Tuesday, January 31, 2006

T.O A BRONCO?

Having been given permission... if not an outright blessing to seek a trade for his client, WR Terrell Owens, "Agent of Mass Destruction" Drew Rosenhaus has reportedly been in contact with Bronco honcho Mike Shanahan.

Shanny' has never shied away from suspect personalities (CB Dale Carter and '05 3rd round pick RB Maurice Clarett, amongst others leap to mind), and the Mile-High offense is in desperate need of a pass-catching playmaker, specifically of the vertical threat variety. A legit' deep threat will help spring the run-game; North/South RB Mike Anderson eschews that "shake-n'-bake" stuff, and with the DBs forced to play back in order to better defend the pass... "Marine" Mike will be at full-speed, running downhill, and once past the line will be a horror-show to tackle. Likewise, without a Safety helping to stack the box, jitterbug-quik' RB Tatum "You Can Ring My" Bell will be able to snare a quick toss, explode through a hole, or bounce a pitch outside. And once Bell finds himself in open space... he's about as easy to corral as a Chicken on speed.
And... oh yes. Owens will also provide QB Jake Plummer with a quick-strike, sure-handed target; one unafraid to go over the middle, and one skilled enough to make the "Corner Fade" a Red-Zone staple.
As of today the team can boast;
1. WR Ashley Lelie: All the skill... a distinct lack of will?
2. WR Rod Smith: All hands, heart, and a peerless traash-talker... will he soon be ready for my Grandpa's old "Walker?"

As for the rest of Denver's pass catching contingent? They can trot-out David Terrell and Darius Watts, neither of whom would be considered to be a receiving specimen.

Without doubt ("sin duda" en espanol), Denver MUST bolster the Wideout corps... and will assuredly do so via the draft. However, by providing the Eagles with compensation for Owens... some help for the Secondary? A credible 3-down Runner?... A draft pick or two? The Broncs', or ANY franchise that assumes Owens and his antics for that matter, would also assume his current $49 million dollar deal. "Said" team would then, presumably, re-work the contract. Chances are quite good that TO's "new deal" would be heavy on incentives, light on guaranteed money, and laden with "behavior" clauses (not to be confused with the far more pleasant "Santa Clauses").

Another franchise that might be willing to take a gamble on Terrell Owens? The Miami Dolphins; a franchise that already fields a reasonably PO-tent O'. With an efficient and effective 2-headed running game embodied in RBs Ronnie Brown (the kid learned quite a bit from Williams) and veteran Ricky Williams (Sticky Ricky improved demonstrably as the season wore on), an above-average pair of pass catchers in Marty Booker and Chris Chambers (could be on the cusp of true stardom), and a top tier TE in Randy McMichael, the 'Phin O would go from "very good" to "explosive" the moment T.O straps on and steps onto the field.

Bottom line? Talent, be it athletic, musical, artistic or theatrical, rarely goes to waste no matter HOW much baggage it carries. Terrell WILL land someplace. The dude has been keeping a low profile in an effort to rehabilitate his image, and Owens IS a supremely conditioned, breath-takingly talented big-game player. Anyone recall his super-human, '05 SuperBowl XXXIX effort? After suffering a serious leg injury and missing the final 2 Regular Season tilts and every playoff game, the recalcitrant receiver played against Doctor's orders and put on a 9 grab, 122 yard pass-catching clinic. Unfortunately for he and his fellow Eags', the Patriots won the game.

All of that being said once (NOT if) T.O lands with a new team he'd better be a good citizen. Skills aside, at his age this could very well be his last chance.

Anyone who believes differently... check out where SF Latrell Sprewell is playing now. Spree', who turned down a big buck contract, has been reduced to playing with himself as he waits by the phone...

Monday, January 30, 2006

PIAZZA PADRE!

Having had his eye on NY Met Catcher Mike Piazza since last season's Winter meetings, Padre GM Kevin Towers kept his interest quiet, sat tight, and waited for his chance to pounce.

Although the 37 year old Catcher would've filled a number of glaring holes for the NY Yankees, NY GM Brian Cashman and deep-pocketed owner George Steinbrenner opted to pass on the Cooperstown-bound backstop. Why... therein lies a good question. Last season in 113 games, Piazza hung some very respectable numbers; .251/19/62.

For the Bronx Bombers, Piazza could've spelled an aging and defensively deficient Jorge Posada behind the dish 15 or so times over the course of the season. Without doubt, the 35 year-old Posada's bat has slowed down and he's always been criticized for calling a bad game. Furthermore, there's simply no way Posada's body can withstand another 140 games behind the plate. In addition, the acquisition of Piazza would've given the Yanks' a VERY competent DH... something former Centerfielder Bernie Williams is not. Bernie could've come off of the bench, Piazza could've been the regular DH, and Jason Giambi would've played 1st Base with regularity.
All this is, however, just a pipe-dream. It's also something that could come back to bite the Bomber brass on their arrogant ass.

For a mere (and I DO use the term loosely) 2 Mill' (and possibly another 750K if certain incentives are met), the Pads' get themselves a very credible stick, a 70-80 game Catcher, a 1st Bagger against some tuff' as leather Lefty's, and a DH for the 9 Inter-League games the team has scheduled. And should Mikey P' enjoy a renaissance season- San D' inked him to an $8 Milly' '07 option.
For this season, though, the team will shell out a guaranteed 1.25 Million and provide another $750,000 as a guaranteed "Buy-Out" clause should they opt NOT to pick-up Piazza's '07 option.
The aging Catcher will split the backstop duties with incumbent Doug Mirabelli.

All in all, for the money being paid, I'd say the Padres pulled-off a tremendous deal... a deal that as of today, makes them a much stronger ball club.

Unbelievable! The Yanks make suspect trades and sign guys like 2nd Sacker-turned-Outfielder Tony Womack, amongst others, to questionable big-buck deals... and turn away from sensible, dollar-decent deals.

Yankee General Manager Cashman has done NOTHING to distinguish himself... he's acquired suspect pitching and mediocre position players, and will probably be gone by the All-Star Break... if not sooner.

FANTASY HOOPSTAH' HELPER!

Take a look at Orlando's SF Hedo Turkoglu. Now that the dude's getting more minutes, he's posting more points (averaging 20-ish over his last 5) 'boards (5-6 over his last 5), and dimes' (4-6 over the same span)... guy's also good for a pair of 3's each game. The downside? Lately, Hedo's been collecting fouls and turnovers like others collect stamps.
Still, he should be an asset to a fantasy team over the season's 2nd half.

If you haven't already, NOW'S THE TIME TO GRAB RAYMOND FELTON! Although his numbers don't seem particularly impressive... they're rocketing upwards with increased playing time.
In his last 8 games the rookie 'Cat's recorded 108 points, 53 Assists, 32 Rebounds, and 10 Steals.
With increased floor-time, Felton can't help BUT to improve. Snatch him up before another savvy owner does!

Also, Magic PG Jameer "Jameeracle" Nelson should be back from his sprained foot by mid-week. A sharp and promising Point', Nelson was on fire prior to his injury. Check-out these diggies'- In the 6 games prior to his injury, Jameeracle hung a combined 129 points, 52 Assists, 16 'boards, 11 Steals, and 11 3's.
Orlando's magical 2nd year player was also averaging 46+% from the floor, and an astonishing 60% from downtown! If you need a 2nd 1-Guard... you could do a helluva' lot worse!

Friday, January 27, 2006

FANTASY HOOPS; CENTERS 2ND HALF STUDS and DUDS!

Hard to believe that the NBA regular season is almost at its midpoint!

Let's take a look at some of the NBA's studs, duds, and potential 2nd half stars.

CENTERS

ALL-SEASON STUD: Chris Bosh: With a slim supporting cast, Bosh has been nothing short of brilliant. However, being drafted alongside "King James," Melo' (Carmelo Anthony), and "D-Wade" (Dwyane Wade), amongst others (other '03 draftees: stud Bull PG Kirk Hinrich, resurgent and recovered Buck Pointman' T.J Ford, and New Awlins' "Most Improved Player of the Year" candidate, PF David West), has impacted upon his "star power". With Wade and James receiving most of the draft class's pub', coupled with a lack of passion for team Toronto... essentially Basketball's answer to Siberia, the phenomenal numbers and ability of Chris Bosh go largely unappreciated. Still, the hybrid PF/C has improved upon last season's very solid numbers, plays balls to the wall Basketball, and is a true All-Star. Currently hangin' 22+/9+/2+, with more than a swat per game, Bosh has improved his shooting %'s in EVERY category. Most impressively, Bosh has pumped his scoring average up a full 5 points and change over last season.

FROM OUT OF NOWHERE / SECOND HALF STARS
Chris Kaman: Playing for the L.A Clips' has suddenly become VERY attractive! The 3rd year player has really upped' the intensity of his game and is becoming a daily Double-Double threat. Shooting an impressive 51+% from the floor, Kaman has posted games such as his 17 point, 15 'board, 4 block game against Golden State, a 25 point, 13 'board, 3 swat game against Phoenix, and his crowning achievement to date... 22 points and 22 'boards against the Hornets. With his team healthy, look for a solid 2nd half from the 7'-270 LB true Center.

Mehmet Okur: Did Mehmet occur to YOU during your draft? If you did your research... perhaps, but most likely he did not. The Turkish born Jazz Center teams up with PF Andrei Kirilenko (6-9/225) to form Utah's "Twin Tower" Offensive and Defensive duo. Currently averaging almost 18 points a game, Okur pulls down 9.6 Rebounds, dishes almost 3 Assists, blocks at least 1 would-be bucket per contest, and can bury the 3. Shooting 45.8% from the floor, Okur shoots 38.3% from beyond the arc... and for a Center, that's almost unheard of.
Look for Okur to become more defensive-minded over the season's 2nd half, with the potential to challenge more shots and record more blocks.

SECOND-HALF STUD: Eddy Curry: The Knick Center came to New York as a much maligned free agent. Concerned about a potentially deadly heart condition and unwilling to sign him because he refused to take a definitive diagnostic test, the Bulls allowed the athletic but underwhelming Curry walk. How DARE the Bulls show concern for the athlete! Chicago even went so far as to agree to continue paying him his (already) jackpot sized salary if the test DID indicate an issue! But Curry, seeing only larger and larger dollar signs, refused to take the test- the Bulls refused to allow a player to play with a potentially fatal heart condition- the Knicks spoke to "several" specialists who "cleared" Curry to play... and New York had their first legit' Center since Patrick Ewing split town for Miami. Frankly, even without the heart condition Curry's as fragile as a china vase; Eddie the Knick has already spent time on the pine with 2 seperate nicks. As of Friday, NY's big man is posting a line of 15 (14.7)/6.6, with less than a block per game.
At 6-11, Curry's game is primarily offensive; just like the man himself.

SECOND-HALF STARTER: Primoz Brezec: Projecting the Bobcat for "stardom" is an enromous over-statement. However, Brezec had a nice 2nd half LAST season... and as stands to reason, the more floor time Brezec receives the better he plays. Currently putting up 12+ PPG, the Cat' has been cleaning the glass 5 or so times per game. But, here again we have a BIG (7-1/255) dude who's playing like a Small Forward. In excess of 7-freaking-feet, Brezec should pull down 10-15 'boards a night, and block at least a shot or 2 per game. Instead, "Pri'-For-Brez" is corralling half the number of Rebounds he should each game, and has Blocked a scant 14 shots... ALL YEAR!
Look for Brezec's numbers to improve once Gerald Wallace, Kareem Rush, and Keith Bogans return from their respective aches and breaks. Primoz Brezec DOES have fantasy upside, but just how much upside remains to be seen.

HEADING DOWNWARD! Ben Wallace: The bigger they are... Wallace's diminished skills aren't immediately visible. In fact, it's just a subtle feeling supported by an intersting statistical trend or two. That being said, applaud Big Ben for his accomplishment; with his 18 'board, 6 "No-No" (block) effort during the January 18th game against the hapless Hawks, the "Afro with a pulse" reached 7,000 Rebounds and 1,000 Blocks (no, not in a single game). Let us be clear, these are incredible numbers.
However, the undersized Center (6-9/240-ish) has started to show signs of wear. His PPG average has sagged and, in general, Wallace seems to be a bit... lethargic. Sure, Wallace has notched 20 Doub' Doubs', but he's also laid a bunch of eggs. Eggs like Wednesday's (1/25) 6 point, 6 'board (Okay, Okay... he added 5 Blocks) "explosion," and the game before (Tuesday 2/24) that against Minnesota, where "Big Ben" came up small with 6 points, 8 'boards, and a meager 3 swats.
These are not isolated games either. Wallace's offensive skills, never his strong suit, have fallen off a cliff.
IF YOU CAN... IT MIGHT BE TIME TO TRY AND SELL BEN HIGH! (so to speak)

YOUNG SPUD! Andrew Bogut: Ain't no WAY the Bucks anticipated Bogut's somewhat disappointing production. A "throwback" Center Bogut, an Australian, came out of Utah accompanied by great fanfare and lofty expectations. I, and several other fantasy writers, tempered our projections for the youngster. Although the guy owns an arsenal of low post moves and was considered to be a solid defender, he's not nearly the dominating force many projected him to be.
As of Friday, Bogut's line is a somwhat paltry 9.3/7.8/2.1 with a single swat per game. For a true 7 footer, the kid's rebounding numbers are awfully weak. What follows are Bogut's 'board totals from his last dozen games; 6, 7, 10, 13, 10, 8, 9, 17, 5, 5, 7, 7. Furthermore, the Jazz Center as been playing 30+ minnies' a night... but notches 1-2, and sometimes ZERO, Blocks per tilt. He's recorded as many as 3 Blocks only twice this season... and therein lieth the crux of the issue.
Bogut will either work his Aussie' ass off and reach his true po'. Or, Bogut will be content to remain a middling player and collect a nice paycheck due to the fact that he's one of the few competent 7 Foot Ballers.
Bogut has rare agility and is VERY nimble for his size. With luck, the young Buck won't be a schmuck. He'll work hard during the off-season and hone his skills at "Big Man" camp. He'll be determined to make use of his remarkable physical gifts and return next season as a force of nature!

DUD OF THE YEAR! Marcus Camby: The Nugg' lug was finally turning into a Hoopstah' D-luxe! Coming out of U. Conn' as the Raptors' 2nd OVERALL pick, the fledgling franchise envisioned great things for the collegiate super-star. Frankly, everyone anticipated big things for the lean-as-a-bean Ball machine! Truly capable of being a real and fantasy B-Ball monster, the Dude was finally putting up FILTHY Diggies; 16+ points, 13 'boards, 3+ No-No's, and 50+% shooting accuracy.
But, as is always the case with Camby... injury struck! Felled by a a busted up pinky, Marcus required surgery, pins, and Physical Therapy for the damaged digit. The Denver Center has been pine-lined since the December 27th game against the 76'ers, and should... should, return to action any day.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A QUICK LOOK AT SUPERBOWL XL!

>Dear Readers!

Michael Artsis and I have posted our 3rd "Sports Podcast."
Calling ourselves "The Sports Pod-Squad" we cover Fantasy Football Keepers and Fantasy Hoops, the AFC and NFC Championship games, we briefly preview the SuperBowl... along with the rest of the sporting world, we have another 10 days to pump up the 'Bowl volume, we discuss the Mets and Yankees, and we brush upon Fantasy Baseball draft strategy. Again, we have much time to discuss that! Simply go to www.heylisten.com... click on "On Air," and click on "Sports Show 3."

You can also find us at www.blastpodcast.com ... the FIRST show listed, "WHLR-HeyListen Radio" is ours!


While it was close, I squeaked out a 2-0 "Pick 'Em" win. I did, project big days for TEs Jerramy Stevens and Heath Miller. It wasn't like saying "Shaun Alexander is going to have a big game... and if he does, the 'Hawks win." Likewise, I am pleased to have pointed out that LB Lofa Tatupu would make a game changing play... he did, by knocking RB Nick Goings senseless and out of the game .... and that was it for 'Lina. The 'Hawks blanketed WR Steve Smith in doub' and trip' coverage... b/c the Cats have no one else opposing defenders need be wary of. That game was a blowout and understandably so.
The Steeler score surprised me a bit... I did NOT think the Steelers would so handily dispatch Plummer. While I was confident the Steelers would win and wrote as much... I also wrote that there would be one of 2 possible turnouts; a tight to the vest game, decided by a Field Goal or less... or, with the Steelers' competent corps of pass catchers and RBs, a high scoring affair. It certainly turned out to be the latter. QB Ben Roethlisberger seems to be a rare talent; a leader of men and an ultra-competent Signal Caller. The next Tom Brady? Eh', maybe not. The next Troy Aikman or Jim Kelly? Quite possibly. Strong arm, very mobile and elusive for his size, can make all the throws including across his body and on the run... Big Ben has a VERY bright future. The Steelers probably won't win SuperBowl Extra-Large (it IS SuperBowl XL... and I can't help but think of it in "shirt-size" terms lol) because the Secondary remains a weak-link and Pitt' may be able to stuff Alexander... but Hasselbeck is capable of dismantling virtually any secondary... especially a potentially porous one such as Pitts'. The Steelers Secondary gets it done with smoke, mirrors, S Polamalu, and dropping backers like Clark Haggans and Larry Foote back into coverage. They disguise their Ds and this has proven to be very successful. Plummer proved to be an efficient Quarterback within the confines of Denver's offensive scheme. By no means, though, was Plummer a fantastic, brilliant, or stunning QB this season- he operated within the framework of his offense and that resulted in fewer turnovers. He, and the Denver Secondary outside of Champ, were exposed by Ward, Miller, Randle El and Cedrick Wilson... the run game set the passing game up... and I think the Steelers will have their very same game plan handed back to 'em by the Seahawks a week from this coming Sunday. Shaun-A will do JUST enough to make the playaction deadly and the passing game efficient. The no-name band of Seattle 'backers and "Who Dat' " D-Backfield should be able to keep a lid on Hines Ward... Heath Miller will prove to be a problem and he could well turnout to be the linchpin of the Steeler passing game, along with Wilson.

Either way, the game will be close... but I see Seattle slinking away with a 27-21 SuperBowl victory.

ARTEST SWAPS COASTS... FINALLY!

So Ron Artest has decided, in all of his infinite wisdom, that going to Sacramento is a good move.

I agree. Had Artest declined the move and nixed the trade not only would he have missed his chance at going to perhaps THE most posh NBA franchise in the league... the Pacers would have undoubtedly suspended him without pay and, in punitive fashion, sentenced him to life in a Basketball gulag such as Toronto. With little leverage, Artest should thank his lucky stars that Pacer Prez' Larry "Legend" Bird did right by him.
In return for a staunch, "in yer' face" defender (not to mention sour, up yer' ass personality), Indy receives a solid scoring option in Peja Stojakovic. Peja's diggies' have taken a tumble... and a change of scenery should do BOTH players a world of good.
The Kings will now be able to boast at least 1 credible defender, the Pacers will have a legit' shooter to pair up with a streaky and creaky Stephen Jackson and a powerful but sometimes surly Jermaine O'Neal, and all in all, this SHOULD be a win-win situation... assuming Ron Artest plays the role of "good citizen."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ARTEST TESTS PACER PATIENCE!

Oh this is tooooooo good! In fact, it's SO good that I couldn't have made it up.

According to ESPN Ron Artest has, apparently, contacted both the Pacers and the Kings and is refusing to go to Sacramento! Naturally, the Kings have backed out of the deal with all speed, not wishing to take a chance on bringing a malcontent player into the Locker Room.

The ill irony of the whole thing is that the knuckle-headeded Ron Artest is being paid for sitting on the bench and watching life speed by! Man, I wish I could get a job where I am compensated millions upon millions of dollars to watch others work!

Whether Stojakovic will suit up for the Kings tonight has yet to be determined... but the Pacers may take draconian measures against Artest such as suspending him for the remainder of the season WITHOUT pay.

ESPN Talking Head Jim Gray made it seem as if the entire deal is as dead as a fish, leaving Indy' with few options.

ARTEST TRADED!

Artest tested the Pacers patience... almost from the day he was aquired from the Bulls. Tremendous on D and rock-solid on O, Artest was the "Defensive Player of the Year" for the '02-'03 season.

Now, after a series of unacceptable outbursts that really concluded with his near "Pay-Per-View, In-The-Stands brawl," Artest successfully ignited all of his Indiana bridges... and essentially became Basketball's answer to Philly Wideout Terrell Owens. Artest also received his fondest wish.

As of 6:00 (roughly) Tuesday night, SF Ron Artest is now a Sacramento King. In return, the Pacers will get Euro-Shooter Peja Stojacovic.

While Peja isn't the complete player Artest is... Peja's also not the total nut-job Artest is.

In Stojakovic, the Pacers get another scoring option; averaging 16.5 PPG, shooting 40.3% from the field and 39.7% from beyond the arc, Peja's numbers have fallen off considerably and a change of scenery could be just the tonic for the veteran player. Since the Pacers already have first and second scoring ops' in Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal, Stojakovic will be expected to stretch the floor, drain some long-distance dial-ups, and do some Rebounding. In addition, Peja's veteran presence and cool demeanor should help to smooth out the potentially volatile Pacer team dynamic

Meanwhile, Artest will be expected to keep a lid on his temper and stick to opposing players like a 2nd Jersey.
The Kings desperately need D, and should Artest behave... (the current Vegas odds are 6:1 that Artest will receive another suspension before this season ends) the Kings will have surrendered a stagnating player and received a defensive dynamo in return.

By the end of this season the results should be in;
A. The Pacers will have NO problems with Peja, and he should iron out his shooting woes. Providing an already strong team with a 3rd scoring option, Indy' should be able to keep up with juggernaut's like the Detroit Pistons.

B. As the saying goes, "a leopard can't change his spots." Artest is who he is and ironically... it's precisely his dogged personality that makes him such a tenacious defender. For the moment, let us assume (however foolishly) that Ronny is happy in his new digs with his new teammates. His defensive prowess will help the Kings keep teams such as Phoenix (1st in the divvy') and the Clippers from scoring with impunity.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME REVIEW!

Last week, I said; "The 'Hawks are NOT a flighty bunch! Last week, without the skills of RB Shaun Alexander, Seattle handily whupped a decent Washington Redskin squad by 10 points. QB Matt Hasselbeck is such an under-rated talent... (he's) the ultimate "Steady-Eddie" Signal Caller. 'beck has great poise and pocket presence, he's agile enough to avoid the rush, and nimble enough to scramble for a first or to simply buy time. Capable of making every throw in the book... With WR Darrell Jackson healthy and complemented by a nifty and dangerous Bobby Engram and a savvy veteran in Joe Jurevicius, the passing game is capable of spreading the Panther Secondary T...H...I...N. Further, big TE Jerramy Stevens can catch the ball... and I have a sneaky suspicion that Holmgren is waiting for just the right time to dust him off and use him.
This past season... which team do you think racked the most Sacks? ...The Seahawks no-name group of 'Backers and linemen recorded a league-leading 50 Sacks. In addition, a D-Unit that's as tight as 1970's Afro recorded the 5th best Run D ceding a scant 94 YPG, and they allowed a measly 271 TOTAL points to be scored against 'em. ...
Look for rookie LB Lofa Tatupu, a guy who notched 85 Solo stops, 4 Sacks, 3 INTs, and 1 defensive TD to play a key role in Seattle's win! CBs Jordan Babineaux (62 Tackles, 3 INTs, 8 PD) and Marcus Trufant (55 Stops, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 14 PD), and Ss Michael Boulware (58 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 4 picks, 9 PD) and Marquand Manuel (59 Tackles) will have to bottle up the irrepressible Panther Wideout, Steve Smith. Smith WILL be the Seahawk defenses' greatest challenge. Lastly, you can't discount the strength and advantage Kicker Josh Brown brings to the table.... Look for RB Shaun Alexander to disregard his concussion and go full-bore from the get-go... the Carolina Panthers have exceeded all expectations and have made it to the NFC Title game. Road-Warriors are they those Carolina cats'; they seek to become the first team in NFL history to reel off 5 straight ROAD Playoff W's.... Are "Jake and his Del-Homeys" THAT good? Actually, they are... The Panthers have been over-looked and under-rated all season long. ...(However,) Delhomme seemingly has 1 pass catcher of consequence; WR Steve Smith. ...The problem that I see, though it hasn't been an issue yet, is that Carolina really lacks a complementary receiver... it'll be up to RB Nick Goings to keep the 'Hawk D honest. ...As I see it, his performance will be pivotal to the outcome of the game. The 'Hawks will pressure Delhomme and give up all the underneath stuff... but Smith will be double and even triple-covered, in an effort to prevent him from getting into open space."


There were several keys to this game. Yet foremost amongst them? the TREMENDOUS effort and stand made by the Seattle defense!.
If this group played on the East Coast... in California... in Texas... anywhere but the nearly forgotten Pacific Northwest, they'd be household names and stars of the utmost proportion. Do YOU know who Rocky Bernard is? How 'bout LB Lofa Tatupu? I told ya' that kid was gonna' come up B-I-G! What about S Marquand Manuel? No. Unless your a Football fanatic, a fantasy baller with IDP plays, or you follow the 'Hawks.... you have NO idea as to just who these guys are. And do you know what? To these guys, that's fine. They aren't interested in your "Band-Wagon fandom" and they aren't interested in your post-Playoff "I knew you had it in you!" statements. No, what the Seahawks are interested in now is WINNING their next game; Mo-Town, SuperBowl XL! Getting there might've seemed easy, but last week's playoff blowout belies the season they endured. Sunday, it was the "birds" who took it to the "cats!" Carolina could do no right because;
A. A defense led by young LB Lofa Tatupu tattooed the run game and closed the shutters on Jake Delhomme's passing lanes.
B. RB Shaun Alexander showed no ill effects from the prior week's concussion, and his effective running allowed the passing game to open UP on 'Lina's beleaguered Secondary.
This is shaping up to be one helluva' SuperBowl. Each team is peaking, each team's athletes are playing for each other, and neither team boasts a glaring weakness.
The 'Hawks had the advantage over the Panthers from the get-go. For one thing they were playing at Home, and they hadn't lost a single game at "Qwest Field" all season. In addition, the 'Hawks boast a multi-faceted Offense while the Panthers boast... WR Steve Smith. For all intents and purposes, the Panthers' chances of winning this game were reduced to zero midway through the 1st Quarter. Already without top RBs Steve Smith and DeShaun Foster (lost to a broken ankle the week prior), 'Hawk rook 'backer Lofa Tatupu hit RB Nick Goings SO hard, one of Goings' cousins suffered a concussion as well! Goings wasn't "going" anywhere after that clock-cleaning, and the Panthers were forced to trot out their #4 back, Jamal Robertson (4/19 and 5 rec. for 37 yards). After losing Goings... the 'Lina O became as predictable as a Hardy Boys novel. QB Jake Delhomme (196 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs)) was subjected to excruciating pressure by the 'Hawk pass rush, and subsequently took a pair of Sacks, was hurried with regularity, and was pressured into tossing a trio of picks. And yet... shutting-out WR Steve Smith was Carolina's most impressive trick. The equivalent of throwing a No-Hitter, Smith caught 5 balls for 33 yards. For him? That's ghastly production! If there are ANY positives the Panthers can take away from this game they're... they're... Nah', there's NOTHING positive to draw from this game! The Cats' were simply out-gunned and under-manned.
Seattle slinger Matt Hasselbeck was magnificent! 20 of 28 for 219 yards with 2 TDs on the day, 'Beck slid away from the pressure (27 rushing yards on 6 totes), found his receivers, refused to force his passes, and was in total command of his squad. The Seattle Signal Caller threw to 8 different pass catchers, including the aforementioned TE Jerramy Stevens. As I wrote in my preview piece, I had a feeling that coach Holmgren was waiting for the just the right time to bust Stevens out of bubblewrap... and bust him out he did, to the spooky tune of 6 receptions for 66 yards and a touch'. In conjunction, top pass catching op' D-Jax' hauled in 6 passes for 75 yards and a 6', #2 receiver Bobby Engram snared 3 for 34, and seldom-used but talented collegiate Quarterback turned Wideout Seneca Wallace made a key 28 yard grab.
However... and this is a HUGE however, without RB Shaun Alexander's spectacular day Hasselbeck wouldn't have been able to dissect the Carolina D-backfield. "Alexander the Great," the league MVP, set foot upon another record and conquered his team's playoff rushing record with 132 ground yards and 2 TDs on 34 carries. The fact of the matter is that with FB Mack Strong paving the way and blowing open holes that a Tractor-Trailer could speed through... the Pillsbury Doughboy could've rumbled for a C-Note. Shaun-A', fresh off of a concussion, showed no ill effects. It seemed as if the Panthers expected Alexander to be a step slow. Instead, it was the Carolina LBs who were slow; LBs Dan Morgan and Will Witherspoon were always half-a-yard behind the Seahawk runner.

Will the 'Hawk D be able to gouge Steeler 'backs Jerome "The Bus" Bettis and "Fast Willie " Parker? Will the Secondary be able to contain a surging Signal Caller Ben Roethlisberger and the Pitt' pass catchers? And will FB Mack "I'm" Strong be able to pound holes through a stout Steeler line for Shaun-A to dash through? And will QB Matt Hasselbeck be able to pick apart a vulnerable Steeler Secondary? ...I think so. The 'Hawks are SO versatile and SO experienced.

Hey, that's why they play the games! We'll find out who the winner of big game XL is on February 5th, at around 9:45 EST.

Monday, January 23, 2006

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME REVIEW!

On Friday, I said: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos:
"The Steelers outplayed Peyton and pals in EVER phase of the game last week, they even outplayed a bunch of bumbling officials.
QB Ben Roethlisberger has gone from being a very "solid" Signal Caller to being an "excellent" Signal Caller. The D has completely flustered opponents... and not just last week. The front can bring pressure straight up or via stunts, and they are SO stout that running against them is as easy as playing Pool with a rope. ...Last week, Edge' was a mere ornament, the running game reduced to rubble.
Safety Troy Polamalu is a weapon. Dude can line up as a Linebacker, Corner', or Safety... and possesses a Wideout's speed. He hits like a Mack truck, and WILL snag at least 1 of Denver QB Jake Plummer's passes. Polamalu (has) the speed to beat the Bronco line as well.
The "weak link" in the Steeler armor is the pass defense. The corners CAN be beaten. However, much as they did last week I think that Pitt' will bring it from EVERY direction... They won't allow Plummer time to survey the field. Frankly, I don't think Pitt' will allow Plummer time to inhale more than twice. If the Steelers successfully take away RBs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell... WRs Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie, and TE Jeb Putzier will have quite a job on their collective hands.
Honestly, the biggest factor could again be the thin air of Mile High. If Pitt's gassed early, the Broncs' will have a VERY significant advantage. However, I think the Steelers are up to the task, I think they'll pressure Plummer into mistakes once they rob him of a run game, and the Steelers will win... It looks like it could be one of those 20-16, 21-17 type of affairs. That being said the Steelers, with RBs "Bus" Bettis and "Fast Willie," WRs Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Cedric "The Entertaining" Wilson, and soft-handed TE Heath Miller (I told you that guy was special!) have the firepower to engage in a high scoring tilt...
...Denver boasts a nice corps of sure-tackling and speedy 'backers and a brilliant talent in CB Champ Bailey; the Steelers have a human-missile in Safety Troy Polamalu, a monster 'backer in Joey Porter, a human tackling machine in Clark Haggans, (and a fearsome defense)."

Simply put, the Steelers absolutely DOMINATED the Denver Broncos, out-hustling and out-playing them on virtually every snap of the game. Pitt' just became the first 6-Seed in league history to make it to the Super Bowl. Given the teams they beat and on the Road no less, that was no small accomplishment.
Coach Cowher's boys systematically dismantled a rock-solid Denver team. As mentioned in my preview, QB Big Ben Roethlisberger matured before our very eyes this season... and took a giant leap forward during the Playoffs. Last season, as a rookie Signal Caller, Big Ben saw some modest Pre-Season action. During those early contests the young gun slinger, taken with the 11th overall pick, demonstrated remarkable poise, escapability, the ability to throw on the run, and was as cool as the other side of the pillow. Who knew that Roethlisberger would shortly be jammin' hands under his Center as the #1, forced into action when former starter Tommy Maddox was felled by an injury. In case you've been under a rock some place... Maddox was "Wally Pipped!"
After replacing QB-incumbent Tommy Maddox and reeling off 15 straight wins, Roethlisberger's record-setting run came to an abrupt end as the New England Patriots whipped the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Big Ben and the boys' remarkable '05 ride made one thing crystal clear; the Steelers had their Quarterback of the future.
Leap ahead one year; Pittsburgh hobbles Carson Palmer on the 2nd play of the game (Kimo van Oelhoffen tore the QB's ACL and MCL, dislocated his Patella) and D-feats, D-minishes, and D-molishes the upstart Cincinatti Bengals by a score of 31-17 in the Wildcard round.
Next, without having to worry about the Patriot who were eliminated by the Denver Broncos, the Steelers stunned Football's cognoscenti... and everyone else for that matter when they pulled off the "Mother of all Upsets;" they sent "Dream-team" turned "Nightmare" Colts home by beating them 21-18 in the "Divisional Round" of the Playoffs!
Now, with only the Denver Broncos left to shatter veteran RB Jerome Bettis' SuperBowl dreams, the entire Steeler contingent became the most dangerous kind of team- the kind that plays for each other. Pittsburgh executed in every phase of the game; Offense; Roethlisberger (21/29 for 275 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs) stacked 6's like dishes, throwing for a pair and rushing for another. WRs Hines Ward hauled in a fistful for 59 and a touch' while Cedrick Wilson continues to grow into his role as he snared 5 for 92 and a touch'. And then... then... there was RB Jerome "The Bus" Bettis. "The Bus," a virtual antique at this point, will be put up on blocks at the end of this season... and will be seen at Canton, in "Bust" form, in 5 years. Bettis rumbled for 39 yards and "whump' wham, thump, bam," burst through the line for a G-Line score... his favorite kind. The truth is, once that much meat gets moving... it's nearly impossible to slow it down! Bettis is a force of nature and will-power, and his team is playing for him... and each other. They WILL be hard to beat for that reason.
As expected, the Pitt' D came up HUGE! And, as expected, they stymied the Denver run game and forced QB Jake Plummer (18/30 223 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 2 lost fumbles and a trio of Sacks) into mistake after mistake. While I predicted a pick for Steeler Safety Troy Polamalu, LB Larry Foote and CB Ike Taylor each picked off an errant Plummer pass. All Polamalu did was record 5 solo stops. Nevertheless, the "hairy-human-heat-seeking-missile" flew all over the field, made a remarkable diving tackle, was a sideline-to-sideline playmaking machine, and again proved to be as disruptive as a bull in a china shop.
The Steelers played as a single entity... and should they continue to play such flawless ball, Seattle will have a nearly impossible task upon its hands; beat a team that eschews individual honors.

NFC PLAYOFF PREVIEW CORRECTION!

I wrote; "As for the ''Lina D, DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, DT Brentson Buckner, and LBs Will Witherspoon and Dan Morgan constitute a formidable and relentless pass rush!
The D-Backfield is a strong, ball-hawking bunch. CBs Ken Lucas (69 stops / 6 picks / 15 PD) and Chris Gamble (66 Tackles/ 7 INTs/ 12 PD), along with SS Mike Minter (43 stops / 1 INT / 9 PD) are skilled enuff' to limit the considerable damage Smith can do. Keeping the "slickery" receiver sandwiched between DBs will help keep him from the 'Zone. Allowing Smith yardage but not scores will be an effective strategy."

Obviously, what I meant to say was; "are talented enough to limit the considerable damage a talented SEAHAWK RECEVING corps can do. Keeping the "slickery" pass catchers sandwiched between DBs will prevent them from finding the 'Zone. Allowing yards but not scores will prove to be an effective strategy."

I truly apologize for the idiotic error!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW!

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: The Steelers outplayed Peyton and pals in EVER phase of the game last week, they even outplayed a bunch of bumbling officials.
QB Ben Roethlisberger has gone from being a very "solid" Signal Caller to being an "excellent" Signal Caller. The D has completely flustered opponents... and not just last week. The front can bring pressure straight up or via stunts, and they are SO stout that running against them is as easy as playing Pool with a rope. The Steelers allowed 1-100 yard rusher all season; Colt RB Edgerrin James. Last week, Edge' was a mere ornament, the running game reduced to rubble.
Safety Troy Polamalu is a weapon. Dude can line up as a Linebacker, Corner', or Safety... and possesses a Wideout's speed. He hits like a Mack truck, and WILL snag at least 1 of Denver QB Jake Plummer's passes. Polamalu was on Manning like an over-coat, and he's got the speed to beat the Bronco line as well.
The "weak link" in the Steeler armor is the pass defense. The corners CAN be beaten. However, much as they did last week I think that Pitt' will bring it from EVERY direction, including straight up and straight down! They won't allow Plummer time to survey the field. Frankly, I don't think Pitt' will allow Plummer time to inhale more than twice. If the Steelers successfully take away RBs Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell... WRs Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie, and TE Jeb Putzier will have quite a job on their collective hands.
Honesty, the biggest factor could again be the thin air of Mile High. If Pitt's gassed early, the Broncs' will have a VERY significant advantage. However, I think the Steelers are up to the task, I think they'll pressure Plummer into mistakes once they rob him of a run game, and the Steelers will win by less than a TD. It looks like it could be one of those 20-16, 21-17 type of affairs. That being said the Steelers, with RBs "Bus" Bettis and "Fast Willie," and WRs Hines Ward, Randle El, and Cedric "The Entertaining" Wilson, and soft-handed TE Heath Miller (I told you that guy was special!) have the firepower to engage in a high scoring tilt as well.

But, given the mutual strengths of the respective teams... the game should be a tight-to-the-vest contest; Denver boasts a nice corps of sure-tackling and speedy 'backers and a brilliant talent in CB Champ Bailey .... the Steelers have a human-missile in Safety Troy Polamalu, a moster 'backer in Joey Porter, a human tackling machine in Clark Haggans, etc.

Either way... this game should be a helluva' lot of fun!

Friday, January 20, 2006

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW!

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS:

The 'Hawks are NOT a flighty bunch! Last week, without the skills of RB Shaun Alexander, Seattle handily whupped a decent Washington Redskin squad by 10 points.
QB Matt Hasselbeck is such an under-rated talent. In a recent Blog and even in my Pre-Season fantasy rankings, I listed 'Beck as the ultimate "Steady-Eddie" Signal Caller. Hasselbeck has great poise and pocket presence, he's agile enough to avoid the rush, and nimble enough to scramble for a first or to simply buy time. Capable of making every throw in the book, when the team lost RB Shaun Alexander to a concussion early in the 1st Quarter of last week's game and the team was reduced to a 1-dimensional offense, Hasselbeck and his corps of capable pass catchers kept the solid Redskin Defense moving backwards.
With WR Darrell Jackson healthy and complemented by a nifty and dangerous Bobby Engram and a savvy veteran in Joe Jurevicius, the passing game is capable of spreading the Panther Secondary T...H...I...N (thin). Further, big TE Jerramy Stevens can catch the ball... and I have a sneaky suspicion that Holmgren is waiting for just the right time to dust him off and use him.

This past season... which team do you think racked the most Sacks. Chicago? Nope', though Chi-Town brought opposing QBs crashing to Earth 41 times. Indianapolis, you venture? Uh-uh, though the Colts garnered even more Sacks than the Bears with 46. Okay, gotta be the formidable Steeler squad, right? Wrong. The Steelers certainly haunted opposing Qubes' dreams... but they recorded 47 QB crunches. Obviously you see where I'm going with this. The Seahawks no-name group of 'Backers and line recorded a league-leading 50 Sacks. In addition, a D-Unit that's as tight as 1970's Afro recorded the 5th best Run D ceding a scant 94 YPG, and they allowed a measly 271 TOTAL points to be scored against 'em. That assured the team of a league-wide 7th ranking.
Look for rookie LB Lofa Tatupu, a guy who notched 85 Solo stops, 4 Sacks, 3 INTs, and 1 defensive TD to play a key role in Seattle's win! CBs Jordan Babineaux (62 Tackles, 3 INTs, 8 PD) and Marcus Trufant (55 Stops, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 14 PD), and Ss Michael Boulware (58 Tackles, 2 Sacks, 4 picks, 9 PD) and Marquand Manuel (59 Tackles) will have to bottle up the irrepressible Panther Wideout, Steve Smith. Smith WILL be the Seahawk defenses' greatest challenge
Lastly, can't discount the strength and advantage Kicker Josh Brown brings to the table. The heavy-footed Kicker converted 18 of 25 FG attempts, and 56 of 57 XP's. Keep in mind, though, that 5 of his FG attempts were 50+ yarders, and another 4 were of the 45-49 yard variety.

Look for RB Shaun Alexander to disregard his concussion and go full-bore from the get-go. Should "Alexander the Great" still be suffering lingering concussion effects, than QB Matt Hasselbeck is MORE than capable of carrying the scoring load. It will, however, be up to the stout Seattle D to keep the score close.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers have exceeded all expecations and have made it to the NFC Title game. Road-Warriors are they those Carolina cats'; they seek to become the first team in NFL history to reel off 5 straight ROAD Playoff W's. Indeed, the Panthers are looking to earn their 2nd 'Bowl berth inside of 3 seasons. In '04, 'Lina crept into Philly' and... surprise surprise, beat D-Nabb and his flock of Eagles 14-3. They then had the ignominious honor of losing "Big Game 38" to Tom Terrific and his merry band o' Patriots by the score of 32-29.
Are "Jake and his Del-Homeys" THAT good? Actually, they are. In much the same way that opposing Seattle Field General Matt Hasselbeck commands a mostly faceless band of pass catchers, the Panthers are an anonymous group... with the exception of slinky-slick pass catcher Steve Smith. Opposite Smith: 2nd year man Keary Colbert and the most venerable Ricky Proehl.
The Panthers have been over-looked and under-rated all season long. For their "Opening Act," the "Wild-Card" round, the Panthers took the G-Men out behind the shed and administered a 23-0 whipping. Next, for their encore performance, 'Lina handed a 29-21 loss to the Defensive-minded Bears in the "Divisional Game"... a game whose score was closer than the game itself.
QB Jake Delhomme enjoyed a solid statistical season, notching 24 TDs to 16 INTs. However, a sneaky stat' are his incredible 12 fumbles... 6 of which were lost. That's a HUGE number for a QB. Keep an eye on that, for the Seahawks are an opportunistic D.
Delhomme seemingly has 1 pass catcher of consequence; WR Steve Smith. Other teams KNOW Smith is coming... they prepare for Smith... they scheme for Smith... yet they can't STOP Steve Smith! If the Cat pass catcher's 103 grabs for almost 1,600 yards and 12 receiving TDs served as the extent of his offensive contributions.... it'd be more than sufficient. HOWEVER, Smith is a rare, once-in-a-decade kind of playmaker. Carolina's top-Cat can serve as a Running Back, return man, and is, in general, a weapon "par excellence." Once inside the Red-Zone the "Human Highlight" can take an "end-around," pitch or reverse, and dart 10-15 yards to the "6-Point Promised Land." In addition Smith will catch a little "hitch" or Slant, and with his speed... once he finds the open field he's virtually impossible to corral. Several Bear players were forced to dash back to Chicago's Training Room for new Jock-straps as Smith's faked them loose!
The problem that I see, though it hasn't been an issue yet, is that Carolina really lacks a complementary receiver. RB DeShaun Foster was a very good runner, but his receiving skills are what set him apart from Carolina's other backs. Now, out with a broken ankle, it'll be up to RB Nick Goings to keep the 'Hawk D honest. Goings has proven himself capable of 3-Down duty... nad he'll need to help keep the chains moving. At 6'/225, Goings is a load and in 22 post-season totes, the dude averaged over 4 YPC. As I see it, his performance will be pivotal to the outcome of the game.
The 'Hawks will pressure Delhomme and give up all the underneath stuff... but Smith will be double and even triple-covered, in an effort to prevent him from getting into open space.

As for the ''Lina D, DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, DT Brentson Buckner, and LBs Will Witherspoon and Dan Morgan constitute a formidable and relentless pass rush!
The D-Backfield is a strong, ball-hawking bunch. CBs Ken Lucas (69 stops / 6 picks / 15 PD) and Chris Gamble (66 Tackles/ 7 INTs/ 12 PD), along with SS Mike Minter (43 stops / 1 INT / 9 PD) are skilled enuff' to limit the considerable damage a skilled Seahawk receiving corps can do. Keeping the "slickery" pass catchers sandwiched between DBs will prevent them from finding the 'Zone. Allowing them yardage but not scores will be an effective strategy.

We shall see!

I see the 'Hawks winning this tilt 31-20

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

THE DETROIT PISTONS TAKE ON THE '96 BULLS!

So, yesterday we reviewed Chicago's record-setting '96 lineup... now, as promised, it's time to look at the '06 Pistons.

A full decade later this Detroit Piston team is, at the very least, threatening to tie Chi-Town's 72-10 1996 mark. There remains a very real chance that the boys from Mo-Town could even break MJ's 72-10 record! With Wallace and 'Sheed pulling down the 'boards, and Rip' Hamilton and Chauncey Billups burying baskets in bunches... this Detroit team could very well go 70-12.. or dare I say it? I dare, I dare... 73-9. Breaking the '96 Bull record would be an unparalled achievement. Perhaps the only other record that is so outrageous? Wilt Chamberlains 100 point game. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant or 76'ers Allan Iverson could conceivably accomplish this heady feat.

Chauncey Billups: Taken by the Celtics with 3rd overall pick in the '97 draft, Billups has led a nomadic Hoopster lifestyle. The upside of Billups' journeyman career? The savvy Point' immediately blossomed under the tutelage of then Piston coach Larry "Travellin' Man" Brown. Chaunce' leads the team in Assists with 8.6 per game, Free Throw % shooting 92.5% from the 'stripe, and in 3-Point accuracy, draining 42+% of his long-distance dial-ups.
A fantasy dream for all Roto-rooters, Billups has recorded insane Assist numbers of 19, 16, 14, 12, and a whole buncha' 10 and 11 dime' days.
A late-bloomer Billups, at 29 years of age, still has 3-4 solid seasons remaining at the Point. Even then, an athlete with Billups' skills and court-vision might be able to thrive at the 2 spot.
With his leadership skills, Basketball IQ, and ability to communicate with a variety of personality types... coaching could even be in Chauncey's future.

Richard Hamilton: Rip' was drafted by the Washington Wizards with the 7th pick of the '99 draft. A sharp-shooter, Hamilton can be clutch much like Jordan was...and as flexible and versatile as Scottie Pippen. Hamilton is deadly from beyond the arc, draining almost 46% of his attempts. This is a marked improvement over last season's ghastly bad 30.5% 3-Point accuracy. In addition, Rip' buries a whopping 50% of his shots from the floor and hands out a trio of dimes' a night.
Few NBA'ers have Hamilton's sugar-sweet shot and form. If the "Jumper" is becoming a lost art... and many believe it is, than Hamilton is Basketball's answer to Rembrandt! Richard Hamilton is an "elite" Jump shooter.
With Billups slashing to the hoop and kicking it out to Rip'... the Pistons are at their most dangerous.

Ben Wallace: There may be no more intimidating paint presence, but at age 32... "Big Ben" may be winding down. At 6-9/240, Wallace seems much larger. Could be that, because he's got the 'Fro kickin' LIVE, he exceeds 7 feet in height. Whatever, few Point Guards are inclined to dart into the lane when Wallace is patrolling it. A Rebound and shot blocking "specialist," Wallace "cleans the glass like Windex" (almost 13 'boards per) and plays Volleyball with incoming shots (2+ No-No's a night).
Ben has at least 1 swat in every game but 4, and 4 or more "spikes" in 7 tilts. In addition, the hybrid PF/C has notched 2- 20+ rebounds games... and has pulled-down fewer than 10 boards in but 8 games!

Tayshaun Prince: Taken late in the 1st round (24th) of the '02 draft, Prince plays a BIG Small Forward. It's not that Prince is so tall, because at 6-9/215 he's on the pretty average, to slender side. No, it's that the 6' 9" athlete has the wing-span of a 7-Footer! Prince has these... tentacle-like arms that can wipe down the glass and spike shots into the $1,000 floor seats. Prince isn't the shot-swatter Utah Jazz PF Andrei Kirilenko is... nor is he the Rebounding force team-mate Ben Wallace is. Some might say that T-Prince is an under-achiever. Maybe he is... but if so, Prince's "under-achievements" are the envy of many pro Hoopsters. The Piston SF is currently posting a line of 14.4/4.6/2.4, and shooting 45+% from the floor.

Rasheed Wallace: The Piston Power Forward was taken by the "Washington Bullets" with the 4th overall pick in the '95 draft. Posting a line of 15/6.5/2.6, 'Sheed pairs up with Big Ben to form a "Twin Tower" tandem. A big man at 6-11, Wallace has a nice shot that belies his size. Without doubt, Wallace is unafraid to shoot from long-range. The top of the key being his favorite spot, Wallace buries 42% of his 3's and has 15 in his last 10 games.
Part enforcer part rebounder part shooter, 'Sheed IS versatility itself.

AK-47; THE ULTIMATE POWER FORWARD!

FIRST, ALLOW ME TO PREFACE!
I watched MJ notch 5 points in 4 Seconds... NOT 12. Michael Jordan... via sheer force of will, could escort his Bull mates to a whole new level of physicality.

MJ was able to alter the pace, momentum, and ultimate outcome of a game through his indomitable will power.


Utah Jazz PF Andrei Kirilenko is a 1-Man Wrecking Crew! Unbelievably enuff', "AK-47" notched his first career triple double last night and guided his team to a 111-98 victory over the hapless Toronto Raptors.
His 18 points, 16 'boards, and 11 Assists would've been quite sufficient, but the big-man also added 4 Blocked shots and 3 Steals to an already ridiculous fantasy (not to mention real!) game.
Although Kirilenko has a history of back and ankle injuries... the guy finally seems to be 100% and is a MUST start in all formats.

Due to his freakish athleticism and skills, '47, who has played an average of 38 minutes in his 29 games, records an average of 2 fouls and 3 turnovers per contest. That is OUTSTANDING!

If ANY NBA Hoopsta' has a shot at a "Quadruple Double"... it's Andrei Kirilenko.
The dude has batted away 6 or more shots in 5 of his 29 games... and with his remarkable confluence of talents, it could... conceivably, happen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

NBA THOUGHTS.. Can the Pistons Beat the record-setting Bulls?

So... whattup' with the Detroit Pistons? Head Coach Larry Brown splits Detroit for a Jersey re-building project... and Mo-Town's CRUISING! Boasting a ridiculous 30-5 record, the Pistons are pumping their way to history. If any team is capable of dethroning MJ's magical and record-setting 72-10 squad of 1996, it might just be this Detroit team.

Let's take a quick look at the major players on that '96 Bull team.

Michael Jordan: Started all 82 games, played 37.7 minnies' per, and averaged 30.4 points, 4+ Assists, 6+ 'boards, 2+ steals, shot 49% from the floor and 42+% from 3-Point land. Jordan was a warrior who played as if every game could be his last.

Scottie Pippen: Pip' played "Robin" to Jordan's "Batman," and established the formula for the 2-man Roundball offensive assault. "Snotty" Pippen played in 77 of the 82 games (Steve Kerr was the ONLY other Bull to match MJ's 82 games played total!!), and averaged 19.4 points, 6 Assists (5.9, I'll round up), 6+ 'boards, 1+ steal, shot 46.3% from the field, and a pitiful 37% from down-town.
Pip' will forever be remembered for refusing to go back into a game with several seconds remaining on the clock because the play wasn't designed for him. He should, however, be remembered for playing at a Hall of Fame caliber level for at least 1/2 of his 17 pro seasons.

Toni Kukoc: One of the first "Euro-players." Fundamentally sound and big, 'Koc averaged 13 points, 3 1/2 'Dimes, 4 'boards, shot 49% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc.

Steve Kerr: Kerr was the team's sharp-shooter. That dude could dial IN from distance and few Shooting Guards were as feared. Kerr averaged 14+ points, 4 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 1+ Steals, shot 50.6% from the field and a semi-preposterous 51.5% from distance.

Dennis Rodman: Rodman was fun as a Bull... for the most part at least. When he behaved, you never knew what color hair he would wear, where his latest piercing would be, and how many new tattoos he'd be sporting. But more significantly, Rodman dove for loose balls and had a preternatural feel for Rebounding... "The Worm" was the first "Glass-Cleaning Specialist." "Worm" was a piece of work and he averaged a paltry 5 1/2 points, but the freakish Hoopster pulled down 15 'boards a night, and nearly half of 'em came off of the Offensive glass!

Luc Longley: Averaged 9+ points, 5+ 'boards, and 2 Assists. More impressive was his shot blocking ability.

The Bulls played as a single organism, with SG Michael Jordan serving as its heart.
MJ willed... the rest of the players did. Jordan was able to take control of a game... literally take over the game, and short-circuit his opponents' game-plan. I recall watching Jordan drain a shot, step back and swipe the inbounds pass, step back behind the line, and pop a 3; 5 points in the scant space of 4 seconds.
Another SuperHuman effort saw Jordan, vomiting and feverish, drain 40+ in a Playoff game. His skin color was close to grey due to a hellacious Flu... but few athletes have EVER been as competitive as MJ.

TOMORROW WE COMPARE THE PISTONS OF TODAY TO THIS STORIED CHICAGO TEAM!

Monday, January 16, 2006

NFL PLAYOFFS AND THOUGHTS!

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT DENVER BRONCOS:
When the final gun sounded it was 27-13 Broncs'... and the tilt may not have been that close! The Pat's attempted to be the first NFL franchise to roll to, and win, 3 consecutive SuperBowls.
The Patriot Defense was flawed, ball security proved to be a pivotal issue, as I wrote previously RB Corey Dillon was NOT effective and appeared to be running in cement Snow-Shoes (13/57), and Tom "Terrific" Brady (341/1/2) was unable to win the game single-handedly... though he certainly gave it his best shot.
The bottom line is, 5 Turnovers is gonna' cost a team a game.

In the 3rd Q', with a 10-3 deficit sliced to 4 points following an Adam Vinatieri Field Goal, New England was moving the ball downfield with precision. But, alas, it was just not to be. While on the Denver 5, Brady threw a pass to WR Troy Brown. Stud cover-corner Champ Bailey stepped in front of the receiver, said "I'll take that thank-you," and raced upfield. While slowing down around his OWN 5... either because he was out of gas or because he thought the 6' was assured, Bailey became careless and got De-cleated, creamed, and crushed by big Pat' TE Ben Watson. The ball flew from Champ's hands, Champ's head nearly flew from Champ's body... and suddenly, tension filled the air. If the ball crossed over the stripe or pylon into the End-Zone... and THEN went out of bounds- the ball would be given back to the Patriots as a Touchback. Getting the rock on your 20 yard-line is far more preferable to seeing your opponent go up by another 6 points. But alas, again it was not to be. Although several armchair analysts have said the TV view was "inconclusive"... it looked pretty conclusive to me. The ball went out of bounds somewhere inside the 5, close to the 3 Yardline. The officials awarded Denver the ball on the 1, and RB Mike Anderson hammered his way into the End-Zone for his second score. And really, that was the straw that broke the Pat' dynasty. It was a great play made by CB Champ Bailey on a poorly advised pass by QB Tom Brady, and TE Ben Watson showed tremendous heart and hustle by taking the proper angle to get a shot in on Bailey. Not to hurt him, Watson attempted to do what he nearly did... force the turnover and prevent a crushing score.
As an aside but not an excuse, it did appear that the thin air of Mile High affected the Patriots. Brady's accuracy was well off, New England's Wideouts and Running Backs appeared to be wiped, and the respective lines lacked their usual punch and drive. Without doubt, Denver's Home Field advantage is about more than mere crowd noise.

Bronco QB Jake Plummer was effective, throwing for a hair under 200 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT. The "Snake" was able to keep the thin Pat' D back on its heels and allow the run game to succeed. With venerable WR Rod Smith running impeccable routes (6/96/1), young WR Ashley Lelie making it impossible to doub' up on Smith (5/50), and TE Jeb Putzier (3/37) helping to keep the chains moving with a trio of fearless receptions, the pass rendered the run game efficient but not deadly.New England was out of its collective element, and the Denver O-Line and Bronco-back' Marine Mike Anderson were able impose their will upon them; "MM" saluted the Mile High crowd twice, taking 19 carries 69 yards for 2 TDs.
As he has been all season long, Plummer was neither spectacular nor horrendous; Plummer just... was.

Next week, Denver has the ahh, "honor" of facing the surging Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. This should be quite a game. Preview to follow mid-week


PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
If there was a "lock" pick this week and indeed this season, Indy' was it. I went to Brooklyn for dinner with my cousins on Friday evening we made the rounds of some of the bars in Brooklyn, and later Manhattan. Everywhere we went, people were talking about how Peyton and his people were due... how it almost wasn't fair to the Steelers to have to play the Colts... how the boys were gonna' do it for Dungy.
Let me be the first to tell you if you didn't get to watch the game; while the final 3 minutes were exciting... here's yet another example of the 21-18 final score being closer than the game itself. Was the game exciting? You bet. Was the game a nail-biter? At times, sure. Was the game a "classic?" Probably, due to the fact that Pittsburgh gave Indy' every opportunity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But when all was said and done, Indy' actually snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and they have no one to blame but themselves... and quite arguably, their coach.
The Colts entered the Post-Season on a down-swing. With week 15 and 16 losses to the San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks respectively, the Colts concluded the regular season by out-pointing the feeble Cardinals by the margin of a Field Goal (16-13). Further, with the tragic suicide of coach Tony Dungy's son James weighing heavily upon the team... perhaps Indy's focus was lacking. Whatever the case, even the Officials gave the Colts every opportunity to win... yet, they couldn't capitalize. The "Zebras" made several curious, at best, calls... none worse or more glaring than Troy Polamalu's "non-Interception," however. Briefly, with 5 minutes and change remaining in the 4th and the score 21-10 Pitt', the 2nd year "Hairy-Human-Heat-Seeking-Missile" made a diving INT right around mid-field. Replays clearly showed the Safety making the catch and demonstrating possession of the ball. He then rolled over, took a couple of steps, and inadvertently jarred the ball loose with his knee as he tried to advance the play forward. Polamalu recovered his own fumble, but referee Pete Morelli claimed the Safety "never made the pick"... and the ball was given back to Indy' on the Steeler 48 Yard-line. The decision was outrageous and has already prompted conspiracy theories. Whatever the case, these referees are supposed to be the best the NFL has to offer. If Morelli represents the "best"... then the league has serious issues as that wasn't the only "curious" call of the day. However, I do NOT believe the officials conspired to give the game to the Colts.
Manning struggled for much of the game. His line seems attractive at 22/38 for 290 with a single TD, but Peyton frequently missed his receivers, his rhythm and timing were off, he took 5 Sacks, and most significantly... he looked a little bit like his brother when Eli and his Giants fell to the Carolina Panthers earlier in the Post-C', in the Wildcard round.
Peyton Manning, for the first time in recent memory, couldn't figure out a defense, Further, the Colt QB may STILL be "wearing" a "Troy Polamalu Overcoat." The Steeler Safety came at Manning from every angle; delayed blitzes, corner blitzes, lining up as a 'backer, dropping back into coverage... I could go on. The talented Steeler Safety frustrated Manning from the opening Quarter, and like a dog with his favorite bone, Polamalu didn't let go until he was forced to.
Colt RB Edgerrin James faced Pittsburgh twice this season, the Divisional Playoff game being the 2nd time. When the two teams last met in Week 12, Edge' rumbled for 124 yards... that was the ONLY game in which the Steelers allowed a back to eclipse the century mark. This weekend, the Steelers closed the lights on the Colt rushing game; James ran for 56 yards and a touch' on 13 totes. Due to the fact that the Colts were losing so badly, they were forced to deviate from their usual game plan and pass far more than they would've liked. Oddly enough, WR Marvelous Marvin was not so marvelous. The Canton-bound pass catcher caught 3 balls for 52 yards and towards the end of the game, when his team was driving, it was the cameras that caught Harrison... they caught him sulking. With the team driving... one could consider that Harrison was mulling his own Football mortality. Marvin, for so long the penultimate Colt receiver, was clearly outplayed by the younger Indy pass catcher, Reggie Wayne. Wayne will, no doubt, be Peyton's #1 next season. During this game Reggie snared 7 for 97, and with TE Dallas Clark (4/84/1) finding the soft spots in the coverage... Manning had no need to try and find his former mate. It happens to all great "catch and throw" combos. At some point, one of the 2 ages. I've been saying it all year in much the same way I've been saying it about Packer QB Brett Favre; this IS Harrison's last season as a "great" Colt pass catcher.

But back to the game. Last week, Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger surprised fans with a rock solid Wild-Card game, throwing for 208 yards and a trio of TDs on 14 completions. This week, Big Ben proved that he's an "elite" talent as he reeled off another 197 yards, with 2 TDs and 1 pick. The burly Pitt' line sheltered him as he took but 2 Sacks, and Roethlisberger really benefited from the strong running of both Jerome Bettis (17/46/1) and "Fast Willie" Parker (78 total yards).

But there was a final act left to be played in the Colt "Tragi-Comedy." With 1:20 left in regulation (I am abridging here), the score 21-18 Pittsburgh, and the ball on the Colt 5' ... Steeler coach Bill Cowher felt that his team needed to score in order to prevent the Colts from marching upfield and winning by virtue of a typical Manning 2-minute (or less) TD drive. 99.9% of the time, RB Jerome Bettis is fumble-proof; placing the mail in Bettis' hands is tantamount to putting it into an armored car, This time, though, Colt LB Gary Brackett put his helmet right on the rock, and the ball flew from Bettis' arms. CB Nick Harper scooped the loose ball up and was off to the races. And then, well, in a game chock-full of oddities came the oddest of odd; QB Ben Roethlisberger had been backing up as he handed the ball off to Bettis. Given his position, the Steeler QB was able to race back and save the game with an arm-tackle on Harper at the Colt 42. Manning attempted to drive his team upfield... and you've gotta' figure that at the very least, the Colts would tie the game up and send into OT. Uh-uh, what'd I say about odd? On 3rd and 2, the Colt QB threw the ball to WR Reggie Wayne... for what would've been a TD, had he actually caught the ball. Instead of going for 10 more yards and putting K Mike Vanderjagt into better field position, Manning went for all the marbles. The scary-accurate Kicker... a Kicker who hadn't missed a boot at Home ALL season, missed the 46 yarder. It was certainly no chip-shot, and coach Tony Dungy's decision to execute such a play is inexplicable. Perhaps, as he did earlier on a crucial 4th down play where he waved off the kicking unit that Dungy sent on, QB Peyton Manning made the decision.

If so... if Manning made the decision to throw a low percentage TD pass to Reggie Wayne instead of putting the team into position for Over-Time, what does that say about the control Dungy has over his team? Who's coaching the team? Dungy or Manning?

Either way... it was game over, Steelers win. And you know what? This season HAS to be considered a waste for a team that, at one point, was being compared to the legendary Dolphin and Bear teams of yore. Much like the Yankees... where the regular season is merely a tune-up for the Second-Season, the Colts were a HUGE disappointment. And, it will be interesting to see who comes back. I'll bet you this, Kicker Mike Vanderjagt's career in a Colt Uni' is over... through no fault of his own. I'll also tell you this; right or wrong, Manning should NOT have thrown his Offensive Line under the bus when he stated that "he didn't want to point any fingers or place any blame, but we had protection issues."
He was right on that score... he was running for his life, and both LB Joey Porter and S Troy Polamalu will be stalking his dreams for the next 3-6 weeks. But, a team is a team. Except, perhaps, if it's Manning's team.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF PICTURE!

Washington at Seattle: The 'Skins shot their load last week, QB Mark Brunell's seriously hobbled, and RB Clinton Portis may struggle against a VERY good run D led by rook' LB Lofa Tatupu. In fact, I'll wager that things get SO bad, Gibbs even tosses backup slinger Patrick Ramsey onto the field sometime... oh, mid-end of 3rd Q'.
The 'Skins will try and stack the box in order to make life difficult for Shaun-A', but 'Beck and the boys can get it done by themselves.
Seattle romps... after knocking some of the rust off.

New England at Denver: There's nothing easy about this game. I will give the edge to the Dalai Lamichik' and Tom Brady. The cold won't bug the Pats'... but the altitude might. I worry that Dillon's poor rushing day last week is indicative that his ankle is still balky. Nevertheless, look for the Patriots to spread the Denver D out with 4 and even 5 WRs... and Brady will pick upon weak links such BronCB rookie Dominique Foxworthy. In a squeaker... and again I see Big Ben Watson playing a Red-Zone role and RB Kevin Faulk seeing more action than he's accustomed to, New England edges Denver by a heartbeat.

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis: A pair of factors at work here. One, the Colts will be in the home Dome... and last they met, Pitt' stumbled and got whupped by 20 or so points. The raucous RCA Dome is as inhospitable a place as there is anywhere in the NFL... and when it gets rockin' and rollin', Big Ben and his fellow Steelers will again have trouble checking off, changing plays, picking up the blitz and getting off the ball as a cohesive unit. In addition, the Steeler game plan is to drop additional DBs into coverage and force Edgerrin James to beat them by his loneley ol' self. He'll be up to the task. The Steelers best shot is to pound away with Bettis and slash at the smallish Colt Secondary by tossing the ball to Willie and Hiney'... they have to rob the Colts of their strength, their team speed. IF the Steelers can win the time of possession game and keep the Indy O off of the field... they have a shot. Ben will, however, have to duplicate last week's heroics.

Carolina at Chicago: These teams also have a history... and the Bears blew 'em away. Look for the Bear D to put their collective foot on a fragile DeShaun Foster's neck and keep it there. WR Steve Smith hung huge diggies' last time they clashed... but failed to score. Again Chi-town will give Smith his receptions but not the 6'. Look for Sexy Rexxy to hook up with Muhsin Muhammed... the former Panther. "Moose" has something to prove. That, and RB Thomas Jones will pound away at the 'Lina line. The Panthers looked great against a poor offensive and injury thinned Giant team last week... let's see how they fare against a healthy, far more aggressive Bear squad

Friday, January 13, 2006

NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF PICTURE!

So Wildcard weekend was, frankly, wild!

1. The Panthers cut the Giants down to size; hey, the bigger they are... the G-Men made RB DeShaun Foster look like RB Jim Brown, the Secondary was gashed yet again, and the entire game plan was flawed from top to bottom. Big Blue WR Plaxico Burress didn't show up to play the game, he didn't show up for the team's final meeting, and who knows if he'll even show up for NEXT season?
There was a reason the Steelers allowed him to leave without much of a tussle and now we know why. Athletes such as Plax', Moss, T.O ... they are all cut from the same selfish cloth.

2. The Steelers tamed the Tigers... once Cincy' lost the head of their pack, Quarterback Carson Palmer (done for 8-9 months with a torn ACL, MCL and dislocated kneecap), 1/3 of the Playbook went out the window and most of the team's confidence went with it. In addition, the Cin' City Seconday was exposed and the 'backers were mere speed bumps to RB Jerome Bettis. QB Ben Roethlisberger thumbed his nose at the Beng' D-backfield and may have played his best game as a pro EVER. "BB" threw for an efficient 208 yards and tossed a trio of TDs on 14 completions!

3. New England is the best Playoff team in history, QB Tom Brady the best money player in NFL history. Period. The run D took Greg Jones and Fred Taylor out of the game, and Jag' QB Byron Leftwich was clearly rusty. It is my considered opinion that a game-ready David Garrard should have stewarded that team in its biggest game. At the very least, Garrard was up to speed.

4. The Washington Redskins may have beaten the Bucs'... but they shot their load in the process and haven't a prayer this weekend. RB Clinton Portis was reasonably efffective against the over-aggressive Tampa D... but QB Mark Brunell was nothing short of awful; he threw for a meager 41 TOTAL passing yards (Portis had more on the ground) and looked thoroughly gassed. It was quite apparent that physically, the 'Skin Field General was not intact.His ankle clearly hindered his ability to plant and throw, and I am betting the Ranch that backup slinger Patrick Ramsey hits the field sometime around the mid-3rd to early 4th Quarter in order to see if he can bail the team out. The only upside of this game for Tampa... if you must look for a silver lining- they have a gutty, future franchise QB in Chris Simms. Simms showed a lot of poise, physical skill and determination, and having had the pleasure of seeing his old man play.... Chris has a LOT of his pop (Superbowl winner, Phil) in him.

So, now that we've touched upon last week's Wild-Card round... let's take a little bit deeper look into THIS Weekend's excitement!

WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE:

SEATTLE:
Seahawk 'slinger Matt Hasselbeck has been money... and few realize just how competent he is. Know who he is? Matt Hasselbeck is the NFC's Pro Bowl STARTER! Dude threw for almost 3,500 yards this season... to an injury depleted receiving corps. Top target Darrell Jackson (knee surgery), #2 Bobby Engram (missed a 3 game mid-season stretch), and even return specialist and slot-receiver Peter Warrick (he's ALWAYS out with one injury or another, and will NEVER again be the explosive athlete he was as a collegian) all missed time and suffered injuries. Anyway, Hasselbeck and greybeard pass catcher Joe Jurevicius, late of the Buccaneers, developed a fantastic rapport. Joey J. snared a career-best 55 balls, hung a 2nd best total of 694 receiving yards, blew away his career TD mark with 10 scores (his next best scoring season was with Tampa in '02-'03. That year he recorded a whopping 4 TDs), and kept the chains moving with a career-best 39 1st Downs.
What am I driving at? Even if the 'Skins manage to take RB Shaun Alexander out of the game and render the 'Hawks Offense 1-dimensional, something I have a VERY hard time seeing them do but for the sake of argument let's say they accomplish this herculean feat, then QB Matt Hasselbeck has the skills... and tools, to beat Washington and win the game on the strength of his arm. That, my fantasy friends, is what I am saying.
**NOTE: 'Beck was playing UN-conscious ball over the final 1/4 of the season. Dude posted a Passer Rating of 137.5 in his last quartet o' starts, with a TD : INT ratio of 9:1 ... how ill!

RB Shaun Alexander is a freak of nature... and I mean this as a compliment. The nicest of men, I had the great fortune to make his acquaintance in Las Vegas... but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas... so I say no more. With 1,880 rushing yards and a "ree-freakin'-diculous" 28 TDs, "Alexander the Great" won the league rushing title AND conquered the single-season scoring record. These are no small feats considering the Seattle Offense boasts a Pro Bowl QB and skilled receivers. In addition, Shaun-A' became the only player in league history to notch 15 or more TDs in 5 consecutive seasons. Let me tell you... the 'Hawks are rueing their ill-informed decision to not lock him up to a long-term contract when they had the chance. Although there's no palpable anymosity... there will be no "Home-town discount" either Shaun worked his tail off for every yard... and will deserve every buck of his upcoming "Mega-Millions" Lotto Jackpot contract. It's almost a lock that Alexander's contract will break records.
Look for the 'Hawks to give the 'Skins a steady diet of Alexander in order to force talented, if problemed, Safety Sean Taylor to creep up in run support. Taylor slipping closer to the box will force man-coverage and free up the deeper sideline routes for D-Jax, Joey J., and Engram.
These 2 teams met up during week 2, and the Seahawk back ran for 98 yards and a TD. The more impressive stat' is that the potential Hall of Fame back averaged almost 5 yards a tote that day. Running behind FB Mack Strong and a Pro-Bowl bound left-side (Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones), Alexander could again control the tempo of the game and render the playaction pass... deadly.

***NOTE: In his 4 contests against the Redskins, Alexander has stumbled. Shaun-A' failed to eclipse the century mark in ANY game against those nutty Washingtonians... will he have a short memory? Or, do the 'Skins have some sorta' MoJo? We shall se.

WRs Darrell Jackson (in 6 games, Jax' hung a line of 38/482/3), Bobby Engram (67/778/3), Joe Jurevicius (55/694/10), and TE Jerramy Stevens (45/554/5) are an impressive bunch. Joey J. gets by with guile and impecabble route-running, D-Jax' is the speed merchant, and Engram is simply consistent. D.J Hackett will hit the field in spread sets, and leviathan TE Jerramy Stevens, who finished the season on a roll, may play a significant role this game. in his final 4 games, Stevens caught 16 passes for 142 yards and 3 TDs.

The 'Hawk D is formidable against the run, and they have the speed and strength to bottle up RB Clinton Portis. However, the Seattle Secondary is troublingly soft versus the pass. Holding opposing backs to under 95 total rushing YPG (ranked 5th) consitutes a stout run D. But, surrendering almost 223 passing YPG (ranked 25th) to a team featuring Liquid-slik' Santana Moss and soft-handed and slippery H-Back Chris Cooley could prove... problematic, shall we say?

REDSKINS:
In just his 2nd season back at the helm of his beloved Redskins, coach Joe Gibbs has taken Daniel Snyder's laughable crew and whipped them into a playoff worthy bunch. Curiously, both teams can look in the mirror and see similar images. We have unsung yet highly competent Quarterbacks, top-notch RBs, and stout... yet vulnerable Ds. The 'Skins may have an edge on the 'Hawks with Santana Moss... but if that consitutes an advantage it's awfully slender.
QB Mark Brunell is fumblin', stumblin' and bumblin' to quote the incomparable Mr. Berman. While he started the year off in dramatic fashion, I would say that sometime around Week 9 or 10, his game fell off. By Week 9, Bru' had already thrown for 12 TDs with a mere 3 INTs, and enjoyed 6 games of 224 passing yards or more. In conjunction, he notched a pair of 300+ yard passing games and 1- 290+ yard game. AFTER Week 10 this same Signal Caller never again eclipsed 200 passing yards, he threw another 9 scores... but 4 came in 1 game against Dallas, guy tossed 5 picks, and fumbled the ball 5 times. It was almost as if another QB was under Brunell's helmet.

Last week, during the Wild Card game against Tampa, Brunell was fortunate to have RB Clinton Portis pull his ass from the fire. The Redskin Field General threw for a paltry 41 yards on a 7 of 15 afternoon, with no TDs, 1 pick, and 2 Sacks. With an aggressive Seattle pass rush itching to get in Bru's mug, the 'Skins will probably go run heavy... right into the teeth of the Seahawk defense. However, C-Port's no ordinary back. Powerful enough to tote the mail between the Tackles and swift enough to bounce it outside, the Redskin runner is no less dangerous than his C-Hawk' counterpart. Defenses continually underestimate Portis... much to his delight. Seattle won't make that mistake this week. Last week, Tampa did just what I feared they would; they over-pursued. A cut-back runner with phenomenal field vision, Portis won't hesitate to slash a run back against the grain, essentially breaking the intended play off. Interestingly enough this season, Portis matured by the game. Last year, still stuck in a "Denver run-game" mind-set, Portis was continually running up his linemen's asses. This season, the guy has shown much more patience... he waits for his holes to develop... he uses his blockers. Should the play get sniffed out, Portis can freelance and is strong enough to make his own hole. Continually pumping his legs, he rarely loses yards and always finishes his runs with proper body lean.
Even with a solid run D, Seattle will have its hands full. Portis is no wide-eyed rookie like Carnell Williams was last week. And, spelling Portis is the very adept Ladell Betts. Another power back, Betts averaged a hair under 4 YPC this season and serves as a nice change-of-pace runner when C-Port' needs a breather. Betts can also catch the ball coming out of the backfield.

If the O-Line can but Brunell some time, a suspect Seahawk Secondary will have a hard time containing H-Backs Mike Sellers and Chris Cooley, and they will simply have fits trying to restrain explosive WR Santana Moss.
Simply put, Moss makes tungs happen; he's fearless, can catch most anything thrown his way, runs crisp routes, blocks downfield for Portis, and is amongst the top 5 at his position. However, truth be told... and I tell no lies, the Achilles heel of the Redskin O is the lack of a complementary pass catcher. Moss, acquired from the Jets for fellow WR Laveranues Coles, can do only so much. At his height and size, it's easy to lose track of the human-ricochet receiver. Plus, his ability to make things happen after the catch is what makes him so damn dangerous. H-Back Chris Cooley is the penultimate Red-Zone weapon and ranks as a top fantasy option. Brunell looks for, and finds him with regularity.

The Redskin D is the team's bread and butter. Sure, Moss and Portis are a nice 1-2 punch, but the team has won by keeping games close. Ranked 13th against the pass Wash' allows 105 rushing YPG, and 10th against the pass, they surrender fewer than 195 passing YPG. The D is of the "bend but don't break" variety. They are ranked 9th in "Points Allowed" with 293 scored against them, and 9th in "Total Yards Allowed," having surrendered fewer than 300 total yards o' O each week.

IN CONCLUSION: I think the Redskins shot their load last week... and I think we saw the best Washington had to offer. Their lukewarm O will NOT be enough against a rested and ready Seahawk squad. While the Redskin D features some very, VERY capable players such as LB LaVar

The teams will follow similar templates. Seattle's gonna thrust "Alexander the Great" like a spear into the heart of the 'Skin D and see how they respond and react. After pounding and slashing away with the run game, it's likely that Alexander will have ripped-off several big runs. At that point, the VERY capable and savvy Hasselbeck will air it out. WRs Darrell Jackson and Joe Jurevicius... and maybe even TE Jerramy Stevens will see loads of action.
On the other side of the field, it's all about RB Clinton Portis. Portis will try and take it between the Tackles, he'll try and turn the corner on a few pitches... ultimately, though, a swift flowing, sure-tackling group of 'backers led by none other than a rookie, Lofa Tatupu, will shut the lights on the C-Port show.
The only chance the Redskins have is if Mark Brunell shakes out of his stupor and frustrating Football funk. He must load his arm, improve upon his statue-esque mobility, and be able to improvise is the play breaks down. I just don't see it happening.
After the 'Hawks bang off what little rust may have accumulated; Seattle 27 and Washington 13

Alright, that game really intrigued me for some reason... but let's speed things along.


PITTSBURGH AT INDIANAPOLIS:
Pittsburgh:
Roethlisberger (2,385/20/9) may have played his best game EVER as a pro last week. "Big Ben" knew what time it was... it was time to win. Prior to the games, in my "Playoff Pick 'Em," (wherein I went 4 for 4 by the way... ouch, ouch. Sprained my arm patting myself on the back. Sorry, couldn't resist) I stated that if Roethlisberger was forced to drop back more than 23-25 times, than the team was out of its game plan and all was lost. Well, as you surely know by now, the Pitt' Signal Caller completed 14 of 19 passes for 208 yards and tossed a TD trifecta. The man-child protected the ball and refused to force his passes, and he took but a single Sack. Now, the Beng' pass rush isn't relentless, but the Secondary DID have ball hawk a rep'. It was fine practice for Roethlisberger who faces a weightier challenge this weekend.
The two teams last clashed during Week 12 at Indy, and the Steelers lost... no, the Steelers got WAXED, by a score of 26-7. Part of the problem Pitt' ran into was the raucous nature of the Colts' dome-Home... the locale of this weekends' game! Playing in the "RCA Dome," the noise can be deafening and playcalling becomes impossible. That Week 12 game was, coincindentally, Big Ben's only Road loss in 13 career Road games. In addition, the noise forced the Steelers to commit 5 costly "False Start" penalties.
Look for Big Ben to approach this game with a bit more confidence. The Steelers are healthy, and WRs Hines Ward (69/975/11), Cedric Wilson (26/451/0), and Antwaan Randle El (12/73/1 rushing) and TE Heath Miller (39/459/6) will give a short... but swift, Colt Secondary a tough time.

It is, however, going to be a smashmouth game-plan for Pitt'. Head Coach Bill Cowher will try and rob the Colts of their most valuable weapon... their team speed. Using RBs Jerome "The Bus" Bettis (110/368/9) and "Fast" Willie Parker (255/1202/4), Cowher and Roethlisberger will try and slow down the pace of the game and keep the hi-octane Colt O' from taking the field and developing a rhythm. Bettis will be used as the "sledge," Parker the "anvil," and the Steelers will try and eat-up the clock and win the "time of possession" battle. Looking at Pitts' team speed... they're a plodding bunch, and the Colts' speedier squad is eminently capable of beating Pitt' off of the snap. Given the Colt pass rushers and run-stuffers, the virtually unseen "game within the trenches" will decide the outcome, to some degree, anyway. Look for "The Bus" to pound away at a 16th ranked InDY run D that cedes slighly more than a buck-10 per game. And, with a slasher such as Parker and a "Boom-Boom-Boom" we all falll DOWNNN! back like Bettis, the Steelers indeed have a shot at imposing their offensive will.

WR Hines Ward (69/975/11) is an under-rated commodity. Dude is fearless over the middle, he shuns the flash that the more visible and less-talented pass catchers seek, he can run virtually any route and he can beat press, man-to-man, and zone coverages. From the "fade" to the "post" to the "square-out," Ward is sticky-fingered and possesses remarkable body control. Opposite him, former Forty-Niner Cedrick Wilson came from nowhere to snare 3 balls for 104 yards and a touch'. Given his relative lack of any in-season presence... Wilson will have to prove last week's game wasn't the abberartion it likely was. WR Antwaan Randle El (35/558/1), on the other hand, is versatile and as elusive as a drop of Mercury on Waxed paper. Look for the Steelers to try and put his tremendous skills to use again. Last week, he was a key component in a successful flea-flicker trick play. Cowher is a solid in-season tactician... and a brilliant POST-season tactician.

The Steeler D is formidable and boasts a top-tier pass rush. LB Joey Porter is an under-rated defender. He brought assorted Signal Callers to Earth 10 times, and fellow pass-rusher Clark Haggans did the same 9 times. In addition, guys like CB Ike Taylor (75 solo stops), LB James Farrior (76 solo stops and 2 Sacks), FS Chris Hope (70 Tackles 3 INTs) and Hairy-Human-Heat-Seeking-Missile S Troy Polamalu (74 Tackles, 3 Sacks, 2 picks) helped lead this Steeler D to a 3rd ranked run D (allowing a measly 86 rushing YPG), a unit ranked 4th in "Yards Allowed," (fewer than 285 YPG) and 3rd in "Points Allowed."

The "bend but don't break" Pitt' D allowed 258 total points, and if ANY unit is capable of slowing the charging Colts... it's this one. Look for the Steelers to try and take the passing game away and make stud RB Edgerrin James beat them.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS:
Quarterback Peyton Manning (3,747/28/10) is at the very apex of his skills. At his disposal; a nearly peerless pass catching contingent and a stud Running Back. Capable of making every throw in the book, P-Mann' can thread the needle, throw a brilliant fade, hit his receiver mid-stride, and few throw a better deep ball. In addition, while Peyton will never be confused with Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb... he has the presence of mind to elude the rush and hit his safety valve receiver or throw it away to avoid a Sack. He can sense pressure and is a student of the game- a coach playing Signal Caller. No slinger' is more astute, few are more accurate; the total package.
Given the Steelers' weakness that is its Secondary, look for Manning to completely and throughly dismantle a tired Pitt- D-backfield. Safety Troy Polamalu will be forced to creep up in order to slow a well-rested RB Edgerrin James, and I look for Manning to air it out early and often. The Steelers can ill-afford to enngage in a shootout, and once the Colts approach 21 or so points, the Pittsburgh will be lost as they are NOT a come from behind team. Manning will force the boys from PA back on their collective heels by stretching the field in the 1st and 2nd Q's. He'll also balance it out by handing the ball off to a bruising yet still nifty Edge'. Once the Steelers have been burned by "Marvelous" or Reggie once or twice and are looking pass, the older Mann' will allow James to tear off huge chunks of rushing yards. I look for yet another standout game from the game's pre-eminent passer.

Rumor has it that the Steelers are going to try and choke off the Colt passing game and dare RB Edgerrin James (360/1,506/14) to beat them. The Colt runner may not be the "slash and dash" kind of back he was as a youngster fresh from University of Miami... but Edge' changed his game after he tore up his knee amid the '01-'02 season. A physical specimen and bull of a man, James keep his feet churning, keeps moving forward, and can catch the ball coming out of the backfield as his 337 receiving yards attest. Should the Steelers dare James to beat them... and this is solid "Bulletin Board" material for Indy, he IS capable of beating them. Quick and powerful linemen and nifty feet will see to that.
While James will probably not be the pivotal Colt... expect 60-80 rushing yards, 30 or so receiving yards, and at least 1-2 TDs.

Marvelous, Reggie, Stokely and TE Dallas Clark promise to punish an iffy Steeler Secondary. If any time was a good time to play B-Stoke', a guy who clearly benefitted from Manning's record-breaking '04 season, it's him. Likewise, TE Dallas Clark has a nifty knack for finding the soft spots in zone coverage, can get himself open, and is a dangerous "after the catch" receiver.
I like this Colt contingent against what WILL be an over-matched Steeler Secondary.

IN CONCLUSION: While it could be close... playing at Home, rested, and motivated by the death of coach Tony Dungy's son, James, the Steelers will be outgunned and beaten. Double-diggy' points? Maybe not, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Look for Harrison and Reggie Wayne to each approach 100 yards receiving, and one of the 2 pass-catching Colt TEs (Utecht the other) will snare a 6.

THE REST TO FOLLOW!