A lot of the talk out of the SEC and their dominance over the National Championship for college football mentions their streak of wins in that game. Ask my buddy Brett, who lives with an Auburn fan (that must be REAL bad right now) SEC fans are crazy. No doubt it’s been a heck of a run, and they’ve beaten some very good opponents that rode strong seasons to get there. But really, lets take a look back and see just what the SEC has done to these poor teams. If you look at it, other than a thumping of Oklahoma, the SEC really hasn’t been beating the best competition in the country. They’ve been the biggest beneficiary of the lack of a playoff, in part because they’d knock eachother off, and also because they don’t face the best of the best, even if they are playing a number 1 or 2 ranked team. lets go back these last 4 years and take a look.
2010 – Alabama v. Texas
Alabama rode a superb defense led by Rolando McClain, the stout Terrence Cody and a fine young corner in Javier Arenas as well as a Heisman season by Mark Ingram to the title game. nevermind that Ingram wasn’t the best player in the country but instead the best player on the best team, this game has a bit of a cloud over it. On the first drive of the game, for whatever reason Mack Brown called an option left with his hyper accurate golden-armed superboy Colt McCoy carrying it, and McCoy suffered a pinched nerve in his throwing shoulder on the hit. A freak accident that knocked the kid out of the game for good and put Garrett Gilbert in, people across the country were shocked at this turn of events. Gilbert was a blue chipper out of high school, just as the UT quarterback should be, but to throw him into the fire like this was to do a major disservice to how good this freshman could be. The Longhorns weren’t at full strength and yet they were still threatening late into the game, and had real chances to win it that, if it had been McCoy back there, they no doubt would have. Yes, injuries are a part of the game, but still, this puts a bit of a damper on the shine of the Coaches Trophy in Tuscaloosa.
2009 – Florida v. Oklahoma
There’s not much to say about this game- Tim Tebow is simply one of the greatest college football players to ever step on the field. Even with Sam Bradford at the helm, the swarming and strong Florida defense made it a hectic day to say the least for the Sooners. I’ll give this one to them, the Gators just beat Oklahoma. HOWEVER, the Sooners were neither the best nor the second best team that year. USC lost earlier in the season in a let-down game against Oregon State, and the Trojans had one of the best defenses not just that year, but in college football history. The Gators lucked out in that respect, plus the fact that the BCS had a hard-on for Tebow pretty much his entire career. The Trojans were in my eyes the best team in the country, despite that one loss. The Gators also had one loss, and if it hadn’t been for Tebow and the BCS computers artificially overrating the SEC a bit, USC would have come in and taken the trophy away. Yet another example of why a playoff is necessary. I know you can only play the teams you’re allowed to face, but nevertheless, Oklahoma got in because of a couple fluke losses, and if it had gone differently and USC had faced the Gators, I have no doubt Troy would have been victorious. Florida had Brandon Spikes leading their D, but USC had Ray Malaluga leading it, a better coaching mind in Pete Carroll, not to mention Taylor Mays and the rest of the linebacking corps in Clay Matthews and Brian Cushing. Just beastly if you ask me. A Rose Bowl was great, but the title should have been USC’s.
2007 and 2008 – Florida/LSU v. Ohio State
For the life of me I don’t understand how Ohio State got ranked so highly so much. Yes, they won a lot of games, undefeated in both these years, but the Big 10 just isn’t that good, I don’t get it. They routinely have trouble in inter-conference play, and Jim Tressell tightens up, Marty Schottenheimer style, in big games. I give little credit to Florida or LSU for these games, each a blowout and the Tigers got to play in the Superdome- it was basically a home game for them. There were definitely better teams out there than the Buckeyes both these years, if nothing else SC had some great teams, and Texas is rarely bad. But Ohio State was the lucky one in a year of upsets, riding other teams losses to victory. The luck ran out in January (compounded by playing a virtual LSU home game in New Orleans) and Tressell continued to blow it when it matters. He’s doing a great job of making that one title back in ’03 look like a fluke. There are times when you have to take a chance, but the Sweater Vest must not understand that inorder to receive great reward, there must be some risk. Woody Hayes retired (was fired, whatever) 30 years ago.
So what do we pull from all this? Obviously the SEC has had a good run these last few years, and this latest National Championship is, at least to me, on the level. Oregon is a great team, they score the hell out of the ball, and because the computers and pollsters hate the non-AQ teams, it’s the best we can get. Auburn is looking like the better team, but Chip Kelly works harder than Chizik. It’s not hard when your QB is bigger than the other team’s linebackers and faster than their corners. I still think TCU could give any of these teams a run for its money, but we’ll have to wait till next year. Plus, whatever happens, they’re still undefeated and beat a very hot Wisconsin team. But looking back, the SEC, while it has won against the teams it’s had to face, hasn’t faced the best team, just more often than not the luckiest team, or the recipient of an early-season slip up by a potential juggernaut. SEC fans will celebrate their wins and how dominant they are, but at least one school, situated in Compton of all places, and maybe some guys down in Austin, Texas, should have something to say. Wins are wins, but the wins the SEC has put together have not been the most convincing. Also, Ohio State is garbage, plain and simple, along with the rest of their terrible conference. Nebraska’s about to have a field day.
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Today I read Michael Rosenberg’s Inside the NBA piece on SI.com about the meaninglessness of the NBA regular season. About halfway in, he says this:
Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls with Commissioner Stern, the short one (Getty)
“I love pro basketball. Really, I do. I not only love the game, which is viscerally thrilling, but I love the league. The NBA knows what it is: competition wrapped up as entertainment.”
I’m sure Mr. Rosenberg is a respected NBA journalist, and knows the game quite well. After all, the NBA is viscerally thrilling. Of the major sports it has the most consistent showcasing of human athleticism and the most consistent flow. Baseball has lulls and swells, football is standing around punctuated by crazy collisions of massive men, but the NBA is back and forth, steady, more about flows than instances. That’s why I watch it too. But the other part of that statement Rosenberg made, about the NBA being competition wrapped up as entertainment? I call bullshit.
There’s no denying NBA players try to win games. They really want to, and they get bigger contracts the more games they win and how they dominate said games. But the main problem with the NBA, as Rosenberg intimates in his article, is that the playoffs are decided, the top six teams in each conference at least, before the season-opening tip. For 82 games superstar athletes go through the motions, not really going all out unless it’s a “statement game”. The Lakers playing in Boston, or an elite team playing in New York, they go hard because it gives the team swagger to have these wins against old rivals or on big stages. When the Cavaliers play the Heat this year, rest assured it will be a battle, because there’s so much animosity between Cleveland and their former favorite son, LeBron. That’s one of the reasons to watch too, NBA players get wrapped up in the moment more than baseball players or football players do. If you get all emotional in baseball, you’ll play worse, won’t be focused. In the NFL emotion will let you hit harder, but you might (more…)
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Roy Halladay joylessly throwing ANOTHER strike (Getty)
Roy Halladay won 20 games this year. Roy Halladay has the inside track to the NL Cy Young Award. Roy Halladay is generally considered the best pitcher in baseball. Roy Halladay is going to the postseason for the first time in his career. Roy Halladay very well could win a championship this year. Roy Halladay is great, plain and simple. And one more thing.
Roy Halladay is boring.
It is astonishing to watch Doc Halladay at work. He is so good, so consistent, so old-school, you’d think his pitching days would be celebrated like they do in Seattle for their man. Felix Hernandez has Felix Day every day he pitches, and the fans adore him, flock to the stadium to see him throw. Halladay performs in front of sell-out crowds, but that has a lot to do with his team being the best in the Senior Circuit, no so much his drawing power. No, every time I watch Halladay work, he makes it seem like work. Other aces and award winners go to work, sure. CC Sabathia sweats gallons every time it’s his turn. Albert Pujols puts in time watching tape and in the cage, then empties his chamber every at-bat. But at least they make it fun to watch. In a game that is just that, a game, Roy Halladay seems to suck the fun out of the whole event. (more…)
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Mike Ehrmann / Getty
In 2006 he was untouchable. Twin Cy Youngs to go along with a golden arm and a name oozing with poetry. All this in the wilds ofMinnesota, just aching to show the world what he could do. Johan Santana was the best pitcher in baseball in 2006, and the most coveted potential free-agent to that point in the 21st century. With apologies to Roy Halladay, Santana was the man. A live fastball, good breaker, and that changeup that made major leaguers look lost at the plate. Santana in 2006 was destined for greatness with pundits saying his name along with the greats of Maddux, Gibson, or Grove. The one knock was that he couldn’t do it in the postseason, but most chalked that up to playing in the Homer Dome and lack of experience, playing on a mid-market window hunter like the Twins.
Meanwhile, in Flushing, Queens, Mets owner Jeff Wilpon was beginning to look desperate. Long have the New York Mets been the little brother, the also ran, below the fold. After a high-point in 2000 when they faced the cross-town Yankees in the World Series, the Mets had struggled to get over the hump. 2006 was just another typical year for them, with big signee Carlos Beltran taking an Adam Wainright curveball for the final strike of the NLCS. The Cardinals would go on to win the series against an outclassed Detroit Tigers team, which surely rankled Wilpon all the more. He tried everything the Yankees did in terms of spending money, but to no avail. Another disappointing 2007 season ended with the Mets participating in one of the worst September collapses in baseball history, being up seven games on the Phillies as of September 12 and not making the postseason. Mets fans were apoplectic that the second-highest paid team in baseball could lose so epically to bottom-dwellers the Nationals and the Marlins. Wilpon had to act, in a big way, to get his team back to the playoffs the next year at the very least. Being neighbors with the Yankees surely hurt the Mets because of expectations, but there was nothing to be done about that. So Wilpon and GM Omar Minaya unleashed all they could, sending a glut of talented minor leaguers to Minnesota for Johan Santana, and signing him immediately to a 6-year, $137.5 million contract. The best pitcher in baseball was now the highest-paid in history, and in a marquee place where he could continue to record what would no doubt become a legendary career.
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NFC Playoff Picture
So seeing as how I made all these picks, I guess it would behoove me to get a sense of finality for this whole football season. Lets start with the NFC. The divisional winners would be the 49ers in the west, Saints in the South, the Vikings in the North and the Cowboys in the East. That gives Wildcard berths to the Eagles and Packers. Based on my predictions of records I give New Orleans and Minnesota byes the first week, which leaves the Cowboys hosting the Packers (because you can’t host an interdivisional rival if you can help it) and the Niners hosting the Eagles.
‘Boys vs. Packers is an intriguing matchup, and probably will end up being the best game of the weekend. Based on QB play, overall defense and talent at offensive line, I have to give it all to the Packers. Rogers is a better QB already than Romo, the defense has a legitimate secondary and doesn’t rely solely on pass rush to get stops, and the run defense, top 5 last season, is only getting better now that Aaron Kampman has been removed. This is addition by subtraction right there, and allows for someone to play that’s not out of position. It won’t be a blowout, but it will definitely make Jerry Jones start complaining real quick. The Cowboys are too offensively minded, and this will be to their detriment in the postseason. Out west, despite a new hard-nosed approach, the Niners don’t have the talent to beat the receiving corps of the Eagles. Kevin Kolb is looking shakier than most had hoped in the preseason, but he has a lot of talent around him to pick him up. Though San Francisco has the front seven to battle anyone, their secondary even with Taylor Mays at safety needs a little more time, especially against a pass-happy coach like Andy Reid. Frank Gore will have a good game, but the defense will hold on enough to give Philly the game.
Round two in the NFC then would look like the Vikings hosting the Eagles and the Packers on the road to New Orleans. That Vikings-Eagles matchup looks like a second coming of the Niners a week earlier, but the Vikings are built like the Niners, just better in all aspects. All-everything Adrian Peterson will be able to run over even LB Patrick Willis, and Brett Favre being healthy or hopped up on pain killers is a definite upgreade over Alex Smith. I have to give it to the Vikings, even with all the talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Eagles. Plus, with Jared Allen and company desiring only to behead him, Kolb will be too shook up to be effective. In New Orleans, it looks like we’d have another shootout like Arizona had against the Pack last year. I would say the defense would carry the Pack because the QB’s match up so evenly to me, but Sean Peyton isn’t one to be fooled by something so simple as a 3-4 scheme with talent. The Packers are better defensively, make no mistake about that, but the Superdome is a tough place to win any time of the year and no matter who you are. You know what though? I think this is a year for Aaron Rogers to really emerge as he and Drew Brees trade TDs, and they’ll squeak by on a Mason Crosby last-second field goal from the 40.
Vikings-Packers in the NFC Championship? I say hell yes. I can’t imagine the Packers would be easy on Favre, since there were reports last year of the entire team including Rogers rooting against the Vikings while watching the NFC Championshipat a bar last year. This would probably be the best game of the postseason, two divisional rivals with loathing on top of hatred facing off. And though it would be story-book for Favre to pull one out over his old team and finally make it back to the Super Bowl, I feel instant karma will rear its ugly head again and Charles Woodson will waltz into the endzone with the deciding TD after Brett throws it right to him. Yes, after many years, the Green and Gold will see the big one once again.
AFC Playoff Picture
Image via Getty
Plainly the best records in the AFC will go to the Colts and the Patriots. The other teams have too brutal of schedules in their own division (yes, the Jets and Dolphins are tough, but playing the Steelers and Ravens twice is just too much) so the Pats and Colts will rest for a week, seemingly like usual. So a Jets-Bengals rematch, the same two teams that faced eachother last Wildcard Week. If you’ll remember, Chad Ochocinco said that if CB Darrelle Revis shut him down, he would change his name back to Johnson. It happened, and nothing came of it. Now, with the whole Revis situation killing the Jets along with Terrell Owens on the Bengals, this is a whole new ballgame. T.O. may not be what he once was, but him as a number 2, plus Jordan SHipley in the slot, gives Carson Palmer a pile of weapons to rival Rambo. I don’t see the Jets pulling this one out, even if Revis comes back, because there’s just too much talent for the Bengals to beat them with. Recent injuries and too much tough talk are going to sink the Jets season and Mike Francesa will be impossible to shut up.
Out in San Diego, the Ravens, plain and simple, are going to utterly dismantle the Chargers. Recent developments of wide receiver Vincent Jackson holding out combined with too many losses of talent are going to doom San Diego. Plus, the Ravens are a dangerous team in every respect now, with offensive threats to match number 52 and the rest of the big D. Like the Vikings-Packers game will be the best game, this will be the ugliest and most one-sided.
Divisional week would see the Bengals in Foxboro to face the Patriots and the Colts playing host to the Ravens. Much as I like the Bengals, Bill Belichick is just too good at what he does and will have too much time prior to the game to be able to lose. Brady and Palmer will have a shootout, with TD’s lighting the board up everywhere, but vintage Brady will show up in the last 1:30 of the game with a game-winning drive down the field. The Colts meanwhile will have their hands full. Despite upgreades to the D, the Ravens will be able to do as they please and it will be on Manning, as always, to win. This time though I think the Ravens are just too good in every respect, and will be able to bludgeon Manning out of his comfort zone. Flacco won’t outgun the great QB, but the rest of the team, healthy, will do it Baltimore style and take the game in Lucas Oil Stadium.
A a win in Indy would send the Ravens to New England the next week, and though it won’t be the same as last year, the outcome will be the same. Brady is now two years removed from knee surgery, and traditionally that’s how long it takes to come all the way back. He will have a clean game and the offense will be as-ever unstoppable, but the defense is either too old or too young at this point, and will be beaten right back. A key stop by one of the big guys in purple will be the deciding factor, whether its a tackle behind the line by Lewis or a late pick by Reed, but over the season it will become apparent the Ravens are a team of destiny. Maybe it’s a once-a-decade thing, but the Ravens will get back to the Promised Land again this season.
So a Packers-Ravens Super Bowl would be in the offing. Unlike the last time Baltimore was there, this opponent isn’t a surprise that rode some good luck like the 2000 Giants. The Packers are a real threat, and will show it quickly. This game will be more balanced than anyone would expect, neither a defensive battle or an offensive shootout. Rogers is really good, and will have his way at times with that Baltimore secondary. Ed Reed will show what makes him so great with a couple picks though, and the hard-nosedness of the Ravens will be the deciding factor. Ray Lewis is too dominating to be forgotten, and will spend a lot of time in the backfield. The Packers are expecting a lot out of a young o-line, and Terrell Suggs, Lewis, Ngata, and the rest will have a good time with them. A matchup like this has to go Ravens, with Lewis (hopefully not) riding off into the sunset. So there it is, through process of elimination and stream of consciousness thinking, the Baltimore Ravens will be Super Bowl Champs. Out on a limb? Maybe, but they’re a good team and could be great. And any time I get to watch 52 play is a bonus.
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So, in dramatic fashion, we limp to the finish line for all you football heads out there. I have no excuse save that the last week was full of travel and entertaining of guests. But I’ll not let you down, and even though this is admittedly the weakest division in the league, it still deserves some face time, right?
San Francisco 49ers
Niners tight end Vernon Davis (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
Maybe its just me, but it seems like the stories of Montana, Walsh, and Rice are fading further and further into antiquity with each passing year, looking more like an aberration and good luck than an organizations commitment to winning. Of course, you can’t always hire a coach that will fundamentally change the way the game is played or drat the best quarterback and wide receiver in the history of the game every time you neeed one, can you. The Niners are a far cry from the flash and shine of those halcyon days in the 80’s and 90’s, but they’ve done a complete makeover as only San Fran is capable, and have come out of it a whole different beast. It all starts with coach Mike Singletary. For a city that’s more style and substance, Singletary brings a bedrock to the team to build upon. A part of the ’85 Bears team that produced the Super Bowl Shuffle and a 15-1 record, Singletary was another in a long line of Bears linebackers that stuck utter terror into the hearts of opposing players. Now, as the coach of the 49ers he is trying to do the same thing, and has turned a historically pass happy team to a run-first bludgeoning fist. He takes little to no shit from anyone, going so far as to make Vernon Davis, the Niners star tight end, to go to the locker room because he was being whiny. So things are changing. The draft this year focused on rebuilding a porous offensive line that has allowed former number one pick Alex Smith to be knocked senseless, lose his starting job, and get it back. That’s the key to the whole seasaon, plain and simple. If that can stay strong and Smith can fulfill his promise FINALLY, the Niners are the class oft his division. If not, they have this kid Nate Davis from Ball State that can just flat out huck the ball. Big, strong, he could be very good. Frank Gore at RB is one of the most unheralded backs in the league in a division with Stephen Jackson, another of the same. The aforementioned Davis, when he was drafted, was considered the best pure athlete in the game with a freakish size and speed combination. Basically, if LeBron James played football, you’d have Vernon Davis. In an earlier column I mentioned how Brian Westbrook was on the Redskins, but I was wrong and informed of that while watching the Niners preseason game last week. So really, having one of the best backs in recent history as a backup is going to add some magic to that backfield. Plus, Michael Crabtree is going to be playing an entire season and if that talent he showed at Texas Tech pans out, well, the Niners have a threat at wideout like nobody else in the league. He is that good. If Ted Ginn, recently acquired from Miami, can find his hands, that could be a very good receiving corps. Defensively, Patrick Willis at linebacker leads a very solid group. This is Singletarys’ pride and joy here, a get after the ball kind of team that just wants to destroy. They’ve taken on the mentality that Singletary brings to the team, and that’s just dangerous. Willis is one of the best backers in the league, hands down. Combine that with safety Taylor Mays out of USC and the middle of the field is a place you don’t want to be against this team. Mays is a freak like Davis is, and watching USC games the last couple years saw him literally everywhere on the field. If he wasn’t the guy making the tackle, he was right there delivering a bone-shattering hit anyway. The d-line isn’t amazing, but solid, and they were one of the toughest teams against the run last year, something that should carry over. Pass-wise, Mays is what some consider the second coming of Ronny Lott, the Hall of Fame safety that was the face of the Niners defense for all those championship runs. So keep an eye on San Fran, and the Bay in general, it looks like a couple of teams there are going to surprise the league. Prediction : 11-5, playoffs. (more…)
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Sorry about the sudden halt people, I had to help my brother move to Pittsburgh this week. Incidentally, one of the nicer cities I’ve been to, though in the winter I’m sure it’s different. Plus, the Steelers are pretty ubiquitous. And PNC Park, where the Pirates play, is seriously the nicest park I’ve ever been to, other than having to watch the Pirates. Anyway, on to the NFC South, where we continue with the…
New Orleans Saints
Saints QB Drew Brees with son Baylen (Getty)
So you won a Super Bowl, did you? Well, boys, the NFL wants to know, what have you done for me lately? Yes, the NFC South, where you can’t finish first twice. In this decade no team has won the division twice in a row, and the way talent is showing up there again, the Saints, despite an electric offense and the will of a magic city, could have a tough time. But really, not that tough. Though they partied pretty much up until tomorrow to celebrate the city’s first championship in who knows how long, the Saints are the class of the division. Drew Brees, he of the golden (surgically repaired) arm and maybe the most adorable child in the world, is back and more at home than ever. He loves the city and they him, probably to the degree that Archie Manning is now an afterthought. Brees had a ridiculous season last year and only looks to improve on it, as head coach Sean Peyton can build on what he and Brees put together last year and spend the year giving defensive coordinators fits. The offense from QB on down is back where it matters, and now that Peyton finally figured out how to properly use Reggie Bush last season that could spell many sleepless nights for other defenses. Combine that with the incredible and still unheralded Marquis Colston as well as TE Jeremy SHockey more comfortable in the system, the Saints are a danger. Brees’ ability to distribute the ball to any number of receivers (there were games last year where he had receptions from seven or more separate players) and the word “drop off” should not even be thought of. I was just in Pittsburgh and the sports radio guys were agreeing Brees is the best QB in the league, surpassing Peyton Manning. This is a dirty travesty of a lie especially for actual people who get paid to do this. Brees is perfect in the system he’s in while Manning is a field general on a level that is unrivaled. Still, the system is there, and Brees is the straw that stirs the Hurricane, so another 5000+ yard season isn’t out of the question. The receiving corps led by Marquis COlston, maybe the most underrated receiver in the league right now, is fast, strong, and smart, able to assimilate into the Sean Peyton scheme. Reggie Bush is Reggie Bush, and with every passing year we realize a little more what that means. He can catch, run, jump and juke, and as they say, you put him in open space its game over. The discovery of Pierre Thomas these last couple of years has given the Saints the battering ram this high-flying offense needs to help them assert themselves at the goal line, and the offensive line seems to take it personally when their QB is touched. This in itself is a good reason to fear the Saints; they’re more of a team than most. On the other side of the ball, a classic 4-3 defense, you have beasts of all types. Sedrick Ellis is the anchor on the line, making good on the promises Mel Kiper made in his honor during the draft. He benched 440 at the combine in 2008, so think about where that’s ended up. And the fact that he was ranked behind Glenn Dorsey on boards everywhere tells you something about Kiper and his boys. Scott Shanle and the speedy, destructive Johnathan Vilma are the heart of the linebackers, but strong-side man Jo-Lonn Dunbar is coming in for the departing Scott Fujita, so that could have an impact on the running game. the safety tamdem of Roman Harper and the near-legend Darren Sharper pair up to be maybe the best two safeties on one team, while Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter is emerging as a fantastic young corner. The Saints aren’t so much the class of the NFC South as they are the entire NFC. Winning a Super Bowl gives you that swagger, but also a nice big target on your back. This is one team that looks strong enough to build a dynasty. The way the coach and QB in particular mesh is amazing, while the whole team has a city rallied around it like nowhere else in the league. The Saints are going deep this year, every game and all season. Prediction : 14-2, playoffs, of course. (more…)
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