Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 MLB Season Predictions in Review

Time for the ritual humiliating of myself by reviewing my season predictions for the sports I cover. Last year, my MLB regular season predictions were pretty good, but my playoff predictions were better. We'll check playoff predictions from the preseason ones and the upcoming predictions at the end of the month, but for today it's time to check standings and award predictions. This won't go well.

NL East: I at least predicted the Marlins would be 5th, but vastly overrated the Nationals and underrated the Braves. Seems about right.

NL Central: I at least got the Reds and Cardinals close, but the Reds didn't eventually take the division as I expected. The Cardinals won the division, which didn't really surprise me, but I thought injuries would take more of a toll. I also overrated Milwaukee, and underrated the Pirates, but I'm so happy they finally broke their playoff jinx.

NL West: The Giants really surprised me in how far they fell off from their World Series form, and it was going to be a disaster for awhile for the Dodgers before they hit their stride.

AL East: Oh boy, this one didn't go well. I did correctly predict the Yankees would miss the playoffs, but again was duped by overrating a team that spent gobs of money in Toronto. The Red Sox were also totally underrated, and the Orioles' regression to the mean was at least somewhat founded.

AL Central: Hooray! I predicted a division winner correctly! But the Indians performed way better than I thought they would, and the White Sox were incredibly bad. At least I got one division right.

AL West: I've now learned my lesson. I will never believe in the Angels to do anything. This is 2 years running that their failures have been spectacular. It's good to see the A's winning the division again, proving that spending money to win means very little. I had the Rangers struggling a bit more, but they made it to a game 163, so close enough.

Award Predictions:

NL MVP: Joey Votto- He was good, but nowhere near NL MVP good. Andrew McCutchen probably takes this one.

AL MVP: Mike Trout- All around solid, but you can't be a MVP on a team who doesn't play any meaningful games from late May on. Miguel Cabrera walks away with this one easy.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw- Exactly right here. At least there's one.

AL Cy Young: Felxi Hernandez- Not even close. Max Scherzer probably takes this one, with his 21-3 record over Hisashi Iwakuma, who was better with the advanced stats.

NL Rookie of the Year: Oscar Tavares- Yeah, these are more crapshoots than not, and the NL had some amazing rookies this year. I bet Yasiel Puig takes it, despite tailing off towards the end of the year, and Jose Fernandez was awesome too.

AL Rookie of the Year: Jurickson Profar- Jose Iglesias was better at his position for the Tigers, and Wil Myers went on that midseason tear as well.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy- Nope. Clint Hurdle wins by a landslide.

AL Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon- He was good, but John Farrell should win this one.

My World Series prediction was Nationals-Tigers, so at least there's one team with a chance. Overall, my season predictions were pretty bad. Let's hope the playoffs go better.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

2013 Week 4 Fantasy Advice

So after this week's games are done, one quarter of the NFL season will have passed us by. Seems like it started just yesterday, and for many teams they're wishing it started today, and my fantasy team is one of them. Hopefully I start following my own advice better this week.

Byes: CAR, GB

Who to Start:

QB Robert Griffin III (WSH) vs. OAK: Despite the fact that his team is terrible, RG3 really hasn't been. He's been solid, if unspectacular. Luckily for him, the Raiders are up next, which means he should be in for better days since the Raiders secondary is injured... and bad.

RB DeMarco Murray (DAL) vs. SD: Murray put up very good numbers against the Rams last week, and those numbers should continue for him against the Chargers who are 28th against the run.

WR Reggie Wayne (IND) vs. JAX: Other than the incredibly obvious, Wayne has always played well against the Jags despite not scoring TD's against them in his last 6 tries. I'd wager that probably changes on Sunday.

WR Eric Decker (DEN) vs. PHI: Any receiver going up against the Eagles D at this point is a must start, but Decker is starting to reap some of the many rewards of having Peyton Manning start for you at QB lately that had been going elsewhere. Good sign.

TE Tony Gonzalez (ATL) vs. NE: Yes the Pats have defended well against Tight Ends in the first 3 weeks, but remember who they played against. Gonzalez is also a good bet at home too, and the Pats D hasn't yet been tested like it will be at the Georgia Dome Sunday Night.

DEF Kansas City (KC) vs. NYG: Justin Houston has 7.5 sacks already, and now he gets to face the Giants who gave up 7 sacks against Carolina last week. Also, the Giants are a turnover machine at this point, so the Chiefs D is now pretty much a must start.

Who to Sit:

QB Matt Schaub (HOU) vs. SEA: Unless the Texans get torched (which they well might), the Seahawks defense is very difficult to gather any sort of fantasy success against. Schaub himself hasn't even been that good in the first 3 games, meaning he's almost cannon fodder against Seattle.

RB C.J Spiller (BUF) vs. BAL: He's nursing a sore quad muscle, which couples with the fact he's going up against the resurgent Ravens defense, means he's a risky fantasy play this week.

WR Greg Jennings (MIN) vs. PIT London: He's now a honorary sit every week because not only is Christian Ponder bad, he's now going up against Ike Taylor this week. It will not be a (insert London joke here) good week for Jennings.

WR Santonio Holmes (NYJ) vs. TEN: He's back... sort of, but can you trust him against a Titans defense that has played well, if not above their heads in the first 3 games? Geno Smith wasn't great in his first road game, and he might struggle with this one too.

TE Zach Miller (SEA) vs. HOU: Sure he caught 2 TD's last week, but those were his only 2 catches. The Texans D pretty effectively neutralizes opposing TE's, so starting him is probably not wise.

DEF New York Giants vs. KC: Despite my apathy towards the Chiefs' offense, the Giants D has been pretty bad in the first 3 weeks of the season. This game will not hurt, nor help matters.

3 Super Sleepers:

QB Terrelle Pryor (OAK) vs. WSH: He's been genuinely impressive with both his arm and legs to start the season off, and this week he plays against the dreadful Redskins D which has been torched 3 straight weeks. He's a good starter in 2 QB leagues.

RB Trent Richardson (IND) vs. JAX: I don't know if he's really a sleeper, but he only had 13 carries for 35 yards last week. He'll probably see more carries this week, and the Jags have been dreadful against the run. Maybe not a super-sleeper, but certainly one to watch.

DEF Arizona vs. TB: This could easily go the other way as well, but with Mike Glennon starting (and being a bit of an unknown quantity), the Cardinals D could be in for a big day, despite not having a particularly good start to the season.

Buyer Beware:

DEF Chicago vs. DET: It's rare that a defense goes here, but the Bears D has been very good the first 3 weeks, but weird things happen at Ford Field to good teams, and Matt Stafford can pick opponents apart there too. If you have a better option, it can't hurt to bench these guys.

Good Luck in Week 4!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013 Week 3 Fantasy Advice

Yes Jim Irsay... I am sitting down.

P.S: I won't be mentioning any Seahawks this week because that would be way too obvious. 

Who to Start:

QB Matt Stafford (DET) vs. WSH: As per usual, he's thrown for buckets of yards in the first two games (635 to be exact), and he'll probably have another big day against a Redskins secondary that has proven to be nothing less than a sieve in their first two games.

RB Frank Gore (SF) vs. IND: Although all the attention will be on the RB wearing white not red on Sunday, the one wearing red will have far more success. The Colts defense has struggled in their first two games, especially against the run, and that will probably continue against Frank Gore who needs a bounce back week.

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. PHI THU: He's not done all that much in the first two games, but against the Eagles Swiss cheese defense, he'll probably fare much better. Andy Reid already throws the ball a ton, and when he sees what's happened to his former team, his eyes will light up.

TE Greg Olsen (CAR) vs. NYG: Whether Ron Riviera is afraid to take a chance or not, Greg Olsen should have a big game against a Giants defense that has not defended Tight Ends particularly well in the last 2 games.

DEF Minnesota vs. CLE: Now that Brian Hoyer is starting AND Trent Richardson is now a Colt, everybody playing the Browns have to now be licking their chops. Them and the Jaguars will engage in a tanking contest for the ages this season.

Who to Sit:

QB Jay Cutler (CHI) vs. PIT: He still turns the ball over a ton, and despite the fact that the Steelers are 0-2 (I believe they'll be 0-3), their D is still a solid unit. They're depleted, but still hungry. They'll feast on Cutler's mistakes.

RB David Wilson (NYG) vs. CAR: He's now sharing carries with Brandon Jacobs in the Giants backfield, further depleting his already diminished fantasy value, and the Panthers front 7 is actually pretty good. He's going to have some tough sledding on Sunday.

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. MIA: A permanent fixture in this spot now, it seems. His ankle is still ailing him, and now he's going up against a very good Dolphins secondary, which won't make things any better.

WR Greg Jennings (MIN) vs. CLE:  My skepticism of Christian Ponder aside, no one who matches up against Joe Haden wins, despite the rest of the Browns being awful. He'll struggle, despite the team probably playing well otherwise.

TE Charles Clay (MIA) vs. ATL: The hot waiver-wire pickup after Week 2 needs a few more games to prove that he's a legitimate fantasy starter at the position, and against Atlanta I don't think he's going to prove much, so back off him for now.

DEF Cincinnati vs. GB: Yes the Bengals have one of the best fantasy defenses in football, yet when anyone goes up against Green Bay, they go down a peg. The Bengals are next up for that onslaught this week.

3 Super Sleepers:

RB Knowshon Moreno (DEN) vs. OAK MON: Even though predicting who will end up on the right side of the Broncos RB carousel when it stops is hard to predict, but Moreno is the guy right now, and the Raiders aren't the best defensive team, irrespective of last week.

WR Tavon Austin (STL) vs. DAL: The Cowboys secondary hasn't been the best this season, and Tavon Austin, who has been relatively quiet in the first two games, will likely be the beneficiary of that.

DEF Buffalo vs. NYJ: Geno Smith might turn out to be good, but at the moment the Bills defense might be a deep sleeper for those who need defensive options right now since the Jets offense has scored only 27 in 2 games.

Buyer Beware:

QB Tom Brady (NE) vs. TB: Do you have better options available? Then you might want to exercise them this Sunday. Brady might get Gronk back, but the Bucs D has actually been solid despite hilarious end of game gaffes. Keep that in mind for Sunday.

Good Luck in Week 3!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013-14 UEFA Champions League Group Stage Predictions (Plus eventual Champ)

Time now to predict the Group Stages of the Champions League, including point predictions and a little snippet on each group. It figures to be one of the most interesting competitions in years, so let's get right into it.

Group A:

1) Manchester United 2) Shaktar Donetsk 3) Real Sociedad 4) Bayer Leverkusen

--> This isn't the group of death by any means, but it's also nowhere near simple to figure out. United are the best team in the group, but none of the other teams are any slouches and should give the Red Devils trouble. Shaktar is a veteran team in the competition, and their Brazilian contingent as well as manager Mircea Lucescu give them an advantage. Sociedad are new to the stage, but they can challenge with players like Seferovic, Griezmann, and Vela. Bayer were 3rd in the Bundesliga for a reason, so they're not easy to count out either.

Group B:

1) Real Madrid 2) Juventus 3) Galatasaray 4) Copenhagen

--> Copenhagen are sacrificial lambs for the other 3 squads, but this is going to provide a good litmus test for both Real and Juve to see where each stand at this early point of the season. Juve are ahead of schedule in Europe, and Real have the expectations of La Decima staring them in the face. That won't affect them in the group stages so much as it will later, but it will be interesting to see how the pieces fit for Ancelotti in this competition.

Group C:

1) PSG 2) Benfica 3) Anderlecht 4) Olympiacos

--> What has been called a pretty dull group on paper does have some interesting features underneath. PSG with all of their flashy signings including Edinson Cavani will once again try to prove their mettle on the European stage, which is never easy. Benfica have a tricky young squad that will be a tough out for anyone, even if it inevitably is a shop window for these players, and Anderlecht are in a broadly similar position with players like Mitrovic, Acheampong, and Najar. Olympiacos are the last team of a dying breed of Greek teams competitive on the European stage, which is sad.

Group D:

1) Bayern Munich 2) Manchester City 3) CSKA Moscow 4) Viktoria Plzen

The Champions of Europe have what might be described as a favorable draw, despite the appearance of Manchester City in this group. Moscow aren't exactly world beaters, but they won't be easy to fell either. Manchester City finally avoid the group of death, and with Manuel Pellegrini's pedigree in Europe, expectations are high for a team that has gone out the last 2 years in the group stage. Plzen will be tough to beat at home, but away they will be easy opposition. This group will be must see TV when Bayern and City clash.

Group E:

1) Chelsea 2) Schalke 3) Basel 4) Steaua Bucharest

--> Jose Mourinho's return to the Bridge brings him a fairly laughable group, even if it does include 2 teams Chelsea felled on their way to the Europa League crown a season ago. They will be favored in every single match they play, and for good reason. Schalke have a squad comprised of interesting players like Draxler, Meyer, Szalai, and Kevin Prince-Boateng, but one that hasn't totally put it together yet. Maybe the most interesting thing about them will be when Jermaine Jones gets his first stupid booking. Basel will be a tough out as per usual, but don't have enough to beat the big boys, and Steaua will be a tough name to pronounce, and that's about it.

Group F:

1) Borussia Dortmund 2) Arsenal 3) Napoli 4) Marseille

Now this is truly the Group of Death. I could probably write a thesis paper on the matchups and storylines in this group, but I'll try to keep it short. Dortmund are red hot in the Bundesliga right now, and they've not missed a beat since Mario Gotze left for (greener) Bavarian pastures. Their new pieces have fit in perfectly to Jurgen Klopp's side, and last year's runners-up will likely prove a lot of doubters wrong again. Now onto those Gunners... without Mesut Ozil they probably wouldn't have made the knockout stages, but with him, they certainly can. Their depth is still a major concern, but they look too good right now with the starting XI to not make the knockout stages, even at the expense of a team like Napoli. This side is the genuine article under Rafa Benitez, and with their strength in attack they will be hard to knock out (plus I can't wait to see the chants towards Gonzalo Higuain from the Arsenal fans at the Emirates). Don't count out Marseille either. With young players like Dmitri Payet and Florian Thauvin, they will be no slouch against anyone, especially at the usually fearsome Stade Velodrome.

Group G:

1) Atletico Madrid 2) Porto 3) Zenit 4) Austria Wien

This is the group that is the dull apple amongst the many bright ones. Porto and Atleti are both class squads, and will both likely not face too much trouble on their way to the knockout stages. Zenit have players like Axel Witsel and Hulk that are obviously interesting, but their overall squad depth can't match that of Porto and Atleti. Austria Wien are the classic "happy to be here" team.

Group H:

1) Barcelona 2) Milan 3) Celtic 4) Ajax

Celtic got Barca again? Come on. Regardless, if Group F is the Group of Death, H is a close second. Barca are always fearsome, and will probably head the group again. Milan are in a bit of a rut right now, but they always seem to play some of their best football against big teams at San Siro, so that will probably happen again (and I want to see Tiziano Crudeli scream some more). Celtic once again get a brutal draw, but that doesn't mean they can't scalp some points off the big boys, which they probably  will. Ajax are always tough, but their depletion rate is too steep to compete with the might of the Blaugrana and Rossoneri, and with the sheer will of Celtic.

Champion: Borussia Dortmund. They've looked like the best team in Europe so far this season, and being in the Group of Death and advancing through it will only make them stronger for the challenges ahead.

Another David Moyes Column

There are nearly infinite storylines going into the Champions League group stage that can be written about, such as how will the Spanish giants rebound after being embarrassed in the semifinals last year, will German teams continue to rise in stature, and will English teams rebound after a poor showing last year? Even including individual storylines, there are too many to count, but I want to focus on one. David Moyes. Yes, his story has been hammered in to death with the start of the league season, and especially after the transfer flops. But he has a chance to regain goodwill with his first foray into the Champions League group stage, but how will he deal with an entirely new challenge while having the pressure of managing Manchester United on his shoulders?

Managing in Europe is an entirely different task than managing domestically, and this is news to no one. But it might be to Moyes, whose only entries into European competitions were in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, where his teams didn't put in the most stellar performances, notwithstanding his Champions League knockout against Villarreal in 2005 before the group stage. In those trips to and from the continent, Moyes had an interesting time dealing with foreign tactics, squad rotation, which eventually led to results that could be described as anywhere from "decent" to "meh". In order to ascertain as to what Moyes might do with this new challenge of the Champions League, we first must see what he did when he last managed a team competing in Europe.

The last season David Moyes took an Everton team to Europe was 2009-10, when Everton made it to the Europa League Round of 32, only to be knocked out by Sporting Lisbon. Everton finished 8th that year while juggling this competition and domestic ones, a fall from 5th the year prior, which included them sitting 2 points above the relegation zone at Christmas. How did Moyes rotate his squad? Well he was forced to for he was dealing with a major injury crisis, including playing players like Seamus Coleman and Jose Baxter (both 17) in a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Benfica in Lisbon. Everton tried as much as they could to play a full strength squad on both fronts, but their injury crisis prevented them from fully doing so, as at one point they were dealing with 11 players injured, and had nowhere near the depth of squad that Moyes will have at his disposal today.

How did he deal tactically? Based on results, it seems pretty decently, although he faced AEK Athens and BATE Borisov 4 years ago, and will face Bayer Leverkusen, Shaktar Donetsk, and Real Sociedad this year. Once again, as it seems to be the trend, Moyes would be more hesitant to go for it against the bigger clubs like Benfica and Sporting, injury handicap aside, and this saw the Toffees score only 2 goals against the Lisbon giants while conceding 11. Of course squad depth played a role in these defeats, and having to play youth players and first teamers out of position while dealing with a major injury crisis is no easy task. So overall in this campaign, Moyes dealt quite admirably with the task of juggling 4 competitions while dealing with seemingly daily injuries, although Everton's league form improved drastically once all the other competitions were off their plate. Analysis of Moyes' other forays into the UEFA Cup will provide similar conclusions, aside from not having to deal with quite the injury crises then.

So that was Moyes then, so how about now? Well, he has far more squad depth and experience to play with now as gaffer at Manchester United, but how will he rotate the squad when he has challenges in the league to deal with as well? Will we see players like Chris Smalling, Shinji Kagawa, Chicharito, and maybe more of Moyes' prized Marouane Fellaini? Despite fixture congestion being nothing new for most of the squad, it certainly might be for Moyes, whose team is expected to win trophies and head the table at the same time, despite whether you find Manchester United's slate of opening fixtures fair or not. Moyes' insistence that he is not nervous despite rumblings of discontent among the Old Trafford faithful and his newness to the competition and the pressure might be reassuring on the level of slightly relaxed pressure from the tabloids, but we'll not know anything until we see United tackle their slipping European home form, and the somewhat daunting travel facing them in the future. Moyes assures he knows about the competition from playing in it and watching it, but managing in it is a whole different ballgame, especially pre Manchester derby approaching just after the first Bayer fixture. It's a challenge Moyes is certainly excited about, but certainly green to.

The Red Devils league form has already suffered some. They have a cup competition tie next week against Liverpool. The discontent isn't loud, but the whispers are growing to a low whine, while not annoying yet, they could be disruptive, especially if form continues to suffer. All the advice from Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex is nice, but it won't matter if results don't come in, especially for a supporters base hungry for another European cup after the disappointments of the last 2 seasons. David Moyes has talked the part of being a Manchester United boss, but he hasn't quite walked the walk yet.

Maybe Champions League success will prove that he can, or the lack of it will just make the low whine a louder din.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2013 Week 2 Fantasy Advice

Week 1 is finished, and despite a record being broken for the amount of TD passes thrown, there are a number of teams that looked incapable of producing any offense (mine included). And with injuries already playing a major role in the proceedings, Week 2 is the first test of depth for many teams out there.

Who to Start:

QB Mike Vick (PHI) vs. SD: Pumping the brakes on Chip Kelly's speed game aside, Mike Vick is a good fantasy option again. The Chargers pass defense struggled mightily at the end of their game against the Texans, and on a short week traveling cross-country, the Eagles will pray on that.

RB Darren McFadden (OAK) vs. JAX: Although I think he won't last the entire season because he will get injured, he'll do fairly well against a banged up Jacksonville defense on Sunday. The threat of Terrelle Pryor running certainly helps.

WR Steve Smith (CAR) vs. BUF: He might have been the only Panther to have a good offensive day last week against the Seahawks, and now he gets to go up against the Bills secondary which last week gave up two TD's to Julian Edelman and whose top 2 corners are out.

WR Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. DAL: Despite being maybe the only Chief to not look good last week, he should fare much better against the Dallas secondary which was absolutely picked apart last week despite the defense as a whole forcing 6 turnovers.

TE Owen Daniels (HOU) vs. TEN: The Titans defense was surprisingly effective last week against the Steelers, but going up against the Texans is a different task. Daniels has always done well against the Titans, and he had a huge game Monday night as well.

DEF Cincinnati vs. PIT MON: While the Bengals defense was always a good 2nd defense option for most, this week they should be starting for you. The Steelers offensive line was a sieve before the Maurkice Pouncey injury, and is now even worse without him. They gave up 5 sacks and looked pretty terrible, so the Bengals will probably feast on that. And speaking of that...

Who to Sit:

QB Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) vs. CIN MON: Big Ben will be under siege most of the night Monday, and while his numbers aren't usually good against the Bengals, they'll be even worse because of what I spoke of above.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX) vs. OAK: Last week the Jaguars interior offensive line was a revolving door, meaning MJD got only 15 carries. Despite Chad Henne starting meaning MJD will likely get a few more carries, the interior O-Line is not only bad, but banged up. Bench him if possible.

WR Roddy White (ATL) vs. STL: Still dealing with the effects of a high-ankle sprain, White did next to nothing against the Saints last Sunday. This one figures to be no better, despite a semi-favorable matchup if he's still gimpy.

WR Greg Jennings (MIN) vs. CHI: His performance last week did nothing to silence doubts about his fantasy value, and going up against a far better D this week in Chicago won't help those doubts go away any time soon. 

TE Dallas Clark (BAL) vs. CLE: The name makes you sing, but the hands make you swoon. Dallas Clark was targeted plenty last Thursday, but that meant little since he dropped a ton of passes. There are better tight ends out there, and ones who aren't over the hill, so start them.

DEF Washington vs. GB: Their defense, aside from the fluky backwards pass, was very bad against the Eagles. Next up... they get Green Bay! That won't make their fantasy numbers go up any higher.

3 Super Sleepers:

RB Daryl Richardson (STL) vs. ATL: I'm really hoping I'm right here (since I own him in my league), and that he performs a little better than he did last week against Arizona against a defense that is almost as sketchy against the run as New Orleans.

TE Brent Celek (PHI) vs. SD: He's not going to be targeted often, but he'll make big plays when he is. The Chargers defense gave up a ton of points to Owen Daniels on Monday, and Celek figures to benefit from the same defensive problems.

DEF Oakland vs. JAX: It's Chad Henne. Come on now.

Buyer Beware:

RB Frank Gore (SF) vs. SEA: He's never played all that well against the Seahawks in his career, and he hasn't scored many TD's against them either. They held DeAngelo Williams to 86 yards rushing, and figure to hold Gore to about the same.

Good Luck in Week 2!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 NFL Season Predictions

After division picks, it's time to finally put numbers to names and predict records and the future of the NFL for one season. Here comes what are the sure to be wrong NFL season predictions:

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

AFC Playoff Picks:

Seeds: 1) DEN 2) BAL 3) NE 4) IND 5) CIN 6) HOU
Wild Card Round: 3) NE over 6) HOU
                             5) CIN over 4) IND

Divisional Round: 1) DEN over 5) CIN
                           2) BAL over 3) NE

AFC Championship Game: 2) BAL over 1) DEN

NFC Playoff Picks:

Seeds: 1) SEA 2) GB 3) ATL 4) NYG 5) SF 6) CHI
Wild Card Round: 3) ATL over 6) CHI
                             5) SF over 4) NYG

Divisional Round: 1) SEA over 5) SF
                           3) ATL over 2) GB

NFC Championship Game: 1) SEA over 3) ATL

Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle over Baltimore 20-16

Award Picks:

MVP: Peyton Manning
OPOY: Calvin Johnson
DPOY: Luke Kuechly
OROY: Gio Bernard
DROY: Ziggy Ansah
Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 Week 1 Fantasy Advice

Since the NFL is now back, the ever-popular fantasy column is returning with it. So I hope everybody has picked their teams and is ready for the advice you don't need, but desperately want without admitting it. Each column will come out on Wednesday, so prepare yourself each week.

Who to Start:

QB Matt Ryan (ATL) vs. NO: Every time the Saints play the Falcons, offensive numbers go through the roof. This Sunday will be no different. Despite the new defensive coordinator for the Saints in Rob Ryan, their defense will still be pretty bad. So Matt Ryan should be in line for a great day.

RB David Wilson (NYG) vs. DAL: Since Andre Brown is out for an extended period of time, Wilson has to be one of the focal points of the offense. He goes up against a Dallas defense dealing with some crucial injuries, and one that struggled last year against the run, so Wilson figures to take pressure off of Mr. Eli Manning.

WR Antonio Brown (PIT) vs. TEN: One of the many young wideouts for the Steelers will have to break out, and Antonio Brown is probably going to be that guy. The Titans secondary had problems a year ago, and Brown's speed should help him get targets on Sunday.

WR Pierre Garcon (WSH) vs. PHI MON: The Eagles defense, especially against the pass last year, was terrible. The preseason hasn't shown much change. Garcon has declared himself healthy, and as the best receiver for the Redskins, he should see a great game on Monday.

TE Vernon Davis (SF) vs. GB: If you were being honest, the Packers defense was pretty bad last season, and was a major reason why the '9ers ousted them in round 2. Secondly, if you were honest, you would say that Davis had a horrible go of it last season. He should do much better this season, mainly since Colin Kaepernick doesn't have many wideouts to throw it to now.

DEF Indianapolis vs. OAK: The Raiders are starting Terrelle Pryor. I don't need to explain anymore.

Who to Sit:

QB Jay Cutler (CHI) vs. CIN: Even if you believe Marc Trestman will really change Cutler's fortunes, you would have to admit it will be tough against the Bengals criminally underrated defense. With Geno Atkins in his face, it's going to be hard to have a good day.

RB Ryan Mathews (SD) vs. HOU MON: Mathews was pretty bad last season, which mean trust in him has gone way down, and he's playing the Texans in Week 1, which isn't really going to help his case much.

WR Steve Smith (CAR) vs. SEA: The Seahawks press/physical corners will take a lot of sting out of Steve Smith's ability on Sunday, since most of his routes are short ones and those will be taken away plenty. Also, he didn't play well the last time these two teams played in Week 5 a year ago.

WR Mike Wallace (MIA) vs. CLE: Mike Wallace might well have a good season, or a great one even. However, Wallace will be matched up against Joe Haden, which is about as bad a match-up for a receiver as there is in the NFL.

TE Jared Cook (STL) vs. ARZ: He's been a sleeper for the last 7 or so years now (hyperbole always included), and his move to St. Louis should help that. But Arizona's defense is underrated, and Cook will take some time to integrate with the new offense.

DEF Baltimore vs. DEN THU: Now in my season previews, I was incredibly high on the Ravens re-stocked defense, and I still am. However, that doesn't mean I would start them this Thursday night in an atmosphere where it will be incredibly difficult to win. Thanks Orioles.

3 Super Sleepers:

RB Lamar Miller (MIA) vs. CLE: I'm bullish on how well he can do this season if used properly, and it should start well for him in Cleveland, against a team that can't really defend the run very well. He's a sneaky flex starter.

WR Miles Austin (DAL) vs. NYG: He's had some amazing games against the Giants in the past, and the Giants injury riddled secondary won't prove to be that much of a block against that this week.

DEF St. Louis vs. ARZ: The Rams defense is young and re-tooled, and when they go up against the Cardinals with a sketchy QB in Carson Palmer and a young and banged up offensive line, they will look pretty good.

Buyer Beware:

QB Cam Newton (CAR) vs. SEA: It should come as no surprise that starting a QB going up against the Seahawks defense is not an amazing option, and looking back on the game last season, he did have some big problems. They might come up again.

Good Luck in Week 1 and Happy Football Season!

NFC West Preview

Everyone's new darling division, 3 years after it was the biggest laughing stock this side of ACC football, is going to be a treat to watch this season. The budding "rivalry" of Seahawks-49ers will be nearly must-see TV, the Rams are on the rise, and the Cardinals have an actual QB this season. So this should be fun, right?

Both the 49ers and Seahawks are very similar to each other, so it's efficient to talk about them both at once. Both teams have talented young QB's who can pass just as well as they run, they both have an absolutely brilliant defense, and both have great home-field advantages (even though they're moving after this season to their new Santa Clara palace). Both teams have injuries at wide receiver that will hurt them to a point this season, although Seattle's might hurt them more. Even though I never really thought the Percy Harvin trade was a good one at the start, it has never looked worse right now. The 49ers are without Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, but the 49ers are probably better off because of their depth at RB and TE. Both teams are incredibly close to each other in terms of quality, even though San Francisco's defense is slightly better for me. They are both going to slug it out for the division title this season, and it might come on the last day of the season this time around..

The St. Louis Rams are a young team with some interesting players all around, and coming off an 8-8 season some have them sneaking into the postseason. They have young talent at WR and RB, and it's going to be interesting to watch players like Daryl Richardson, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and others develop. Their defensive talent is young and interesting too, but when you want to stretch to say whether they're good, it's a tough question. Chris Long, Robert Quinn, James Laurinaitis, Janoris Jenkins and others are talented, but whether they can put it all together for Jeff Fisher is a question. With the NFC West being as difficult a division as it is now, as well as the NFC contenders for the wild card spots, it's hard to see the Rams getting there this season, but they'll certainly be close.

Arizona now has a quarterback that isn't named after a famous radio circus clown (look up Red Skelton) in Carson Palmer, and that should help out poor Larry Fitzgerald who deserves more than anyone else to have a solid QB to throw him the ball. They have depth issues at the rest of the offensive skill positions though. Their offensive line is also in transition, and with Jonathan Cooper's broken leg, it will be hard for them to see massive improvement. The defense might once again be the strong suit with players like Dockett, Abraham, Campbell and Peterson amongst others. The Cardinals might not be much different from the team last year, but they'll be a more interesting watch this season.

In summary... the battle between the 49ers and Seahawks is a toss-up, the Rams are going to be good, but not great, and the Cardinals will at least be interesting this season, even though they might not be much better.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

AFC West Preview

So the AFC West Preview might be really short. The Broncos are really, really good, and the rest of the teams aren't. But there has to be more to this, right? There is, but it will to be to talk about how bad the other teams are. So, let's get to it.

The Denver Broncos are a presumptive Super Bowl favorite, obviously. Any team with Peyton Manning is going to contend. And now he has Wes Welker to throw to. So, call off the AFC right? Not so fast. They've already lost two centers to season-ending injuries, and the offensive line will have to adapt to these changes quickly. Von Miller is out for 6 games because of suspension, and that will dramatically affect the defense, which wasn't the most amazing unit to begin with. So the Broncos will have to fight through adversity, like every other team does. Denver will likely walk to the AFC West crown, by virtue of the fact that no one else in their division can win it. But will these problems affect Denver's possible run to the Super Bowl? Debatable.

Kansas City has gone through a multitude of changes, and Andy Reid and Alex Smith are now the pair charged to take the Chiefs beyond their abysmal 2-14 record. Alex Smith is a solid QB, but him as the man with a team far inferior to the San Francisco team he marshaled for the last 1.5 seasons does bring up some questions. He has solid weapons on offense like Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles, but the question on the latter is whether Andy Reid will run the ball enough to help out Smith, and based on his Eagles era work, it's not likely. The offensive line is solid, but unspectacular, and the defense has good players like Hali, Poe, Jackson, and Brandon Flowers, but it's not an amazing unit together. The Chiefs will certainly be better, but problems are still evident and haven't really been fixed. The playoffs aren't a ridiculous thought, but for this season I think they're out of reach.

How far the Chargers have fallen can be symbolized by the falling condition of their stadium; it was great at the time it was built and held up pretty well up until recently, but is now starting to fall apart. The Chargers have a new coach and GM, and they will try to build up a team that is beginning to fall apart. Philip Rivers isn't the spring chicken he was before, Ryan Mathews isn't the most solid running back, and their receiving corps have started to fall apart as well. Basically every unit on the team is a solid one, but they are starting to show cracks. The bottom may fall out of this team this year, and it would be an unfortunate end to what was a great run for the Chargers close to the top.

The Raiders preview is going to be short and sweet, so here it goes. They have the least amount of talent on their roster in the league by a huge margin, and Terrelle Pryor might start opening day because the offensive line is so bad that the team might fear for Matt Flynn's safety. Hello Jadaveon/Teddy.

In summary... the Broncos are the class of the division and a certain Super Bowl contender, but will the problems that have cropped up in preseason show up again later? The Chiefs are going to be better than 2-14, but probably not playoff better just yet. San Diego could see the bottom fall out on the roster, and a complete rebuild begin, and the Raiders are a legit contender for 0-16, and certainly the favorite for the #1 pick in the draft in May.

2013-14 Premier League Post Transfer Deadline Predictions

This post was originally going to be a recap of each clubs new transfer dealings post the original predictions that were posted back right before the season started, but instead I decided to make revised predictions now that the major transfer window has closed. There are some notable changes, so let's see if you can spot them.

1. Chelsea

Despite this being a bit of a puzzling window for Chelsea overall, they are still the best team in the Premier League, and by that they have the fewest holes. Shipping out Romelu Lukaku for an aged Samuel Eto'o is confusing, but adding Willian adds even more depth to a position of ridiculous strength at attacking midfield. They're not thin in defense or at striker, but better depth could help. Fixture congestion could become a problem, but it's doubtful.

2. Manchester United

Yes, their transfer window was a farce. Yes, adding Marouane Fellaini doesn't really address United's problem in that they've lacked a true creative midfielder to help spring their forwards (Mesut Ozil would have been perfect). But, they're still Manchester United. Their defense is stout as usual, and they are lethal at forward. If they realize that Shinji Kagawa is a really good player who could help them massively, then they might win the title. But they'll work out the kinks.

3. Manchester City

I have questions about their transfer policy, to be honest. I like their signings of Negredo, Navas, and Jovetic. But that Fernandinho and Yaya Toure midfield is a concerning one, since there isn't much of a style difference between them, and they've already proven how thin they are at centerback by having to sign Martin Demichelis for actual money (when they could have picked him up on a free in July). There is a lack of variety in attack for them, and Joe Hart is doing everything in his power to make Fraser Forster England's #1 keeper. They're still a Champs League team, but they have more problems than I thought they did at the start.

4. Arsenal

Before I get spit roasted by Gunners everywhere: Mesut Ozil is a great signing for both the Premier League and Arsenal. He makes an already formidable attack even more formidable, and he gives that squad and the fanbase needed morale going into a tough season. But, he doesn't address the fact that they have no defensive midfielders (and the fact that Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshire are made of glass), and that their squad is still very thin at most areas in defense at and striker. As of right now, the morale boost is enough to push them to fourth, but injuries could send this season off the tracks quick.

5. Tottenham Hotspur

Yes, I am a Tottenham supporter, but even objectively they've had the best transfer window in England. They turned Gareth Bale and others into 7 internationals and they still made a profit. The squad has much needed depth added everywhere sans fullback, and having a true number 10 in Christian Eriksen will address their major issue in unlocking a defense. But it will take time for this very new squad to gel together, and how long it does will be the story of the season. If it doesn't take very long, watch out.

6. Liverpool

They quietly had a very solid window, and they addressed my major qualm with them before the season started which was their defense was a bit of a shambles. Adding Sakho, Cissokho, and Ilori will fix those issues. Simon Mignolet has really impressed between the sticks too. Their problem is their lack of firepower without Luis Suarez, and the fact that neither of their forward signings so far (Alberto, Aspas, and Moses) inspire all that much confidence. Their youth could also be a stumbling block. They'll make it a true top 6 this season, but I don't think they have enough yet to challenge the Top 5.

7. Everton

Losing Mr. Fellaini hurts. But they turned him into James McCarthy (who is really good), Gareth Barry, and Romelu Lukaku. The latter of those 3 signings is the most important, because Everton's forwards are pretty bad aside from him. I still wonder about the system in general, and whether it's more style than substance at this stage since they've scored only 2 goals in 3 games. They kept Leighton Baines, which is crucial, but their squad has shown some frailties in the early stages of the season that are concerning. But, they have improved, which means they have jumped...

8. Swansea

Swansea, who have quietly had a very good transfer window making signings that perfectly fit their style of play. They have much needed depth everywhere now, and the squad as a whole is solid. But they will be dealing with new-found fixture congestion thanks to the Europa League, and everyone on the squad will be tested because of that. How they deal with this fixture congestion is going to be the story of their season, and I think they'll deal with it decently, just not as well as I had thought before the season started.

9. Norwich City

I still believe in the Canaries, whose transfer window has been very good for a club their size. Their new options are very good in most places, like Van Wolfswinkel, Hooper, Redmond and Fer, and the squad is deeper as a result. But new questions have to be asked about the style Chris Hughton is playing, and whether these new players fit into it. Their form has also been sketchy, especially away from Carrow Road. They'll be tested early and often, but I think they'll pass most of them.

10. Aston Villa

One Kartik Krishnayer of World Soccer Talk remarked that Aston Villa are similar to Borussia Dortmund in that they are building a club, not just a team. The more I have looked into this squad, it makes perfect sense. Their best bit of transfer business was obviously keeping Christian Benteke, but that didn't stop them from making improvements like getting Libor Kozak from Lazio. Their youth is continuing to grow up, and they've proven to be a tough out already this season for teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool. And they've shipped out some hilarious dead-weight too. Paul Lambert's going to have this team do some great things soon, and finishing 10th is just the start.

11. West Ham United

As I wrote in the pre-season preview, West Ham are mid-table malaise personified. They aren't good, nor are they bad. They've spent their window adding Liverpool castoffs, without really addressing depth issues at striker, or the fact that they're just a slightly better version of Stoke. But, a slightly better version of Stoke means they'll end up being comfortably mid-table with no repercussions for anyone at the club. Mid table malaise, everybody.

12. Southampton

I was concerned earlier about their signings not really fixing their problems, but their concentrated efforts have been rewarded somewhat early on. Dejan Lovren has been decent, Victor Wanyama has played better of late, and they signed the Italian-Argentine fireball Pablo "Dani" Osvaldo to help out an already impressive strike force. I also love how they are using academy products as well like Shaw and Chambers, who are really, really good and unfortunately aren't long for the club because of that. Their style is easy on the eye, and will allow them to move up the table some this season.

13. Sunderland

This team is a bizarre one. On one hand, their signings have been mostly good, and they've done it for very little money. On the other, they have a coach who calls out players publicly which could cause him to lose the dressing room fast, and they have absolutely no good creative midfielders to give a potent strike force service. Jozy Altidore is good, but he can't create something out of nothing. They've shown some frailties in defense, and as said before their midfield lacks a true creator. If Ki can turn out to be that man, then Sunderland might be better off than this position. But since I doubt it, they might have to turn to January to fix that problem.

14. West Bromwich Albion

Here's another club with a bizarre transfer window. Lots of loans, very few permanent signings, and overall very little change to the quality of the club. Their problem will be scoring goals, and whether Victor Anichebe and Matej Vydra can do that with this midfield is a question. Stephane Sessegnon is not bad, but not the creator they need. They also have issues at keeper now that Ben Foster has suffered a long-term injury. But Steve Clarke will keep them up this year, just like he how he got them up to 8th last season.

15. Newcastle United

They're in trouble. Only adding in Loic Remy on loan is puzzling, and it doesn't fix any of the many squad issues they have. Even if you think the talent isn't bad, the manager has to be. Alan Pardew has found it hard to get to the players, irrespective of whatever story the media wants you to blame. But the performance, especially the goal-scoring form is very concerning. I don't think Alan Pardew survives the season, and Joe Kinnear managing that squad is even scarier. I wonder if a French manager gets hired if this season goes south fast. That might be the only way to help the squad get back to some of their 2011-12 form.

16. Cardiff City

They have added Premier League quality players almost everywhere, and have spent their funds wisely. Players like Cornelius, Medel, and Odemwingie will help out the already solid core of players held over from the Championship. Their performances against City and Everton have shown that they will be a tough out at home, and they have a decent enough defense and keeper to scalp them some points away from South Wales. On a slightly related note, the Welsh derbies this season are going to be must-watch TV this season, so make that a note for November 3 and February 8.

17. Fulham

This transfer window can be described as a Martin Jol special. They've added older players past their prime to the key positions, and have added some unknown talent from a small league in Europe for little money. They're not that much better, and the concern is where the goals are going to come from. Martin Jol could be the first manager sacked this season, since Fulham are going to be in a very tough relegation fight.

18. Stoke City

I will give credit to Mark Hughes for trying to sign some players who will help make Stoke into a better team to watch stylistically. But then he went out and signed Stephen Ireland on loan. There goes some of that good will down the drain. They will, as always, have trouble scoring goals, and will need to scalp some ugly wins to stay up. It's also interesting how Mark Hughes usually goes to clubs with seemingly unlimited funds, and yet he is still bad. Maybe the trend changes at Stoke where very little was actually spent this summer.

19. Crystal Palace

They've signed a ton of players, and not many of them are really that notable in helping them improve to Premier League quality. They will be a scrappy team to play against, and going to Selhurst Park will be a challenge for everyone, just ask Spurs and Sunderland. But they lack Premier League quality players in most areas that would help them stay up, even if I really want them to because Ian Holloway is a great manager that the Premier League needs.

20. Hull City (Tigers)

Stupid American style nickname aside, they are relying on goals from Danny Graham to keep them in the Premier League. That's all the evidence I need to say they're going straight back down to the Championship.

Consider these my new predictions my final and official ones for the season now that all rosters are pretty much settled.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Transfer Deadline Day (Not so) Live Blog

Transfer deadline day is the single craziest day of player movement in any sport that I follow. If you combine the NHL Trade Deadline, the NFL Draft, MLB's winter meetings, and national signing day together, you wouldn't nearly get as much movement and craziness from rumors leading up to the 6 P.M. EST deadline in England. I wanted to do a live blog, but I had no capabilities to do so.In place of that, here is a series of thoughts I typed out as news broke during the day. Jim White has nothing on me.

10:30 AM: So of course, the first thing in the morning to check on this day is Sky Sports and other sites, and none of the big signings have happened yet, but I'm expecting them to start rolling in shortly. Until then, it's a boring waiting game.

11:00 AM: Seems that Arsenal are close to signing Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid since spending monopoly money is not a thing Los Blancos can do anymore after Gareth Bale's move. Some have said Arsenal are not panicking, yet spending 42.5 million pounds and 200K a week to sign Ozil seems like a bit of a bone thrown to the fans. Hasn't been officially confirmed yet.

11:15 AM: Manchester United's pursuit of upgrading their midfield for the first time in years it seems might actually be happening (although it still won't help Mr. Moyes beat the big clubs). Marouane Fellaini is a target, and so is Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera. Well, at least they've decided to get something done.

11:30 AM: Since Juan Mata is not liked by Jose Mourinho for some inexplicable reason, it's been rumored that PSG have attempted to sign him, as if they needed any more talented midfielders. Doubt this one happens, but this is what transfer deadline day is all about: complete bluff which sometimes actually happens.

12:00 PM: Six hours until the window closes, and here comes the ridiculousness. Does this hair behind the sheet belong to Marouane Fellaini as he is being escorted in for his Manchester United medical? If it is, welp.

12:05 PM: These moves were confirmed earlier, but Liverpool signed Mamadou Sakho from PSG, Tiago Ilori from Sporting Lisbon, and Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea. Good business for them, since their defense is pretty much a shambles behind their starting contingent. They might legitimately compete for the Champions League now. Good business.

12:11 PM: Nothing has happened for a little bit, so I'm bored now. You can only read so much from the Mirror and Telegraph and not give up on the transfer enterprise. There is no Bob McKenzie or Adam Schefter of British footie to clear things up. It's all gone Hockey Insiderrrrrrr and Eklund really quick.

12:20 PM: So, this link might be dead soon after I put this in the blog, but since I'm a bitter Spurs fan, why the hell not?

12:38 PM: Arsenal have signed someone! It's a goalkeeper, because of course it is. Emiliano Viviano comes on loan from Palermo to probably push Wojciech Szczesny. It's not Mesut Ozil, and who knows if they spent actual money on that.

12:51 PM: Stoke in their attempt to play a more... aesthetically pleasing style have signed Stephen Ireland on loan from Villa, which won't help out much.

1:00 PM: 5 hours to go... It should be getting crazier soon, but as of now it's just stand-ups from Sky Sports reporters outside grounds with a few crazy fans in the background. No Jim White yet.

1:30 PM: Aston Villa signed Libor Kozak, which is a good signing, and the castoffs from the same club keep leaving as Barry Bannan goes to Crystal Palace. What a weird day.


2:30 PM: Demba Ba to Spurs? Nope, it was just Daniel Levy trolling, probably. To Arsenal? Who would want to sell to Arsenal at this rate? To somewhere else? Maybe. Unnamed clubs are the best, aren't they? Romelu Lukaku could also go to Everton on loan, which is a scary thing.

3:00 PM: 3 hours till the window closes! Jim White continues to get more excited on Sky Sports News by the minute, which is awesome.

3:02 PM: Marouane Fellaini has left Finch Farm (Everton's training ground) and is probably headed to Carrington to sign for United. Time to get the helicopters ready to follow his car on the highway! (I'm not making that up, this will happen)

3:20 PM: Mesut Ozil's move to Arsenal is still not official yet, which means it has officially taken longer for this transfer to be confirmed than for Arsenal to spend money in this transfer window.

3:27 PM: Manchester United are not usually the deadline day team, but the pressure on Moyes to bring in Herrera and Fellaini is immense, and there is doubt that the deals can and will get done.

3:45 PM: Shane Long could be heading to Hull for a club record fee, which makes way too much sense because of Steve Bruce. I don't understand what West Brom is doing, to be honest.

3:58 PM: Bye Disco Benny. Benoit Assou-Ekotto is off to QPR on a season long loan. Also, Sky Italia has reported that the Fellaini deal is done. They have the reliability of an old Fiat, so take it with a grain of salt.

4:00 PM: 2 hours left! Get in your last punts to Sky Bet and get back to watching Jim White get closer to collapse on live British TV!

4:08 PM: What am I going to do without transfer rumors to check during classes at school every day? Actually worry about the football for once. I can't complain.

4:14 PM: No news, but credit to the website Spurs GIF's for this gem. I feel the same way.

4:33 PM: So now Romelu Lukaku could be headed back to West Brom instead of Everton? Well, that's a concern for Everton, eh?

4:44 PM: Since I'm not watching Sky Sports news, I'm wondering whether Jim White has actually exploded yet. Probably not, but you can tell he's willing Big Ben to strike 11 or Fellaini to finally be unveiled at Carrington.

4:55 PM: Now there are reports from German magazine Kicker that the Ozil move to Arsenal might be blocked. Holy moly... Some people just want to watch the world burn.

5:00 PM: ONE HOUR TO GO! Get your popcorn ready, and your deadline day bingo cards too, because it will fill up really quickly.

5:01 PM: AS and Stan Collymore are saying no Ander Herrera for Manchester United. Those stubborn Basques.

5:02 PM: Fabio Borini to Sunderland on loan from Liverpool, because more Italians need to know about Tyneside, right?

5:10 PM: So there are problems with Fellaini's transfer according to Belgian media, as they claimed Lukaku was at West Brom's training ground even though he was in Brussels. Nice.

5:17 PM: The BBC reporting that a fee has been agreed for Mata to PSG. Well that's back on now. Thanks Jose for that.

5:18 PM: Andrea Dossena is another Italian at Sunderland just confirmed, because Sunderland felt they had to match the French contingent at Newcastle with a large contingent from another Western European nation.

5:20 PM: So the supposed United and Athletic reps at the Spanish League offices weren't reps at all in fact. So everyone just got punk'd. Nice.

5:23 PM: The Sessegnon deal has now been confirmed by Sunderland, as he is off to West Brom. I told you all it would get interesting, it just needed to get kick started. Jim White approves.

5:24 PM: Mercifully, the Ozil deal is now confirmed. Arsenal fans can get off the ledge now, even if the signing is panicky and their defense still has no depth.

5:27 PM: The most un-biased thought on Ozil I can possibly bring as the deal is now Arsenal confirmed is that he's better than Santi Cazorla but what else is next to help fix the defensive issues?

5:35 PM: So after going to Everton, then West Brom, then a huge muddled mess afterwords, it seems that Romelu Lukaku is off to Everton on loan.

5:36 PM: Might as well add that Gareth Barry might be off to Everton on loan as well, which would help the Fellaini move to Manchester United. 24 minutes remain.

5:43 PM: So Spurs might be interested in Demba Ba again? Yeah, that'll happen (no chance).

5:47 PM: Since I also care about MLS, seems that Kei Kamara's move to Middlesbrough of the Championship is about to become official. Good move for a quality player nurtured by MLS.

5:52 PM: James McCarthy's valuation has been met by Everton now. Well, let's let the dominoes fall 8 minutes before the window closes.

6:00 PM: The WINDOW IS NOW CLOSED. But stuff is still going to be happening well after it though.

6:04 PM: James McCarthy has been spotted at Finch Farm, so will we coincidentally see Marouane Fellaini spotted at Carrington shortly? Yeah.

6:07 PM: So now Fabio Coentrao could be off on loan to United? Well that would be a shocker if it happens.

6:10 PM: Fulham have gotten in on the act by signing a cat named Elsad Zverotic from Young Boys in Switzerland. He's a Montenegrin defender who I don't know much about, so look him up on Google.

6:14 PM: Lukaku himself has confirmed he's on loan at Everton, and looks like the Coentrao loan business has been shot down, although there are conflicting reports on the latter end. God help me.

6:19 PM: So after it looked like Manchester United were going to get nothing done, looks like the Fellaini and Coentrao transfers are done. What a change.

6:29 PM: Reports out of Turkey claim that Galatasary's sporting director has said that they rejected a bid for Wesley Sneijder from Manchester United. Wow.

6:31 PM: We're still going... Niko Kranjcar has been loaned to QPR, meaning another one of Harry's boys have rejoined him at a new club. Hilarious.

6:37 PM: Seeing reports that Fabio Coentrao's loan move to United could be off because the paperwork wasn't sent it time. Elvis Dumervill sympathizes.

6:41 PM: No confirmation on the Everton or United sides for all of these moves yet. I'm getting really hungry and I pray they confirm these soon, before it's officially a hunger strike for me.

6:49 PM: As I still wait on official confirmation on some deals, I'm started to think of songs that match the mood of this transfer window. "Live Forever" by Oasis maybe? "You Get What You Give" by the New Radicals? "Monkey Wrench" by the Foo Fighters? We'll be here forever if we continue this pace.

6:52 PM: Lukaku's loan is now official... is this the snowball down?

6:56 PM: God Bless you Everton, the 5 deals are now confirmed. I can go eat dinner now.

So that was my summation of all of my thoughts on transfer deadline day. What a gongshow. It's at least nice that there isn't another one of these for 4 months yet. That's way too soon. Let's get on with the football.

NFC South Preview

Many around the NFL claim the NFC West is football's toughest. It might have the been teams at the top, but from top to bottom, the most competitive division this season will be the NFC South. Atlanta was the NFC's #1 seed last year, New Orleans now has their coach back, Carolina enters the season on a roll, and Tampa has Revis Island on their side now. It's hard to project this division out, but I'm gonna try to now.

For the Falcons, they were so close last year to finally breaking through, until San Francisco took it away. They've retooled for 2013 in some notable spots, namely at RB and in the secondary. Out goes Michael Turner and in comes Steven Jackson in order to help spark what was a moribund running game a season prior, and the secondary has been dramatically altered with only Asante Samuel surviving. Desmond Trufant is now in the hot seat, and in this division the secondary is a very important part of success. Osi Umenyiora also replaces John Abraham, and he'll have to replace the sacks lost there. The biggest concern for Atlanta is not making the playoffs, but this lingering thought: "Was last year our best, and possibly only chance to make the Super Bowl?" They had home-field advantage and didn't use it. With the NFC tougher this season, the Falcons might need to dig deep to get back to last season's heights.

The Saints biggest addition is certainly having their head coach back, and it did affect them last year to not have Sean Payton. Offensively they'll be just as powerful as they were before Payton was suspended, but hopefully they'll be able to run the ball with more effectiveness this season. The problems for the Saints has always been on the defensive side of the ball, and they're not going away any time soon, despite the change to a 3-4 with Rob Ryan at the controls. Their front 3 will struggle to generate pass rush, and their secondary is young and can be exploited for big gains. So the story for the Saints will read similar to what it did in 2010 and 2011: Great offense, suspect defense.

Carolina lived close to the edge last season. They were 3-9 before rattling off 4 straight wins to finish a respectable 7-9, which saved Ron Rivera his job. Now expectations are on Cam Newton and company to take the next step, and he'll have to work with much the same weapons he did a year ago. Steve Smith is good, but a year older and there is little depth behind him. Their problems last year were on defense, and they've addressed some of the problems, mainly at DT. Their top 2 draft picks were DT's in Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, and they should both help out what is an underrated front 7. Their big problems will be in their secondary, which has holes. They have depth issues at corner while their starters aren't particularly inspiring, and their safeties are poor. If their front 7 can mask the secondary issues, or the secondary itself can grow up in a hurry, the Panthers might be a surprise playoff contender. If not, they face the same wilderness of 7-9 again.

The Bucs have been willing to splash the cash recently now, have they? Darrelle Revis, Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson a year ago, so it's not like the Bucs aren't trying hard. But, as it goes with every team in the league, their QB is going to determine how well they do. Josh Freeman is in a make-or-break season after 4-12 then 7-9 seasons. With all the money the Bucs have spent comes expectations, and they will need Revis to help turn around a sketchy secondary, and mask the problems they have in their front 7. It seems that Tampa has the talent to compete on a high level,  but Josh Freeman will make them go, and if it goes wrong, it could be another long season for the Bucs.

In summary... Atlanta is still a playoff team but has their best chance slipped them by? The Saints are going to be back to their old 2010-11 ways with Sean Payton back, but does that mean they contend with the same defensive issues? Carolina will need Cam Newton mature... and the same goes for their secondary, and will the Bucs cash outlay burn a hole in Josh Freeman's pocket in terms of expectations? 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

AFC South Preview

This division is weird to me. Maybe it's because my team resides in it, but this division has an odd feel going into the new season. There isn't a new super-team in the division, and there aren't many possible surprises. But, it still could be fun to watch the budding stars in Houston and Indianapolis. And for the other 2... well for the Titans you have the early 2000's to look back on and the Jags have a new helmet that's interesting... I've got nothing.

After not making the postseason from 2002-2010, the Texans have won the AFC South in back-to-back seasons, which is impressive, despite the fact they probably had won the division by default the past 2 seasons. The Colts are a far more formidable challenge now, but the Texans still have a talented defense.  Their front 7 is as good as any in the league, and even if you exclude J.J Watt, players of note are still present, like Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed, and Antonio Smith. Their secondary now has Ed Reed, but does that really make a unit that struggled mightily at the end of last season that much better? There are depth issues at corner and safety, and the good teams the Texans will be facing will certainly try to exploit that. Arian Foster and Andre Johnson are still great, but the depth behind them is questionable. They are a playoff team, but with a team breathing down their necks, the division 3-peat will be tough.

The Colts have a budding star QB, talent everywhere on offense, and a defense that has been reloaded well in the offseason. So, they should be division favorites right? Maybe, but the defense having better talent doesn't necessarily mean they're that much of a better unit. They should be able to run the ball better with Ahmad Bradshaw, and T.Y Hilton should have a breakout season, so the offense will be fine. The defense added players like Bjorn Werner, Greg Toler, Ricky Jean-Francois, so on paper it is better, but they have still had trouble stopping the run in preseason, and the secondary does have some question marks. I think they'll gel very well this season, and will give the Texans a good run for their money to take the AFC South back.

In Nashville, the Titans are in a crucial year for the franchise. Mike Munchak, Ruston Webster, and Jake Locker are all under pressure to win this year to appease Bud Adams who was not amused by their poor performances last season. Jake Locker especially is under immense pressure to win, now that he has a full complement of offensive weapons to work with now with Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, etc. They've strengthened their offensive line, but it's still not a particularly strong group. The defense has been supplemented decently, but it's largely the same unit that had major problems at the back end of last season. If it all goes wrong for the Titans this season, a total regime change might be in order, like the team below just had.

Onto the Jaguars, and yes, I don't approve of the helmets (but the uniforms are awesome). They have changed everything this offseason, and at least the arrow is pointing up as opposed to last season. They have problems in many places, but they do have some notable players. Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts will combine to become a very good duo eventually, and Maurice Jones-Drew is back and healthy. The defense will still struggle to rush the passer (stop me if you haven't heard that one before), and the secondary is very young, so they'll have some growing pains. They'll be tough to beat because of the personality of Gus Bradley, and they'll probably scalp one or two wins they're not supposed to get. It won't be a great year in Jacksonville, but compared to last year, anything is an improvement.

In summary... the Colts and Texans will slug it out for the division once again, and it's truly a toss-up, although the Colts have reloaded more than the Texans have... The Titans could be in for a total change if it goes wrong this season, and the Jaguars re-building will be painful this year, but at least produce some light at the end of the long, long tunnel.