considerable margin this season. There are also issues on the defense, with the transition to a brand new scheme, and there are some players out of place that need to find new spots. There are also depth and injury issues in the secondary, and in the linebacking corps too. The problems in the secondary are mainly with the second corner and second safety, because the problem players from last year are still there and their only replacements will be inexperienced rookies.

Outlook: There is a very good chance that they will unseat the Indianapolis Colts at the top of the AFC South. However, despite the great offseason additions, there are still some problems with depth and some starters that could prove to be bigger than advertised. The opening part of the schedule is very tough, and the NFL world will learn very quickly as to whether the Texans are for real, or they will do what they have done in the past 9 seasons, miss the postseason again.