Wednesday, January 26, 2005

FALCONS GET THEIR WINGS CLIPPED!

With apologies for this being posted so late...

EAGLES CLIP FALCON'S WINGS!

The build-up to the NFC Championship playoff game was enormous. And accordingly, speculation over the “keys to the game” ran from the Nor’easter that deposited over a foot of snow on Philadelphia to the Falcons swift Defensive Ends; from versatile Eagle running back Brian Westbrook to the Falcon’s two-headed “thunder and lightning” running game of Duckett and Dunn. But ultimately and appropriately, the game really came down to the two Quarterbacks; Falcon Michael Vick and Eagle Donovan McNabb. And when all was said and “Dunn,” or done rather, the third NFC Championship Game proved to be the charm for the Philadelphia Eagles, they prevailed and earned the rather dubious honor of facing the dynastic New England Patriots in the upcoming Superbowl XXX1X.

The Eagle D played a disciplined game, diligently maintaining their gaps they refused to over pursue Michael Vick or RB Warrick Dunn. Defensive Lineman Derrick Burgess, along with Linebackers Keith Adams and Jeremiah Trotter clearly loaded up on Chunky Soup, successfully containing Vick and forcing the young QB to try and beat them with his arm as opposed to his legs. And that football fans, was Eagle head coach and resident genius Andy Reid’s game plan. Vick threw for a grand total of 136 yards, no TDs and 1 INT.

But of course, this is an oversimplification. The Eagles also deserve props’ for the tremendous job they did in shutting down Falcon running backs T.J Duckett and Warrick Dunn, and for reducing TE Alge Crumpler, Atlanta’s leading receiver, to nothing more than an afterthought. And that underscores an issue that has stalked the Falcons for several seasons now, and quite possibly cost them this NFC Championship game; the lack of a vertical, field stretching wideout. Peerless Price was brought in several seasons ago serve as the team’s #1 WR. Price simply isn’t #1 material however. Lacking speed and the correlational separation ability, Price is more of a possession guy than anything else. This year’s 1st round pick, WR Michael Jenkins, was drafted to be a field stretching threat... but he seems to be a pricey bust.

The Eagle offense on the other hand was able to move the ball even without their #1 and “the horse that brung ‘em,” wide receiver Terrell Owens. Proving his great versatility, RB Brian Westbrook was effective both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. The Eags’ ability to run made McNabb much more effective and ironically, it was McNabb’s scrambling ability that made all the difference on this frigid Sunday. Eluding a very good Falcon pass rush that made life miserable for Ram QB Marc Bulger last week, McNabb’s scrambling ability bought time for the Philly’ pass catchers and was part of Reid’s brilliant offensive scheme. TE Chad Lewis was the greatest beneficiary of McNabb’s arm, recording a pair of TDs.

The Falcons thoroughly dominated the St. Louis Rams on both sides of the ball last week, but that game was played on the fast turf of the Georgia Dome and NOT outdoors, on natural grass, in the brutal northeastern cold. Likewise, in the Wildcard playoff game last week, the Eagles dismantled a Viking team that possesses a dynamic offense but also prefers playing in a dome.

So, the upcoming Superbowl XXXIX promises to be one fantastic showdown boasting a variety of storylines.

1. Two brilliant head coaches in the Eagles’ Andy “Ben Franklin” Reid, and the Patriot’s, Bill “Obi Wan Kenobi” Belichik, face off.

2. Two great running backs in the Eagles’ Brian Westbrook and Patriot’s, Corey Dillon face off.

3. Two of this generation’s greatest Quarterbacks, Eagle Donovan McNabb and the Patriot’s, Tom Brady face off.

I have no idea as to how the upcoming Superbowl is going to shake out, the two teams are evenly matched. Even with their litany of injuries the Patriots have won every game that matters. Likewise, the Eagles have overcome significant injuries as well. One thing IS certain however; Superbowl XXXIX promises to be a great game!

Saturday, January 22, 2005

NFC NORTH FANTASY KEEPERS

THE NFC NORTH;

"THE BLACK AND BLUE DIVISION"

We've been broken down the teams in the AFC East and West, and assessed the Keeper league value of each team's core of skill position players. Let's cut it back against the grain this week, switch over to the NFC, and see what the division formerly known as the "Black & Blue" has to offer fantasy franchise owners. But first a brief overview.
The Green Bay Packers were soundly beaten by the Norsemen of Minnesota on their own legendary Lambeau Field. But even more alarming than the lackluster play which led to the 'Pack's "one and done" post-season was the play of Brett Favre. His poor games aren't just "blips on the screen" anymore, they are occurring with a troubling and increasing frequency. The Vikings in turn have Daunte Culpepper, a Quarterback just entering his prime, and possess a potent running attack that even they seemingly underestimate from time to time. However, an issue that arguably dates back to the Herschel Walker trade / fiasco continue to stalk the team; a definite lack of D. The Bears could have a franchise QB in Rex Grossman, he started to show flashes of playmaking ability until he suffered a serious knee injury. That injury however, could have him sidelined through training camp and maybe even beyond. That situation demands a close eye for the team has a potentially dominant nucleus of defensive players, but the value of the Bear skill position players will ride upon the shoulders of... of... whoever the heck's under Center. The Lions were a better team than their record would indicate, and they too have a QB situation that warrants monitoring. IS Joey Harrington capable of leading a potentially loaded offense to a post-season berth? That remains to be seen, but should the Lions '02 first round draft pick fall flat again next season there'll be no excuses; the Lions have a solid O-line, playmaking pass catchers, and a potential top 5 running back in rookie Kevin Jones.
And with that microanalysis... on to the NFC North breakdown!

THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS: The Vikings started the '04 season off with a roar, winning 5 of their first 6 contests. They finished the season with a whimper however, backing into a playoff berth on a loss and an 8-8 record. They did however, prove their mettle with a first round thrashing of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau. Over the years the Vikings have had the offensive pieces in place with QBs Tommy Kramer, Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon, capable if not game-breaking WRs such as Chris Carter, Anthony Carter and Randy "full moon" Moss, and RBs Robert Smith, Moe Williams and Michael Bennett. And yet every season has ended in bitter disappointment for the same reason; defensive shortcomings. And to no one's great surprise, this season proved no different. The team has perennial Pro-Bowlers at the QB and WR positions, and an embarrassment of riches at the running back position. However, the attempt to improve the D over the last off-season wasn't as successful as head coach Mike Tice would have liked. The addition of shut-down CB Antoine Winfield has improved the secondary a bit, but the league's new 5 yard chuck rules, which obviously benefit WRs, render cover Corners almost powerless. Thus, a guy like Winfield is reduced to a tackling machine. The team's LBs, while young, are mistake-prone, cannot drop back into coverage, and possess poor tackling skills. Whatever the future holds for the Vikings one thing is certain; the team will continue to stumble until such time as the defense is improved.

QB DAUNTE CULPEPPER: 4 STARS; 4,717 yards, 41 TDs (2 rushing), 11 INTs; Culpepper, drafted in the highly touted and ultimately disappointing QB class of '99, is the Vikings unquestioned leader and engine, and where he goes so go the Vikes. Having cut down dramatically upon his turnovers and built like a Defensive End, C-Pepp is the league's second most dangerous QB as Colt Peyton Manning currently sets the bar for passing excellence. Culpepper cannot however, do it all by himself and it's unreasonable to ask any QB to singlehandedly carry a team. Culpepper is constantly forced to play catch-up football as the team's defense remains it's achilles heel. Nevertheless, the gargantuan QB enjoyed a bevy of multiple TD games, and with the skilled wideouts and pass-catching backs at his disposal is nearly the fantasy equal of Manning. If you should allow Culpepper to return to the draft... you have no business playing fantasy football!

RB ONTERRIO SMITH: 2 1/2 STARS; 544 yards, 4 TDs (2 Rec.), 394 yards rec.; Smith is just part of the multi-faceted gem that is the Vikings' running game. What former Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has done with the team's stable of RBs has been nothing short of amazing. When Bennett went down with yet another injury Onterrio Smith grabbed the reins and stepped up; when Smith was suspended by the league for 4 games due to substance abuse rookie Mewelde Moore assumed the feature back duties; when the Vikes need a Goal-line back they turn to short yardage specialist Moe Williams... get the point? The Denver Broncos have long been lauded as being THE 'back factory. And yet, what the Vikings have accomplished is no less impressive. Smith's value is somewhat diminished due to the love affair head coach Mike Tice has with speedy, yet injury prone Michael Bennett. And with that caveat if you DO own Smith, predicated upon the depth of your team, keeping him may well prove to be a shrewd move. Smith's proven himself capable of assuming a 3 down role, and with Bennett's injury history... it's a safe bet that he'll factor into the RB equation at some point next season. In addition, Smith is averaging nearly 11 yards per reception and is as dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield as he is taking the pitch from Culpepper.

RB MICHAEL BENNETT: 3 STARS; 276 yards, 2 TDs (1 Rec.), 233 yards rec.; After some experimentation and a lengthy stint on the DL Bennett has again moved out of head coach Mike Tice's spacious dog-house. A former collegiate track star, Bennett has great speed and much like Jaguar RB Fred Taylor, can score from virtually anywhere on the field. The issue with Bennett is what it's always been; he's simply injury prone. That being said, Bennett's great speed meshes well with the offense's vertical style and if he can remain healthy and on the field... he possesses top 8 fantasy back potential. One last comment. There has been of trade talk of late. Bennett is the most expensive Viking RB, and given what the team has seen out of rookie Mewelde Moore and 2nd year man Onterrio Smith, the team may opt to trade Bennett for defensive help or, for additional draft picks.

RB MOE WILLIAMS: 2 1/2 STARS; 161 yards, 4 TDs (1 Rec.), 233 yards rec.; Williams is the team's Goal-line and short-yardage specialist. If you own ANY other Viking RB you hate this guy because he's a TD vulture. Even with the great depth the Vikes' have at RB Williams has value; Tice trusts Williams in crucial "game-on-the-line" situations.

WR RANDY MOSS: 4 STARS; 767 yards, 49 Rec., 13 TDs; Wow. What can be said that hasn't been already? Ok, he's a dolt. But, he's also football's most dangerous WR and maybe fantasy's most valuable player outside of QB Petyon Manning. And, since fantasy owners aren't forced to personally contend with Moss' idiocy, he becomes an unquestioned keeper. Whether you respect him as a player and person doesn't really matter, Moss WILL help you win your league championship and that's ALL this is really about.

WR NATE BURLESON: 4 STARS; 1,006 yards, 68 Rec., 10 TDs (1 return for TD); When Moss went down with a bum hammy' Burleson became the Vikings "go-to" receiver, and what a terrific job he did. With the tall, vertical threat WR Marcus Robinson lining up opposite him, opponents couldn't afford to double up on "Nate the Great" and it cost them. With Moss garnering most of the opposing secondary's attention, Burleson will again prove himself to be a most valuable fantasy commodity next season. Expect Burleson's numbers to creep up a bit. And, if Moss hould be traded ans there IS chatter and substance to that rumor, Burleson will become the Vike's best receiver.

Keep an eye on the Vikings ongoing running back roller coaster. If they should elect to move a back through a trade in order to bolster the D, it could very well be Michael Bennett. Although he's Tice's fair haired boy and moves as fast as crap through a tin goose, Bennett's injury-prone and can't seem to pick up the blitz; a skill the team's RBs MUST possess given the state of the O-Line. The issue that might hinder his value is the huge number of productive backs hitting the free agent market this off-season, in conjunction with several very good RBs coming out of college in this year's draft. In addition, WR Marcus Robinson might have some limited draft value in deeper leagues, and TE / H-back Jermaine Wiggins notched 71 receptions, 705 yards, and 4 TDs en route to proving himself capable of being more than just a safety valve.

THE GREEN BAY PACKERS: Favre, the longtime face of this franchise, has proven himself to be both human and fallible. His poor games are occurring with an alarming frequency and he been mentioning the "R" word with much more conviction of late; retirement. In addition, team management have put Favre's feet to the fire and are asking him for an almost immediate answer to the "R" question. Facing painful obstacles such as his wife's battle against breast cancer, his father passing away from a heart attack, and a life-long battle against substance abuse, what's left for Favre to prove as a football player? In addition to the 'Pack's QB issues, RB Ahman Green has been banged up all season and may be starting to slow down, the secondary is as tight as a strainer, the team's run defense is poor, the team's tackling skills are weak, the D-line and LBs were unable to generate any consistent pass rush this season... . This franchise is at a cross-roads, and they will be forced to address significant issues in the off-season. The adjustments they make, and how they go about them, will affect the team for far longer than just next season.

QB BRETT FAVRE: 3 STARS; 4,088 yards, 30 TDs, 17 INTs; Retirement, poor games, on and off-field issues, and increasing hints of grey hair aside, Favre remains the NFL's fiercest competitor, still seems to be enjoying himself, and so long as he's upright the 'Pack can never be counted out of any game. Favre's play may have declined slightly over the second half of this season, but he's remains a very productive fantasy QB and ... oh yes, he STILL recorded a whopping 30 TDs. With an young, outstanding corps of pass-catchers who'd run through fire for him if need be, keep Favre for another season as his risk : reward ratio is nominal.

RB AHMAN GREEN: 2 1/2 STARS; 1,163 yards, 8 TDs (1 Rec.), 275 yards rec.; Are the nagging injuries Green suffered throughout this past season a portent of things to come? Probably not, Green's numbers were quite good for a #1 - 2 fantasy back. And, given that the 'Pack play outdoors and Green's a load and hassle to tackle in 2 degree weather once he gets moving, depending upon your roster and RB depth Green IS definitely worth keeping for another season. Here's the plan; if Green's play appears to be suffering early next season trade him to an owner lacking RB depth or, to one who's suffered skill position injuries and is willing to take a gamble on Green.

WR JAVON WALKER: 4 STARS; 1,382 yards, 89 Rec., 12 TDs; Walker, a 3rd year player, started to emerge towards the end of last season. Owners who observed his improving play, and made certain to draft him this season, were rewarded with a surprise #1 fantasy receiver. Walker has big, strong hands, great leaping ability, can out-jump most cornerbacks, and is able to make the difficult catch, especially along the sideline. The long hours Walker spent working upon his route running and pass-catching skills manifested themselves in this season's break-out play, and he proved to be such an effective vertical threat that opponents were often forced to double teamed him and leave fellow wideout Donald Driver virtually uncovered.

WR DONALD DRIVER: 3 STARS; 1,208 yards, 84 Rec., 9 TDs; Walker's HUGE season led to an equally successful campaign for Donald Driver, who possesses good speed, a reliable pair of hands, and isn't afraid to go over the middle. Walker made it impossible for opposing D's to capably cover both receivers and that afforded Driver the opportunity to shine over the second half of the season. Expect Driver to improve upon this season's excellent numbers and prove himself to be an outstanding #2 fantasy wideout.

Although JUMBO sized RB Najeh Davenport averaged over 5 yards per touch, he received only 71 carries, scored only twice, and will be available through your league's 'Wire. No other Packer skill position player is worthy of keeper consideration... except maybe one; TE Bubba Franks. As a rule, TEs are not worth assigning keeper slots to because productive TE's are always available through the draft and off of the Waiver Wire. Antonio Gates, for one, was available to virtually any owner assuming they were fast enough to get to the Waiver Wire early one Sunday this past fall. Having been somewhat of a disappoinment up until this season, Franks recorded 7 TDs on 34 receptions for 361 yards, and finally emerged as the red zone and pass catching threat the team thought they were drafting back in '01. If your roster is thin, Franks earned Favre's confidence this past season and could actually improve upon his numbers next season.

THE DETROIT LIONS: The Lions, historically the division's doormat, demonstrated modest improvement on the offensive side of the ball. However, the team's front office is still uncertain as to whether or not QB Joey Harrington is the Lion's QB of the future, and did former 1st rounder WR Charles Rogers NOT get enough Calcium as a kid? For the fifth consecutive year the Lions did not qualify for post-season play. Team GM Matt Millen hasn't made many allies with his 5 day, 9-5 work week and questionable draft day decisions; although the '04 draft picks look like keepers. And, there are still cracks running through the team's defense, particularly at the Safety positions. The Lions were better than their 6-10 record might indicate, but competing with the Packers and Vikings is a tall order for ANY team. The upcoming season will be a make or break season for a number of key players, especially Rogers and Harrington, for there will be no excuses for not competing. As patient as the Ford family (they own the Lions) has been, quite understandably they demand to see improvement and progress towards the playoffs. The team will seek to further strengthen the D in the off-season and will tweak their style of West Coast Offense in order to better tailor the scheme to Harrington's strengths, the deep ball. Also, expect the team to try and secure another playmaking pass catcher via free agency or through the draft as there are legitimate questions as to whether or not Charles Rogers can stand up to the rigors of the NFL.

QB JOEY HARRINGTON: 1 1/2 STARS; 3,047 yards, 19 TDs, 12 INTs; Thus far Harrington's disappointed fantasy buffs and Lion fans alike. And although he's shown flashes of playmaking ability, Harrington continues to make rudimentary mistakes; the mistakes of a rook' QB. I.E Harrington tends to lock onto one receiver, he'll hurry through his reads for fear of getting popped in the chops, he's got happy feet in the pocket and won't look off the Safety. And, having been sacked 36 times in 16 games, it's easy to understand Harrington's skittishness. Although there are fantasy starters and keepers on the Lion offense, Harrington isn't one of them.

RB KEVIN JONES: 3 1/2 STARS; 1,133 yards, 6 TDs (1 Rec.), 180 yards rec.; Even with teams stacking the box in order to stop the rookie, Jones racked up an impressive 1,300 combined yards and 6 TDs. Theoretically, if the Lion passing game steps up "Joey Harrington," and poses a legit' threat to opponent's D's next season, Jones' already significant value will skyrocket. Jones provides the Lions with their first real rushing attack since Barry hung up his cleats. Unless you have a trio of #1 fantasy players on your roster, Jones is absolutely worth keeping. For as valuable as he proved to be this season, another off-season and training camp, coupled with the development of WRs Roy Williams and hopefully Charles Rogers, will render Kevin Jones a top fantasy back. Jones has all the tools to be a top 5 fantasy RB.

WR ROY WILLIAMS: 3 STARS; 817 yards, 54 Rec., 8 TDs; A high ankle sprain hobbled the talented pass catcher for much of the season. Even hurt and with opposing secondaries keying on him, Williams still averaged 15+ yards a grab and hauled in 8 TDs. His effectiveness prevented defenses from creeping up and stopping fellow rook' Kevin Jones. Williams got himself healthy towards season's end, a bit too late for the franchise to challenge for a playoff berth. Although his production and ultimately his fantasy value will ride upon the development of QB Joey Harrington, Roy Williams will STILL be a top 15 WR next season and warrants a keeper slot on your roster.

AZ-ZAHIR HAKIM averaged over 17 yards per reception yet recorded a mere 3 TDs. Given the WRs opposite him, Hakim might be worth taking late in your league's draft. If you happen to be playing "athlete Scrabble" however, Hakim's first name will secure you close to 90 points assuming you're playing with 2 Z's and include 50 points for using all 7 letters. And until such time as Charles Rogers proves he can stay healthy and work with the Wide Receiver's Coach as opposed to the Physical Therapist, he'll be worthy of a 5th round fantasy draft pick and not much more. No other Lion skill position players are worth wasting typing time upon.

THE CHICAGO BEARS

QB REX GROSSMAN: 1 STAR; 607 yards, 1 TD (rushing), 3 INTs; Due simply to the courage, determination and raw tools shown by Grossman during his limited on-field action he makes this list. The Bears had a rotating cast of characters at the QB position all season; Grossman, Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel and Chad Hutchinson. Grossman, if he can recover in time to start next season, offers the most fantasy potential. That production will however, be limited. Limited not due to a lack of ability on Grossman's part, but due to the Bears positively anemic wide receiving corps. No Bear pass catcher had more than 2 receiving TDs last season and that's just shameful. Keep an eye on Grossman's recovery though, he might be worth taking a flyer on if the Bears improve the pass catching crew and re-acquire their former top WR and current Dolphin, Marty Booker. Grossman will more than likely be available through your league's Waiver Wire.

RB THOMAS JONES: 2 1/2 STARS; 948 yards, 7 TDs, 427 yards rec.; Thomas, drafted by Arizona in '00, has bounced around the league a bit but finally seems to have found a home in Chicago. Due to the Bears fictitious passing attack, opposing Ds jammed the box and were generally met with success in stopping the Bear running attack. In addition, the Bears consistantly found themselves playing from behind and were forced to abandon the running game; both factors hampered Thomas' effectiveness. Productive both on the ground and catching the ball out of the backfield, Thomas could become a "3 STAR" back and improve upon some very solid '04 numbers IF the Bears can field a credible passing attack. And that my friends, is a verrry BIG IF!

In short, there are NO... and I do mean NO, other Bear skill position players worth mentioning or drafting. See what the Bears do with their high 1st round pick.

Monday, January 17, 2005

THE JET'S GET THEIR WINGS CLIPPED!

Having had every opportunity to win Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and having executed nearly flawless football in 2 of the game’s 3 phases, the Jets are left only to empty their lockers and go home, having lost a game Pittsburgh practically handed them. I could break this game down to a virtual play by play analysis, but the fact of the matter is that the shortcomings that cost the Jets Saturday’s playoff game are the same shortcomings that have shadowed this team for several seasons now. Let’s look at the game in a broader sense, and throw some light upon the ongoing issues that contributed to this weekend’s inexusable loss.

The keys to the Jets potential winning game plan game were simple in theory and twofold; have the run defense prevent Steeler RBs Jerome “The Bus” Bettis and Duce Staley from imposing their will upon NY and dictating the game’s tempo, and executing smart Special Teams play. Towards those ends the Jets had mixed results. The defense, particularly 2nd year DL’man Dewayne Robertson, CB David Barrett, and rookie LB Jonathan Vilma, played exceptional football. But the Bus put it in gear and roared through the Jet defensive front, rolling up over 100 yards on the ground and notching a TD. Likewise, Staley gave the Jets a different look when he entered the game. With quick, mincing steps, the former Eagle back was able to cut his runs back against the flow of the young Jet D, and he too had a productive day rushing the ball.

Nevertheless, the Jets made some key plays and put themselves in position to win the game. They forced Bettis to cough the ball up on the Steeler’s side of the field towards the end of the 4th quarter with the game knotted at 15; Bus’ first fumble in 350+ carries. The Jets also came up with 2 potentially game changing INTs as Pitt’ QB Ben Roethlisberger looked much more like the rookie signal caller he is as opposed to the second coming of Johnny Unitas he appeared to be for much of the season. In addition, Santana Moss returned a punt for a TD and gave the Jets good field position on several of his returns. But alas, there’s the flip-side of the special teams coin. Journeyman Kicker Doug Brien is a journeyman for a reason and missed a pair of potential game winning field goal attempts. It’s probably safe to assume that Brien’ll be booting for yet another team next season.

But the real issue for the Jets, aside from a season’s worth of questionable coaching decisions by head coach Herm Edwards and besieged offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, is the team’s lack of offensive playmakers. The Jets MIGHT have a game breaker in their big, physical RB Lamont Jordan, who also has excellent wiggle for such a big man. But as soon as Jordan began to make his on-field presence felt Hackett pulled him from the field and re-inserted RB Curtis Martin, following a mystifying pattern the coordinator adhered to all season. It was almost as if Hackett didn’t want to offend Martin, the senior player, by leaving the younger runner in for too long. This strategy, if it can be called such, is assuredly short-sighted. Certainly over the course of Martin’s Hall of Fame caliber career he’s proven himself to be a versatile, complete RB. In fact, this year at age 31, Martin won the AFC’s rushing title with over 1,300 rushing yards. But Lamont Jordan is a bigger, more physical running back and has proven himself to be a more explosive playmaker than Martin. Jordan is also eligible to file for free agency, something he has sworn to do as he feels capable of being some team’s feature back. And then there’s WR Santana Moss. Moss can be very elusive, possessing the ability to stop and change direction on a dime. But Moss is also a small receiver, has trouble freeing himself from physical CBs who jam him at the line of scrimmage, and can’t do it all by himself. The Jets brought WR Justin McCareins over from Tennessee in the off-season to be a red-zone weapon and vertical threat opposite Moss, and drafted WR Jerricho Crotchery for added pass catching depth. Yet McCareins has proven to be a mild disappointment and seems to be more of a possession type of receiver, while Crotchery hasn’t produced enough to be able to determine just what he adds. Lastly, the Jets need to add a pass catching TE. While Anthony Becht was drafted in ‘01 to serve in that capacity, stone Garden Gnomes have softer hands than the hulking, slow Becht.

The Jets will be forced to address several key issues during the upcoming off-season. Look for the team to draft both a true, vertical threat at wideout and a pass catching TE. The team also might seek to bolster the secondary via the draft or free agency. Lastly, Hackett’s head will roll, more than likely by this week’s end (1/25). Once Hackett is gone however, Herm will be out of fall guys. If the Jets indeed come up short again next season... and they assuredly will if Pennington continues his erratic play, Herm Edwards will be the next to go. Stay tuned sport’s fans. This promises to be an exciting, and busy, off-season for the New York Jets.

And this season? Well, playoffs or not, it can only be considered a disappointment.

REVIEWING THE VIKING/ EAGLE PLAYOFF GAME

Those of you who know me well know of my passion for the hapless Minnesota Viking franchise. And, each year I am forced to swallow the bitter bile that inevitably rises in my throat due to the post-season nausea the Vikes cause me. Mike Tice is a joke as an NFL head coach and there's a reason that he's the league's lowest paid at $800,000/year. The team seems disinterested in laying it all on the line for him; his clock management skills, much like those belonging to Jet coach Herm Edwards, SUCK; and the play calling is almost always curious at best. Couple those issues with the team's yearly end-of-season swoons and the perenially shameful D... and you've got a franchise that can get thisclose to the NFC title game but always falls just shor-(t).

The Vikings played a very solid 1st round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau 2 weeks ago. The fact of the matter is, the Vikings really embarrassed Favre and friends. But the Vikings just can't seem to generate any post-season consistency. Yesterday, Sunday, the team was unable to get anything going on offense. Nevertheless, instead of laying down, the Viking D kept it together. For awhile. But a powerful team like the Eagles, clearly the class of the NFC East this season, can only be kept down for so long. Even without game-breaking wideout Terrell Owens the Eagles were able to field a credible passing game. Wide Receivers Todd Pinkston, and in particular Freddie Mitchell, always seemed to be in the right place at the right time Sunday. In conjunction, versatile Eagle RB Brian Westbrook gave the Vikings fits. Capable of running the ball between the Tackles or bouncing it outside, Westbrook's far sturdier than one might think given his smallish stature, is as elusive as a bead of water on waxed paper, and for a poor tackling team like the Vikings is a nightmare to bring down with his stop-on-a-dime ability. Going into this game I felt that there were a couple of key elements for the Vikings.

1. The Eagle skill position players (and much of the 1st team D), particularly McNabb and RB Brian Westbrook, enjoyed lengthy layoffs. Forgetting the Bye the team earned by virtue of being the NFC East champs, head coach Andy Reid played his 2nd stringers during the 2nd half of week 16 and for the entire week 17 game, with the 1st team playing only a single series in the final regular season contest. So in essence, McNabb and Westy' had almost an entire month's hiatus, resting and recuperating from a season's worth of nicks and dings. The general consensus was ... given their layoff, ain't no way the Eagle O would be able to take flight and knock the accumulated rust off until perhaps the game's 2nd half. That didn't happen; the team actually executed well on offense. McNabb proved accurate and efficient, and Westbrook was a lethal weapon both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield from the game's outset.

2. IF... IF.... IF the potentially explosive Viking offense could quickly put some points up on the 'board, an Eagle passing game missing it's top pass catcher would have had a very hard time playing catch up football. That didn't happen either. The Eagles were able, after 3 series or so, to get the passing game going. Eag' WRs Pinkston and Mitchell each caught the ball, and Westbrook and TE L.J Smith proved to be match-up nightmares for the Viking D.

3. The third element that COULD have played a role in this game but didn't was the Viking running attack. Getting RBs Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith and rookie Mewelde Moore going early would have knocked the Eagle defense back on it's heels a bit, forced a swift D to loosen, and opened up the Vike' passing game. AND THAT didn't happen either. The 1st half of the regular season saw a porous Eagle run defense allow 100+ rushing yards per contest. However, Andy Reid re-configured his team's run defense and allowed LB Jevon Kearse to free-lance a bit. "The Freak" moved himself around quite literally, from play to play. Accordingly, Reid's moves had immediate results with opponent's running yardage decreasing from 118 yards per game to a VERY stingy 86 yards per game.

I could break this game down until I develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from typing, but in short; the Vikings lost to the better team. The Eagle offense might not have as many potential game breaking players as the Vikes' but they executed on offense, and that's something the Vikings just couldn't do. Likewise, the Eagles possess sure tackling LBs, a stingy defensive front, and can effectively pressure the passer. At no time in Sunday's game was McNabb really put under pressure or flushed from the pocket. The Viking LBs, as they have all season, made numerous mental mistakes, consistently blew their assignments, executed poor coverage and tackling techniques, and were frequently penalized. The Viking secondary played better football than the game's final score might indicate, but the CBs were still caught out of position by the savvy McNabb and with the exception of free agent addition Antoine Winfield, also have poor tackling skills.

The Vikings need to again address their defensive shortcomings this off-season. Part of the problem lies with team owner Red McCombs. Frugal to a fault, McCombs is looking... as he has been for some time, to sell the franchise. By keeping salaries down McCombs can make the team more appealing to a would-be buyer(s). My thinking is the opposite; make the team into true NFC contenders because everyone loves a winner!

Until such time as the perenially poor defense is addressed, and perhaps BisquitHead WR Randy Moss traded in order to foster better team chemistry and bolster the defense through draft picks or for a specific player(s), the Vikings will forever be watching the Superbowl not from the sidelines, but rather... from home.

IT'S BEEN AWHILE!

With apologies to those who've checked my Blog, I will be posting reviews of this weekend's NFL Playoff Games in short order... should be up by tonight. In addition, I have busted down the NFC North and assessed the Keeper League value of each team's Skill Position players. Lastly, I will toss an analysis of the NBA's PGs up by Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

In the meantime, if you visit the "Fantasy Sports Cafe," just "Google-up" fantasy Football, you'll find several of my column(s). I am a regular contributing columnist to both the "Fantasy Football Cafe', Baseball Cafe', and the in-development Basketball Cafe'. While I have yet to write anything on fantasy Baseball, I have a rather nice piece posted prominently on the Football Cafe's opening page.

HAPPY MLK DAY!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

NY BASEBALL GM'S IN PISSING CONTEST...A WEE ERROR?

N.Y BASEBALL GM'S ENGAGE IN PISSING CONTEST:
Randy "Big Unit" Johnson... Pedro "Who's my Daddy" Martinez. Carlos "Big Dollar" Beltran... Tino "Where's My AARP Card" Martinez. Tony "Sure, I'm Being Overpaid" Womack... Miguel "I'll be at Shea in May" Cairo... and the list of newly minted Met and Yankee ball players smiling for the cameras as they proudly display their new team uni' goes on.
But the Yankees and Mets are engaged in this "free agent pissing contest" for much different reasons. For Omar Minaya, the big acquisitions serve a dual purpose; they put the Mets, always NY's Bride's Maid but never it's Bride, squarely on the backpages of the NY papers. And especially with the addition of Pedro, the signings provide the Mets with true roster legitimacy. The huge dollar deal that brought long-time Boston hurler Pedro Martinez to Flushing sends a message to free agents present and future; "we are prepared to spend money," and "we are planning to win. Now." And the deal that saw Pedro don a Met uniform begat the deal that saw Beltran don a Met uniform... and so on.
The Mets' trades and free agent moves have, since the mid '80's anyway, been mostly laughable. Met management's current free agent moves however, serve to re-establish the mega-market team as real contenders to the National League throne. And the off-season spending spree may not yet be over. Minaya's Mets, apparently, have their sights set upon snagging every free agent of latino extraction, and are eager to see power hitting First Baseman Carlos Delgado in an orange, blue and black uni' come Opening Day. The New York Metropolitan's Infield will be markedly different from last year's model, and assuming Delgado becomes a Met will look something like this; 1st Base: Carlos Delgado, 2nd Base: Miguel Cairo, SS: Jose Reyes, 3rd Base: David Wright, C: Mike Piazza, and Kaz Matsui would serve as a super-pricey Utility Infielder... it would seem.
The Met roster overhaul is certainly impressive but short-sighted, and Minaya is setting the team up for a dramatic failure. Certainly, Pedro Martinez is a solid #1 and Tom Glavine makes for a very nice #2 man. But, what other Met hurler will scare or silence opponent's bats? The enigmatic Kris Benson? Victor Zambrano (whose name Met fans will curse once former Met Scott Kazmir achieves pitching stardom)? And what of the Bullpen? Who's going to come in and be a serviceable long reliever; who's the set-up guy? The newly inked Met brawn will make for some high scoring affairs and there will be no dearth of run support, but Minaya's overlooking Baseball's one tried and true axiom; pitching wins ball games.

Let's hope that before the off-season moves conclude, at least one reliever of real consequence will be smiling for the NY cameras, displaying a Met uni'.





BREAKING DOWN THE NBA'S SHOOTING GUARDS

BREAKING DOWN THE NBA'S (AND FANTASY BASKETBALL'S) SHOOTING GUARDS:

It's simply amazing the way the game of Basketball has changed, for it is no longer a team sport. Basketball has become a game that pits athletes against one another. You have large, nimble men playing a game of one-on-one... and you have even larger men doing the same. The game has become more akin to Hockey, wherein the Basket is the "net" and the player guarding the guy with the ball the Goalie. It's all about getting to, up and over the basket. Even Shooting Guards will try and take their man off the dribble and drive to the hoop. Not for a finger roll, and not for the traditional, high percentage off-the-glass lay up and in. No, today's Basketball players drive to the basket with the sole intent of executing a Sport's Center,"Hi-light Reel" dunk. And, when people wonder or inquire as to why the United States Basketball team get's it's collective ass handed to it every time it engages in international play, they simply need turn to ESPN for the answer. The "Jump-shot" is a lost art. Make no mistake, there are some very good shooters in today's NBA. But for the most part, Basketball has become a "me-first" game. Let's break down the Association's Shooting Guards shall we?

AT THE TOP OF THE GAME:
Kobe Bryant (LAK.): The name-sake of some VERY expensive Japanese corn-fed beef, whether you like him as a person or not, there's no denying Bryant's ability. A Basketball prodigy who was playing organized ball in Italy as a teenager prior to coming to the United States, Kobe is averaging 28+ points, 7 assists, and 7 'boards per game. Kobe is also carrying the Laker franchise, receiving some rather modest assistance from PF Lamar Odom. Kobe is not a very mature player or human being, but nevertheless has tremendous pull with team owner Jerry Buss. If not for Bryant's manipulations, Phil "guru" Jackson would still be the team's head coach, Shaq would still be dominating the L.A paint, and Karl Malone would be returning to a loaded Laker franchise. All of that aside, Kobe is the MOST valuable fantasy Basketball Shooting Guard... and that's really what this is all about. Isn't it?

Tracy McGrady (Hou.): PG Steve Francis didn't mesh well with Rocket Center Yao Ming, and T-Mac felt unloved in Orlando... so the franchises swapped Guards! And while neither player is leading his team to a title, both are faring relatively well in their new digs. T-Mac entered the league in '97 as a Raptor, getting the opportunity to play alongside his high-flying cousin, Vince Carter. Unsatisfied with Playing "Robin" to Carter's "Batman," McGrady joined the Magic as a free agent. The knock on McGrady is his "me-first" game. That critique however, applies to the majority of today's NBA'ers. Shooting a very respectable 42% from the field while averaging 6 Dimes, 6 'Boards and 1.5 Steals per game, McGrady is thisclose to superstardom.

Paul Pierce (Bos.): Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce were quite a tandem and made the Celtics dangerous post-season opponents. The problem? The Celtics were dangerous and not lethal. Another issue was the fact that the game of Basketball is played with a single ball, and neither player has ever met a shot he didn't like. 'Twan, being the older and more selfish player, became "ex-Celtic," Antoine Walker. Paul Pierce is a very good SG, averaging almost 22 points, 4 Assists, and 6 'Boards per game. Pierce however, is as good as he's going to get and is at the apex of his career. Both T-Mac and Kobe still possess upside, as does the next SG on the list...

Ray Allen (Sea.): Simply put, Ray Allen is a very good Basketball player. There seems to be some sort of youth movement underway in Seattle and having dealt PG Gary "The Glove" Payton some time ago, Allen has become Seattle's unquestioned on and off-court leader. Averaging 24 points a game on 43% from the field, Allen's dishing 4 'Dimes, pulling down 4 'Boards, and is the Supersonic's "go-to" man. A very productive fantasy player, Allen has several more years of good Basketball left in him.

ON THE WAY UP:
Larry Hughes (Wash.): Hughes conceivably could have been placed in the above, "On Top of Their Game" category. But drafted by Philadelphia in '98, Larry's still a very young player and is just entering his prime. Currently, Larry's making magic in Washington D.C alongside fellow Wizard, PG Gilbert Arenas. Dropping 21 points per contest on 44% from the field is certainly impressive because there are no more than 2 or 3 SGs with better shooting percentages. But Hughes is also averaging 5+ Assists, 6 Rebounds, and almost 3 Steals per game as well. Hughes is rapidly establishing himself as a top tier player and while he remains an under-appreciated fantasy commodity, TRADE FOR HIM!!! Especially if you belong to a fantasy Basketball "Keeper League." With Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Jarvis Hayes playing together, the core of a potentially explosive Washington Wizard franchise is in place. I have spoken, heed my words and win your league-

Quentin Richardson (Pho.): When teams face Phoenix Suns Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Steve Nash, they are forced to confront a virtual constellation of stars. Thus, the former Clipper nicknamed "Q" is frequently left uncovered and is really starting to shine! Predicated upon the opposition, Richardson will start or come off the bench. Averaging slightly more than 15 minutes per, "Q" is making the most of his time with 15+ points, 2 Assists, 6+ 'Boards, and almost 2 Steals each game. Richardson was taken 18th overall in the '00 draft and given a little more seasoning, "Q" could be a true fantasy Hoops cornerstone. See how this season goes for the Suns. If Joe Johnson should go down for any reason... Richardson, and his owners, will be the beneficiaries.

Jason Richardson (GS): During his sophomore season, the former Slam Dunk contest winner began to develop a reputation for being a predictable, one dimensional player, possessing no defensive skills, capable of driving only to his ball handling side. Richardson took those previously valid criticisms and channeled that anger into practices. And while Richardson may never be accused of being a top flight defensive player... he has become a much more complete player; shooting 44% from the field, averaging 21 points, and using his great vertical leap to pull down 6+ 'Boards per game.

ALSO ON THE WAY UP:
Jamal Crawford (NY): Injured, but a much better offensive player than some other Knicks I've seen...Tim Thomas and Allan Houston.

Michael Redd (MLW.) Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 45% from the field, Redd is also accurate from downtown, hitting 41% of his Treys'.

Ben Gordon (Chi.): This young Bull shows great potential. Currently, he's too Erratic to bank on though. Keep an eye on him as a draftable player for the '05-'06 season.

Richard Hamilton (Det.)
Joe Johnson (Pho.)
Manu Ginobli (SA)

PLAYERS ON THE WAY DOWN:
Jalen Rose (Tor.)
Eddie Jones (Mia.)
Doug Christie (Sac.)
Reggie Miller (Ind.)
Derek Anderson (Port.)
Allan Houston (NY)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A BIG JET WIN!

And so the Jets won the biggest game of their season yesterday in beating the San Diego Chargers in OT. And yet... when LB Eric Barton decided to unwisely deliver a forearm shiver to Charger QB Drew Brees after a botched 4th down goal-line play, the Jets allowed the Chargers a fresh set of downs... and they capitalized upon the gift. RB LaDainian Tomlinson scored to tie the game up, sending it in to OT.
Had the Jets NOT ultimately won the game, made possibly by some very iffy Schottenheimer play calling, Barton would have been NY's public enemy #1 and... been looking for work next season.
That the Jets won was made all the more remarkable by QB Chad Pennington's play. Erratic from one game to the next, Pennington made some very big throws yesterday, taking advantage of what the Charger D gave him and allowed RBs Curtis Martin and Lamont Jordan to set up the pass.
'Bolt 'Back Tomlinson was, for the most part, kept under wraps by the Jets 5th ranked run defense. The Chargers were undone by the arguably shaky decision making of their head coach, Marty Schottenheimer. Who, as I suspected in an earlier Blog listing, was named Coach of the Year. Likewise, I had anticipated QB Drew Brees winning Comeback Player of the Year honors and he indeed won that award. But... 'nuff of tooting my ESP-esque horn. Had Schottenheimer driven the team further downfield after winning the OT coin toss, they would have had a FAR better chance at kicking the field goal. As it stood, the 'Bolts were satisfied with their field position; around the Jet 25 or so, thus forcing rookie K Nate Keading to nail a 40 yarder in less than ideal conditions. Keading missed the kick. The Jets retained possession and drove upfield for a relative chip shot that propelled them into another playoff round... and sent the surprise '04 Charger team home, left only to dwell on what "might've been."
Next week... let's see what the Chad and Curtis show can do.

By Tomorrow evening;
RANKING THE NBA'S SHOOTING GUARDS AND... BREAKING DOWN THE NFC NORTH

Friday, January 07, 2005

RANKING THE NBA'S SMALL FORWARDS

Allow me to preface. I've had a couple of peeps' point out that, for instance, Ben Wallace is really a Center as opposed to a the Power Forward. (I have listed "The Afro'd one-der as a PF) Well, that's true. BUT... in many fantasy Basketball leagues, such as the Online giant Sandbox, Wallce is listed as a PF and NOT a Center.

So, if you disagree with a player being listed at a certain position.... take it up with my lawyer : )


RANKING THE NBA'S SMALL FORWARDS:
What a misnomer, nothing's "small" about a 6' 7" Basketball player. Nevertheless, some of the most athletic players in the league are SFs. Game-breakers such as Phoenix's Shawn Marion, Seattle's Rashard Lewis, Jersey's Vince Carter and suspended Pacer / current record label executive Ron Artest blend acrobatic offensive skills with top notch defense. Let's breakdown some of the league's "Small" Forwards.

AT THE TOP OF THEIR GAME:
Shawn Marion (Pho.): Taken in the talent rich '99 draft, even Phoenix didn't know how high the ceiling was for the athlete who goes by the nickname, "The Matrix." Marion possesses a tremendous vertical leap, allowing him to pull down an impressive 11+ 'Boards and swat 2 shots per game. Couple his defensive prowess (2+ steals/game) with a scoring average of 19 points per game, and a 3 point shooting percentage of 35%, and you've got one of the NBA's most complete players. Marion is capable of taking over a game by himself and should be a top 5 SF for the forseeable future.

Peja Stojakovic (Sac.): Peja's one of the Euro-hoopsters who sent teams scurrying across the Atlantic in search of the next "big" European player. More fundamentally sound than the "slash to the hoop and throw it down," "sports-center hilight reel" style of Basketball most players coming out of college possess, Peja is one of Europe's most succesful Basketball exports. More of an offensive force than a defensive one, Peja averages 20+ points per contest and is deadly from downtown, boasting a 3 point shooting percentage of 40%.

Vince Carter (NJ): Carter was traded to the Nets for a number of reasons. Vince was an unhappy camper, had become a negative locker room presence, and had been demanding that Toronto trade him for quite awhile. But more importantly for Toronto, they felt that Carter's chronic knee issues would only worsen, that his game would enter an even more dramatic decline, and that by shipping him out they could provide 2nd year C/PF Chris Bosh with the room to grow he desperately needs. Thus far, the trade is working out well for all parties. Carter's numbers have increased noticeably in the few games he's played as a Net, and Bosh has stepped up precisely as the Raptors had envisioned. Carter had prematurely been coronated "heir to the Jordan throne." And while Carter may not be physically capable of doing the things he did upon entering the league, with PG Jason Kidd feeding him the ball and offensively skilled SF Richard Jefferson relieving some of the scoring pressure, "Vinsanity" should thrive in "The Swamp!"

ON THE WAY UP:
Carmelo Anthony (Den.): After putting Syracuse on his back and single-handedly willing... and playing them to an NCAA championship, 'Melo was drafted by Denver amidst great fanfare. But being in the same draft class as LeBron James is more pressure than ANYONE should have to bear and the inevitable comparisons between the 2 players continue. Anthony hasn't always demonstrated great maturity or ball security, averaging 5+ turnovers a game. But, 'Melo has shown flashes od great ability. Averaging 22 points, 6 'Boards, and 3 Dimes per game, Anthony is surrounded by some very talented Hoopsters and should continue to improve each season.

Rashard Lewis (Sea.): Seattle's been in rebuilding mode for some time now, and the still developing Rashard Lewis figures prominently into their long range plans. Averaging 21.3 points on a VERY impressive 48% from the field, Lewis is dropping 3's regularly, shooting 40% from 3 point-land. An offensive dynamo, Lewis and SG Ray Allen have guided the Supersonics into first place.

Corey Maggette (LAC): Maggette is a very solid player on a team that seems to constantly be rebuilding. PF Elton Brand and Maggette provide the Clipps' with the bulk of their points, but team owner Donald Sterling has prevented the team from generating any real momentum.

Al Harrington (Atl.): Not wanting to play second fiddle to Jermaine O'Neal in Indiana, Harrington is gradually assuming the mantle of responsibility for the lowly Hawks. Harrington is a young, well-rounded SF who will thrive now that he's changed teams.

SLEEPERS:
Bobby Simmons (LAC): Simmons has really stepped up and outperformed all expectations. Averaging 15.6 points on 49% from the field and better than a steal per game, Simmons is steadily improving and could prove to be a real factor next season.

Josh Howard (Dall.): Keep an eye on Howard who's shone flashes of ability. The deeply talented Dallas roster has prevented him from shining, but given a little more time and experience...

Jarvis Hayes (Wash.): More of a defensive presence than an offensive one, Hayes doesn't need to shoot the ball playing alongside talented SG Larry Hughes and PG Gilbert Arenas.

Kyle Korver (Phi.): A developing and heady player, Korver's a 3 point machine averaging 40% from downtown. Given time, Korver might develop into a reliable starting fantasy SF.

Ricky Davis (Bos.) Davis has bounced around the Association a bit, due league observers say, to his attitude as opposed to any lack of talent. While a member of the Cavaliers Davis was regularly posting 20+ points per game. But, when "King James" was drafted, Davis began to sulk about his lack of shots and diminished role. Stunned at being traded, Davis told media that he thought LeBron was drafted in order to provide HIM with a complementary scorer. Yet another fine example of just how out-of-touch and selfish today's athletes really are. Nevertheless, on a Boston team that needs another scorer, Ricky Davis can certainly fill the bill.

Morris Peterson (Tor.): A true sleeper, Mo' Pete makes this list only becaue Vince Carter was traded away and the Raptors will need someone to help Chris Bosh. Thus far however, Peterson has not been a factor.

Desmond Mason (MLW.): Mason's game has really improved over the course of the past several weeks. And now that he's getting more minutes he's developed more confidence. That confidence has translated into his shooting a very impressive 48%, and 18 points per game. Keep an eye on Mason, by season's end he could be posting very good fantasy starter numbers.

SMALL FORWARDS ON THE DECLINE:
Donyell Marshall (Tor.): One would think that that the loss of Vince Carter would've provided an opportunity for Marshall who posted great numbers as last season wound down. And yet, Marshall's been maddeningly unreliable and can't seem to develop any game-to-game consistency. While he might not be in true "decline," his fantasy and NBA value certainly are.

Latrell Sprewell (Min.): Only an athlete could try and pop his boss' eyes out of his head via strangulation... and keep his job. Granted, former Warrior Chieftain P.J Carlisimo might have been a AAA jerk, but no one deserves an "I quit" notice delivered via manual asphyxia. Sprewell has been a reliable yet contemptible player. A posterboy for all that is wrong in sports, Sprewell is clearly on the downside of his career.

Michael Finley (Dal.): Age, injuries and younger players will cause Finley to lose minutes. Getting a bit long in the tooth, Finley still will retain some fantasy value this season, but as for next...

Keith Van Horn (MLW.): Also currently injured, Van Horn had seemingly found a home in New York. Then, Isaiah pulled the rug out from under him and shipped him off to the Bucks in a questionable trade. Van Horn was playing good ball until he went down. Now that he's been out for some time, he might even be available through the Waiver Wire. If so, pick him up. He offers little in the way of D, but should provide the Bucks and your fantasy squad with an offensive boost when he returns.

Glen Robinson (Phi.): Don't know what to make of Big Dog.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

NBA POWER FORWARD RANKINGS

NBA POWER FORWARDS:
In the modern day NBA the true Center is a vanishing species. Why? Well, unless you've got a real pituitary gland disorder, true 7 footers are exceptionally rare. And those individuals who ARE 7 freaking feet tall are generally un-athletic creatures, barely able to get out of their own way. In addition, today's NBA'ers are taller than their predeccesors. Years ago, a Center might've been 6'8. Today, there are Shooting Guards who are that height! Athletes like Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki are all at or exceed 7', but possess the agility and quickness of much smaller men. Just because an athlete is gargantuan doesn't mean they'll excel. Manute Bol (7'7"), Shawn Bradley (7'6"), Bryant "Big Country" Reeves (7'3" or so) and Wang Zhi Zhi (7'6") all entered the association with much fanfare... and all are, or became, marginal role players at best. The Power Forward has become a "hybrid" athlete, blending scoring ability with rebounding and shot blocking skills. Several teams, such as the Phoenix Suns for instance, don't even play with a center in the lineup. Let's check out the league's "other" big men.

TOP TIER POWER FORWARDS:

Kevin Garnett (Minn.): "KG" is an athletic anomaly. When he entered the league,
straight out of Vanderbilt Academy (High School), Garnett was 6' 7" and had the
wingspan of a much larger man. Now we know why. At 7' 3" or so, KG has the quickness, speed and agility of a Point Guard. Able to put the ball on the floor and execute a spin move that would make acrobatic Net PG Jason Kidd envious, Garnett also owns a sugar-sweet jumper and can drain the 3. KG has single-handedly led the T-Wolves to respectability while redefining the Power Forward position.

Elton Brand (LAC): Brand, drafted to be a cornerstone of the "post-MJ" Chicago Bulls, played fine Basketball while in the windy city... and was rewarded for his efforts by being part of a mega-trade that sent him (and draft-mate, Lamar Odom) to the L.A Clippers. Brand is one of the most consistent and under-appreciated players in the NBA. Brand is good for 20 points and 10 'boards per game.

Ben Wallace (Det.): When "Big Ben" entered the NBA he was a defensive force to
be reckoned with, but that was the extent of his game. Now however, after several seasons and summers of hard work, Wallace is a far more complete player. Wallace is a reliable presence in the paint, can pull down 15-20 boards without breaking a sweat, and is another shot blocker extraordinaire. A physical specimen and imposing presence on the court, "Big Ben's" the best rebounder the league has seen since Dennis "The Worm" Rodman retired. Ben's averaging a hair under 10 points per game, but is pulling down 12.5 /Boards and is blocking 3 shots per game.

ON THE WAY UP:

Amare Stoudemire (Pho.): Stoudemire could certainly be placed amongst the top tier of PFs. He's also one of the NBA's "new breed" of big men and the reason the very talented and athletic Phoenix Suns have no need for a Center. Possessing tremendous ball handling skills, Stoudemire also owns a reliable jumper, an arsenal of low post moves and is a tremendous defensive presence. In just his 3rd year, Amare is rapidly approaching stardom.

Andrei Kirilenko (UT): Although currently on injured reserve, Kirilenko was on his way to an MVP caliber season. With a freakish wingspan that permits him to block anyone's shot and pull down as many boards as he likes, he was also averaging 15 points per game. When Kirilenko went down with the injury... he took the entire franchise with him as the team's been in an ugly free fall since he left. Once "AK47" returns to the team, which should be within a week or so, look for him to lead the Jazz back into contention; there's still plenty of season and ball left to be played.

Pau Gasol (Mem.): If possible, I would purchase the letter "L" for Pau, rendering his first name a much more reasonable "Paul." Anyway, Gasol owns a nice offensive game, averaging almost 20 points per contest... but he offers little in the way of D. Gasol can be as good as he wants to be but that hard work and effort will have to come from him. IF... and that's a big if, but IF Gasol puts in the necessary work, he could easily be listed amongst the top Power Forwards in the league in short order.

Jermaine O'Neal (Ind.): When O'Neal first became a Pacer the team was the exclusive domain of the stultifyingly irritating and aging Reggie Miller. Over the course of the past 2 seasons however, O'Neal's game has steadily improved, climaxing in a career high 55 point explosion on Jan. 4th. Averaging 23 points, 10 'Boards, 1.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game, O'Neal will be considered a top player by season's end.

Drew Gooden (Cle.): When the Cavaliers lost former 2nd round draft pick PF Carlos Boozer to free agency there were concerns that the offense would suffer. Thus far though, Gooden is averaging a Double Double (14 points / 10 'Boards), has out-performed expectations, and there's been zero drop-off. Serving as "Robin" to SG LeBron James' "Batman," and with opposing team's forced to divert so much attention to "King James," Gooden should be a top fantasy option at his position for years to come.

OTHER POWER FORWARDS ON THE RISE:

Troy Murphy (GS): Steadily improving his game through hard work as opposed to talent. Although he isn't a great shot blocker, Murph' is good for nearly a Doub' Doub' every contest.

Antawn Jamison (Wash): Jamison's certainly not new to the league, he was drafted in '97. But, playing alongside sharp-shooting SG Larry Hughes and PG Gilbert Arenas will help his numbers as he'll be the recipient of several open looks each game.

Chris Webber (Sac.): C-Webb is finally healthy and is posting very solid numbers (20 points, 5 assists, 9 'Boards). Let's hope he remains healthy and upright!

Kenyon Martin (Den.): Net fans were furious when K-Mart was allowed to leave via Free Agency, the general consensus was that enough (by new owner Bruce Rattner) wasn't done to retain his services. The intensity, defensive presence, and leadership Martin brought to the Nets cannot easily be replaced. K-Mart is finally meshing well with his fellow Nuggs' and his play should improve dramatically as the season wears on.

"SLEEPERS"

Udonis Haslem (Mia.): Haslem's quietly enjoying a very nice season as all the attention in Miami is being lavished upon Shaq and emerging super-star, 2nd year SG Dwyane Wade. While his numbers aren't spectacular (11 points, 9 'Boards), Haslem's yeoman like work and efforts are reflected in the team's winning record.

Dwight Howard (Orl.): Howard's solid, gritty play has been eclipsed by that of fellow rookie, Center Emeka Okafor. Nonetheless Howard, along with teammates PG Steve Francis and SG Grant Hill, have the talent to guide this franchise deep into the playoffs. Howard's game will improve with another off-season and summer of training camp, and he should be a top PF within 2 years. While Howard might never become a "star," like former Duke legend and current Memphis Grizzly Shane Battier, Howard should become a very good NBA'er.

Andres Nocioni (Chi.): The Bulls are a very young team and constantly seem to be in a re-building mode. But, a core of Nocioni, PG Kirk Hinrich, SG Ben Gordon and SF Luol Deng is awfully promising. Keep an eye on Nocioni, he might well be worth snatching off of the Waiver Wire if his minutes and level of play keep rising.

Michael Sweetney (NY.): Although Knick GM Isaiah Thomas declined any trade offers that included the 2nd year player, Sweetney's gotten few minutes and hasn't been very productive. Let's see if Sweetney's minutes and production increase as the season wears on. If not... this kid could be yet another in a long line of Knick draft day disappointments.

"THE BIGGER THEY ARE..." (PFs IN DECLINE)

Antoine Walker (Atl.): There could only be 1 "Man" in Boston and team management decided upon Paul Pierce. There's only 1 basketball on the court during a game, and 'Twan has yet to meet a shot he doesn't like. Thus, it was decided that the Celts' were better off retaining Pierce and letting Walker...walk. Walker is still a productive player and should be a starter on all fantasy teams.

P.J Brown (NO.): Unless your name is Baron Davis...if you are a Hornet, you've got virtually zero value. Although Brown is averaging a respectable 11 points and 9 'Boards a game, he's getting up in years and his name has been bandied about in trade talks. So far though... no takers.

Kenny Thomas (Phi.): Thomas, formerly a very productive player, is having a very disappointing season. Averaging less than 10 points per game Thomas isn't pulling his weight and might even lose minutes if his game doesn't improve.

Tim Thomas (NY): I couldn't complete this list and omit Tim Thomas! Brought to the Knicks in a deal that included Center Nazr Mohammed as a "throw-in," Thomas has proven a MAJOR disappointment to the Knicks. And Mohammed has been the gem! Pulling down a very sorry 3 'Boards and blocking 1/2 a shot per game, Thomas has proven to be an utter zero as a Knick.

Friday... SMALL FORWARDS

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

NBA CENTERS AND AFC WEST RANKINGS

January 5th

The following posting will be lengthened to eventually include Power Forwards, Small Forwards, Shooting Guards and Point Guards. I did however, want to get this material posted.

The information and player/team rankings for the AFC West is dense. It is however, geared for the Fantasy player who is looking for a wealth of material. Future postings will include brief, blurb-esque material at the beginning of the post with more detailed information following.

NBA FANTASY PLAYER RANKINGS BY POSITION:

Here are some rankings that will hopefully help you sort out your fantasy Basketball rosters. A strong Center is a key component for a fantasy franchise, providing it with the bulk of it's blocks and 'boards... a good fantasy team, like a top NBA team, MUST possess a top tier big man. This big man can however, assume the form of a Power Forward. Why are there so few true Centers? Because there's a dearth of true 7 footers in the league today and unless you have a real pituitary disorder on your hands... most people ain't gonna be scrapin' 7 freaking feet tall. Some teams, like the Phoenix Suns, will play without a Center in the lineup and have rosters that lack Centers. There's a new big man in town, and he plays a hybrid Center / Power Forward role. Let's look at the league's big men.

Top Centers:

Spurs: Tim Duncan: The most fundamentally sound big man in the league, Duncan's got an arsenal of low post moves, averages a VERY impressive double/double and leads all C's in blocks with 3 a game.

Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki: Eye-poppingly nimble for a 7'er, Dirk's able to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop, possesses a very reliable mid-range jumper, and with a 3 point shooting percentage exceeding 40%... is deadly from beyond the arc. The giant German's arguably the most valuable Center in the league and the umm, "sole" concern with Dirk is what it's always been; 2 balky ankles.

Heat: Shaquille O'Neal: Although Statistically he might not be the top Center in the league, Shaq remains the most dominant Center in the league and that's an important distinction. Shaq's arrival in Florida has helped transform the Miami Heat into a dominant team while elevating the play of SG Dwyane Wade and PF Udonis Haslem.

Rockets: Yao Ming: Although he's in his 3rd season we've yet to see the "Ming dynasty." Make no mistake, Yao's level of play is quite high... but he isn't the defensive force one would've expected. At his height Yao should be pulling down double diggy' boards and average a double double; he's doing neither. Let's see what SG Tracy McGrady does for Yao as former Rocket Steve Francis didn't do much to help the gentle giant.

Other Top Centers:

Cavaliers: Zydrunas "Big Z" Ilgauskas: One of the most offensively skilled Centers in the league, "Big Z" is working well with talented youngsters, SG LeBron James and PF Drew Gooden. Ilgauskas is however, a defensive liability. That fault should not affect his fantasy value however.

Brad Miller

Hornets: Jamaal Magloire (Injured Reserve): Was starting to come on when he went down with an injury.

Pistons: Rasheed "Sheed" Wallace: Getting up there in years, 'Sheed's still capable of providing a team with "big help." He also has that interesting shiny bald spot on the back of his noggin' that I'd like to learn a little bit more about...

The Bigger They Are... Centers who's value may be dropping:

Knicks: Kurt Thomas: The Knicks are a team on the rise following several years of shabby play by overpriced, under-talented players. Thomas however, still retains value. BUT... keep an eye on young Nazr Mohammed. His play has been quite a surprise for the Knicks. While Thomas' hard work and effort might not always show up in the box-score, it DOES however manifest itself in the Knick's record.

Nuggets: Marcus Camby: Over the course of his career, Camby's visited the DL more often then some people visit the bathroom. While Camby is capable of posting big numbers alongside talented youngsters PF Kenyon Martin, SF Carmelo Anthony, and PG Andre Miller, keep in mind that the guy's always 1 step away from the "IR."

Sleeper Centers / Centers whose stock should rise (what do big people dream of... I wouldn't know!):

Raptors: Chris Bosh: Former high flyer and heir to the Jordan throne Vince Carter was moved so as to allow Bosh the playing time he desperately needs. Bosh's value will increase as the season wears on, and his recent 20+ point 10+ rebound performance should be a harbinger of the good things to come.

Knicks: Nazr Mohammed: A throw-in in the Tim Thomas trade, Mohammed has actually turned out to be a real find. He's also the Knicks Center of the future. If you picked Mohammed up off of the Waiver Wire as I did, you scored yourself a top 10 fantasy Center-

Bulls: Eddy Curry: Finally, Curry is beginning to live up to his considerable potential. Curry is also developing nice chemistry with the team's young core of talent.

76'ers: Samuel Dalembert: The 76'er has been maddeningly inconsistent. If you saw Dalembert play last season you were impressed. This season however, he's been up and down. Keep Dalembert on your radar... with regular play time he could explode.

Tomorrow, Power Forward Rankings!

Here are the rankings for the AFC WEST!

AFC WEST:
Very simply, with the exception of the San Diego Chargers, this divvy’ just sucks in plain english. It couples some of the most powerful offenses with the weakest defenses in the entire league, and most of the teams (again, aside from the Chargers) have been spectacularly disappointing.

The Oakland Raiders:
The Raiders are reknowned for pursuing big name, retirement age free agents. Always a fashion plate with his circa 1920 "librarian style-spectacles," team owner Al Davis has truly become football’s answer to New York Yankee team owner George Steinbrenner. Former Buccaneer DL Warren Sapp was signed with the hope that he would rejuvenate the pass-rush while helping to shore up the porous run defense. Sapp’s truly “sapped” though. He seems slow-footed, big-bellied, and has rarely been a factor or made his presence felt. Observers believe however, that the team’s defensive style hinders Sapp and is a poor fit for it’s personnel. Likewise, the Raider’s have been searching for a legitimate run game for several years now. Greybeard RB Tyrone Wheatley provided Oakland with the closest thing to it, but at his age Wheatley’s closer to retirement than anything else. The team drafted RB Justin Fargas hoping that he could be a Warrick Dunn type of back, but concerns about his sturdiness and ability to assume a 3 down role were well-founded. Fargas appears to be nothing more than a speedy change-of pace ‘Back at best. Towards the end of the season college QB turned WR Ronald Curry really came on as a field stretching threat as did WR Doug Gabriel. Likewise, enormous 2nd year WR Teyo Johnson caught a pass or 2 in games 15-17. The team, under the stewardship of Kerry Collins, began to develop an offensive identity. Look for the team to draft help for the defense and a running back through free agency. Bengal 'Back and free agent to-be Rudy Johnson comes to mind and might be a good fit for the system.

QB Kerry Collins: 2 STARS; 3,353 yards, 21 TDs, 17 INTs: Collins is a strong-armed, one-dimensional pocket passer who has bounced around the league a bit. Because of his arm, each team that has given the guy a paycheck has envisioned him as their starter. The Raiders offensive system however, places an emphasis on stretching the field with their track star receiving corps. Collins would seem to be a good fit as the long ball is probably his greatest strength. There are concerns however. The lack of any real Raider running attack will allow opponent’s to shut down the passing game. The LBs can then blitz the daylights out of Collins. Towards the end of Collins’ Giant career he was a shell of a QB, always expecting and looking for the next big hit. If opposing D’s can get in Collins’ grill and pop him in the chops a few times... they’ll be able to throw him off of his game and shut down an otherwise potent offense. If the Raiders can secure a good running back, the value of all Raider skill position players will increase.

WR Jerry Porter: 2 1/2 STARS; 61 rec., 963 yards, 9 TDs: Porter is a very talented, still developing pass catcher. He has however, been much more productive of late notching 8 TDs in 5 games. Porter’s improving numbers could well be attributable to his impending free agent status and quest for a “lotto” type contract. Although he’s sworn to move on, the chemistry he’s developed with QB Kerry Collins coupled with a big money contract might be sufficient motivation for Porter to remain in Oakland. Bump Porter’s value up by a star if you belong to a deep league.
No other Raider skill position players are worthy of retaining as they can be acquired via the draft or Waiver Wire.

San Diego Chargers: Perhaps the biggest surprise team in all of football this season. Boasting a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in QB Drew Brees, an MVP candidate in undrafted TE and former Hoopster Antonio Gates, and a perennial Pro-Bowler in RB LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers are Superbowl hopefuls. The greatly improved Offensive line has provided QB Drew Brees with ample time to throw and a choice of passing lanes, while opening huge holes for LaDainian Tomlinson to run through. The secondary features aggressive young corners, and the team possesses a swift, sure tackling corps of LBs that flow swiftly to the ball and can shut down virtually any team’s running attack. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer has done a masterful job of re-molding this team into a winning franchise and deserves Coach of the Year consideration.

QB Drew Brees: 3 STARS; 3,159 yards, 29 TDs, 7 INTs: Operating out of a simplified west coast offense and with nothing to lose, Brees has played smart, GOOD football. Brees secured a Pro-Bowl berth this season and is also a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Several factors have played a role in his re-emergence; a vastly improved O-line, wide receivers who can actually catch the ball and make things happen after the catch, the out-of-nowhere emergence of TE and fellow Pro-Bowler Antonio Gates, and an improved San Diego defense that puts far less pressure on the offense to score with every possession. The Chargers will be faced with a quarterback quandary however. They have a very accurate, unflappable QB who has stepped up as a team leader in Brees, and a high 1st round investment in rookie Philip Rivers. Smart money say’s the Chargers “franchise” Brees and try and move one of the signal callers in or around the draft. If another team wants Brees, they’ll have to surrender a pair of 1st round picks to the Chargers for his services. Likewise, in a draft that is not particularly rich in QB talent, Philips will command a high price tag as well. Either way, expect the resurgent Brees to enter the 2005 season as the unquestioned San Diego starter and to be a #1 fantasy starter as well. It also wouldn’t be a great surprise if Brees increases some of his numbers with a healthy Reche Caldwell returning to the wide receiving corps in ‘05.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson: 4 STARS; 1,335 yards, 18 TDs, 441 yards receiving: Enough good things can’t be said about this enormously productive running back. Tomlinson is a humble kid with an exemplary work ethic. With soft hands coming out of the backfield (he caught more than 100 passes in ‘03), Tomlinson can pick up the blitz and is the definition of a “complete” running back. Due to the improved receiving corps, Tomlinson’s receptions have decreased by 50%...but that’s a good thing. Brees was positively besieged last season and was often forced to dump the ball off to Tomlinson. This year however, Tomlinson has been able to do that which he does best; run right, run left, run over and run around. LT is the kind of ‘Back that can virtually carry an entire team. So long as he remains healthy, Tomlinson should have great value for the next 5 years or so.

TE Antonio Gates: 3 STARS; 81 rec., 964 yards, 13 TDs: A former Basketball player, Gates hadn’t played organized football since High School. Nevertheless, Gates has been virtually impossible to cover. A match-up nightmare akin to K.C’s TE Tony Gonzalez, imagine how good Gates will be once he learns the nuances of his position! Gates is seemingly the best TE prospect since Raven TE Todd Heap. And, while TE’s are generally NOT keeper material, Gates is an anomaly. He’ll frequently make 10-13 grabs per game, has several multiple TD games, and is no run of the mill pass-catcher. Unless you have a trio of top 10 RBs or WRs, Gates should be on your roster in 2005.

Due to the nature of the Charger offense no other skill position players currently warrant keeper status. Savvy owners will however keep an eye on WR Eric Parker. With his speed and ability to make things happen after the catch, Parker's a potential #2-3 fantasy receiver. And then there's WR Reche Caldwell. The light had seemingly come on for Caldwell... then he was lost for the season with a leg injury. Caldwell offers deceptive speed and improved pass catching skills. Complementing Gates and Tomlinson, Caldwell might make for a competent #2 fantasy WR next season.

DENVER BRONCOS:
Here’s a team that’s proven to be most enigmatic. QB Jake “The Snake” Plummer remains as erratic a Bronco as he was a Cardinal. The guy still makes bad decisions, tries to force passes into openings not much bigger than a postage stamp and still lacks maturity from time-to-time. The other thing Plummer still does is tease you with talent. He can demonstrate flashes of brilliance that make your eyes pop and and you think; “Damn...that was awesome!” The loss of DL Trevor Pryce affected the Bronco’s ability to rush the passer all season, while the previously stingy secondary has been picked on with alarming frequency as well. Another issue that has become an ongoing Denver soap opera is the running back position. Reuben Droughns or Tatum Bell? Tatum Bell or Reuben Droughns? It’s running back roulette and ‘round and ‘round she goes and on which ‘Back she’ll stop no one knows! At 9-7 going into week 17, Denver’s season can only be considered disappointing.

QB Jake Plummer 2 STARS: 3,843 yards, 25 TDs, 20 INTs: Plummer is known for his exciting style of play and “comeback ability.” But Plummer can also be wildly inconsistent and has increasingly frustrated the fan-base with his up and down play. If he’s known for his comeback capabilities... then it’s because his teams have frequently been playing from behind. Plummer blends big play potential with frustrating decision making skills. Although you might see a decrease in his INTs next season, at this point in Plummer’s career...what you see is what you get. Plummer is almost too erratic to be a #1 fantasy QB.

RB Reuben Droughns 2 STARS: 1,164 yards, 8 TDs, 241 yards rec.: Droughn's may well be moved back to the Fullback position in order to allow bright young 'Back, Tatum Bell to play.

RB Tatum Bell 3 STARS: 305 yards, 3 TDs: This is no easy decision given the way Bronco head coach Mike Shanahan has juggled RBs. Droughns, a back-up FB entering the season, really caught team observers by surprise with his game-breaking ability. Don’t forget, at the start of the season everyone was excited by what “jitterbug” RB Quentin Griffin brought to the position. Next year however, Griffin will probably be nothing more than a speedy, change-of-pace / 3rd down ‘Back. Bell was drafted with the anticipation that he’d be the feature RB in the not too distant future. And as the team did with former Marine and 1,500 yard runner Mike Anderson, Droughns may well be relegated to more of a short yardage, goal-line runner and blocking back in ‘05. Look for speedy and elusive Tatum Bell to emerge next season and have great value as the featured runner. And, while assigning a keeper slot to Bell would constitute a bit of a gamble, the potential payoff is a #1 fantasy ‘Back.

WR Rod Smith 2 1/2 STARS: 73 rec., 1,068 yards, 7 TDs: Smith has been a very productive receiver but is arguably entering the twilight of his career. A wonderfully conditioned athlete, Smith has been as reliable a pass catcher as any in the league. Although he posted very good numbers this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if both the running game and emerging receiver Ashley Lelie cut into those numbers next season. The Broncos will also be looking to add a true 3rd receiving option in the off-season.

WR Ashley Lelie 2 1/2 STARS: 51 rec., 1,014 yards, 6 TDs: Lelie really began to emerge this season after disappointing the past 2. Look for the youngster to build upon this year’s excellent production and post much better numbers after a complete ‘05.

The Kansas City Chiefs:
If this team fielded any kind of defense they’d be unstoppable. Virtually able to score at will, opponent’s can also seemingly score at will. In particluar, poor play from the secondary has kept this team from achieving any kind of success. Both QB Trent Green and all-world TE Tony Gonzalez aren’t getting any younger, RB Priest Holmes has lost large chunks of the past 2 seasons due to injury and had been toying with retirement. Thus the time is now for the Chiefs. Look for the team to make a determined effort to bolster the D and make a strong Superbowl push next season.

QB Trent Green 4 STARS: 4,218 yards, 26 TDs, 13 INTs: Trent Green is a text-book pocket passer and if forced to scramble... well, a cactus is probably more nimble than the statue-esque Green. Nevertheless, an explosive run game has made Green even more dangerous and he’s posted some very impressive yardage totals this season. Arguably a better fantasy QB than NFL QB, Green is a true #1 fantasy player and if you’re fortunate enough to have Green on your roster...you’d better keep him! If the team can add another play making wideout, or if if the young WR Samie Parker can continue to step up and provide Green with a true, speedy field stretching pass catcher, Green’s TD total could even creep up a bit.

RB Priest Holmes 4 STARS: 892 yards, 15 TDs, 187 yards receiving; Holmes, when healthy, is a peerless running back capable of posting gaudy fantasy numbers. Able to hit the hole at full speed the moment it develops, Priest is powerfully built and able to gain yards after contact. He is also very fast and nimble enough to cut a run back against the grain. A valuable red zone weapon who can be his own lead blocker, Holmes has put aside rumors alluding to his retirement. A fully healthy and rejuvenated Priest Holmes will be next season’s most valuable fantasy football player, capable of single-handedly carrying weaker fantasy teams.

RB Larry Johnson 3 STARS: 535 yards, 9 TDs, 187 yards rec.: Johnson hopped out of his diapers and spat out the pacifier during week 12 and hasn’t looked for a rattle since. The well publicized tiff between head coach Dicky “Tears” Vermeil and RB Larry “Lil’ J” Johnson seemed to motivate last year’s 1st round pick to up his game. Since being introduced to the starting lineup following Holmes’ season ending injury, Johnson has run hard and been everything the team hoped for when they drafted the Penn State product. Here’s the “eye-jammy.” Priest returns to his flock and there’s no room for a disciple in ‘05. (Sorry, I’m just not able to resist the turn of phrase game) Thus, look for the Chiefs to move the “oft-attitudinal” ‘back through a trade that will most likely bolster the D, before or at the draft.

TE Tony Gonzalez 4 STARS: 88 rec., 1,114 yards, 7 TDs: If this is the year of the TE than this is it’s patriarch. Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow redefined the position of TE, making the athlete more of a pass catching weapon. Since Winslow, NO TE has so dominated the position. Tony Gonzalez however, may well supplant Winslow as the most prolific pass catching TE in recent history. For an unacceptably long time Gonzalez was the sole K.C receiving weapon. But the Chiefs now have wideouts capable of taking the pressure off of “Gonzo,” and those receivers are helping his numbers while prolonging his career. Keep Gonzalez unless you have 3 #1 skill position players

SOON, THE AFC NORTH BREAKDOWN!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

AFC WEST & FANTASY BASKETBALL

A breakdown on the offensively talented yet defensively flawed AFC West; Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos, will be up tonight. But a few thoughts on the state of the NFL. Parity sucks! This season will see 2 teams with .500 records enter the post-season. Fun? Not. Who the heck wants to see blowout playoff games... or worse, as virtually any team can win on any given Sunday, who wants to see a .500 team make it to the Superbowl only to get whipped by 28 points? A Superbowl which has basically been decided by the middle of the 2nd Q is about as much fun as an enema. Let's look at a couple of post-season sweethearts;
Seattle is a marginal team at best. They've got a defensive unit that plays 3 Quarters. The 4th? They go on a coffee break. The Seahawk offense, aside from Pro-Bowl and league rushing leader Shaun Alexander, boasts iffy athletes. The receivers are prone to dropping everything except of course their paychecks, and QB Matt Hasselback, the picture of QB consistency last season, is but a shadow of himself.
The NY Jets, in losing to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday STILL secured a Wildcard playoff spot for themselves. The coaching staff has been under fire, and deservedly so, all season. Offensive Coordinator Paul Hackett and Head Coach Herm' have been accused of coaching passively, as if they're "trying not to lose" as opposed to "coaching to win." Calls for Hackett's head continue. QB Chad Pennington and the Jet O-line were awful Sunday. Pennington was sacked 6 times Sunday and made the St. Louis Ram defensive line look like the old Pittsburgh "Steel Curtain."
But the worst example of the current playoff system however... my beloved Minnesota Vikings. There's a team that quite possibly couldn't stop a faucet from running. The defensive line can't seem to put ANY pressure on the opposing QB, the LBs are constantly missing assignments and even worse, can't tackle, and the secondary is more of a "tertiary"... with the exception of the hobbled CB Antoine Winfield, no Minny' D-back has been impressive. The Viking's coaching mentality has been one of "we can't stop 'em... let's outscore 'em!" In today's NFL that just doesn't work. I'd much rather have seen the Vikings NOT make the post-season for they'll be another 1 and done team. They face the Green Bay Packers this weekend and will have the dubious honor of losing to 'Pack Q-Back Brett Favre... who spells his last name wrong. It should be "Farve." Favre has been talking about retiring for some time now... it wouldn't be a surprise if indeed he does so after a deep post-season run. Favre has however, assured the team that he'll be back next season. We'll see.

THE NBA
As for the NBA... just a few thoughts. A deeper analysis will be posted this evening. Pacer Ron Artest now has as much time as he needs to promote his record label, "Truwarior." I get the whole "abbreviation thing," it's "cool" to abbreviate names and words... would that make me... "J-Foy?" Or... "J-Dog?" I think I prefer J-Dog, anyway... Truwarior records, coming to a Duane Reade near you. The Pacers have done an admirable job covering up for Artest both on and off the court. As a former Defensive Player of the Year, Artest also brought a fundamentally sound offensive game to the court. He also brought a disgusting attitude. The Pacers WILL miss Artest, but not as much as was originally thought. Former bench player Scott Pollard has done yeoman's work filling in for the suspended lunatic.
The Miami Heat and Shaquille O'Neal are making beautful music together- Shaq has made everyone on that Heat team better. The same cannot be said for his former locker room chum, Kobe "I'm named after a pricey steak?" Bryant. SG Dwyane Wade... who's name is ALSO spelled wrong... should be spelled "Dwayne," has been playing at a level above that which he played last season. Remarkable. Wade is an MVP candidate and if his balky ankle can hold up... that team can make a real run. PF Udonis Haslem works well alongside Shaq-daddy, and provides the team with an additional defensive presence AND high shooting percentage. Haslem's work isn't very flashy and doesn't always show up in the box-score, but the Heat wouldn't be quite so... hot if not for his level of play.
LeBron James has almost single handedly brought the Cavs to respectability. Along with PF Drew Gooden this season, James and the Cavs will make some post-season noise. C Zydrunas Ilgauskas... who even if his name WAS spelled wrong I wouldn't know... and neither would you, has brought a nice offensive game to the floor... but offers zero D. PG Jeff McGinnis is a fine shooter but also lacks any real defensive skills, The D will have to be provided by Gooden and James, who are both capable of playing tremendous Basketball. Looking at James, it's hard to believe he's only 19 years old. With 15-18 more years left to play in the Association, James will be the owner of several NBA records.

MORE TONIGHT...THE AFC WEST TEAM AND PLAYER BREAKDOWN!