Monday, August 08, 2005

AFC chicken tenders?

I'm not sure why this didn't post when I wrote it. My bad.

1) First, having seen a few photos in the paper, did anybody else see Dan Marino's mustache at his hall of fame induction? I mean, my god was that thing creepy. If you go your entire life without a mustache, on the one day that is set to celebrate you for your statistical achievements, why do you grow a terrible villian's mustache from some second rate Mexican movie? Where you going incognito because you were afraid Ray Finkle was going to show up?

2) I think the difference between a repeat for the Sox and them just merely being/fighting for the division crown comes to down to Foulke's recovery (and he is throwing off the mound for the first time today). He comes back and can close effectively, then maybe Schilling can get stretched out to be 90% of the starter he was last year, then maybe we have a playoff rotation of Schilling, Wells, Clement, and Arroyo, and maybe our bullpen is settled down, then maybe we don't have to rely on outslugging the other team when all we have in the 6-9 holes are Millar, Graffinino, and a broken Trot/Kapler/Cruz.

3) For as fast as Adam Stern is on the basepaths, he sure runs them with about as much intelligence and a hybrid Millar/Kapler.

4) The Newport Folk festival is fantastic, but way overpriced. Best way to view it is for free while anchored.

5) A couple people have started asking me about my views on the upcoming NFL season, so I thought I would start with a few teams from last year's playoffs contenders (or as my cousin calls them, Chicken Tenders; that would be very cute, except that he is 34). Please note, a lot of my research and preparation has been aided/influence/stolen from and Aaron Schatz' Football Prospectus. Here is what I think of the 3 best teams from last year in the AFC:

Patriots- Everyone around here is wondering how Bill Belichick will handle the offensive play calling, as well as the loss of Romeo Crennel, and most of them believe the team will either struggle mightily or hit a huge snag. Also, the loss of Tedy Bruschi nd Ted Johnson make the linebacking corp, traditionally the heart of the championship teams, quite a bit weaker. Personally, I think that by the end of the season, the Patriots will be playing about as well as they were the last two years in the playoffs. The real questions about the 2005 version is how quickly the team can get itself and its new dynamic shaken out to a point where they can work through the early bumps that comes from a new dynamic. Unfortunately for the Pats, the early schedule will not help this, and will likely lead to a bunch of bandwagon coxcombs showing up on sportcenter, bitching about how the run has finally come to an end for the Pats. After the opener, four of the next five games are on the road (Carolina, Pittsburgh, Falcons, Broncos), with the home game being San Diego. While I think the Falcons are not nearly as good as advertised, that is still a pretty brutal early schedule that could put the Pats in a pretty deep hole for playoff seedings (or even the playoffs in general). However, if the Pats go into their bye week with a record of 5-1 or 4-2 (or an underwear-wrecking 6-0) I think they will be repeating barring some catastrophic event (losing Brady or Dillon being two very big possibilities). Basically, if he Pats can secure the #2 seed in the AFC, I think they have a very reasonable chance; if they don't I think it could be a humbling year for many Pats fans. Of course, if they were in the NFC this year, they would all be sizing up their fourth ring right now.

Pittsburgh - How far they go this season all depends on the best team building/worst gameplanning coach in the NFL: Bill Cowher. There is very little mystery to what the Steelers will do this year: run a lot (around 60% of the time), play a physical defense that uses a lot of exotic blitzes that Dick Lebeau comes up with, and shows very little originality in the passing game. Looking at the rising strength of the teams in the division, along with a game at the RCA dome, I feel like this is a 10 or 11 win team (last year they won 3.5 games over their pythagorean estimates, so I'm not really going that far out on a limb). Of course, this is all subject to change depending on how well the Bus holds up and whether or not Staley's injury is serious. Granted, I've never been impressed by the Bus, other than maybe he is the best running back to ever have a giagantic hole opened up for him, run 6 yards down the field before being touched, fall down when the first guy breathes on him, then gets up and shakes his helmet like a bobblehead doll in celebration. Last year, their division was a steelers-lite Ravens team (all defense and running) with no running back, a Bengals team that couldn't stop the run, and the Browns (brown is the color of poo!). This year, the teams are a bit more formidable, defenses will have enough film (including Belichick's plan from the AFC championship game) to gameplan for Roethlisberger, which means he either needs to take the next step or become a bust, who coincidentally doesn't have his number favorite reciever from last season. So, a substantial pullback from 15 wins is expected. However, I still see these guys being a force in the AFC, mostly because there aren't too many teams that are designed to handle the style of play that the Steelers throw out at you. Then again, I don't see the Steelers winning the AFC for the same reason; Cowher doesn't gameplan, so if he doesn't have the advantage in terms of talent, then it's another year back home. While my logic is telling me these guys will still win the division, my gut is saying it will be the Bengals who take the North this year. Then again, my guts are full of shit, so you never know.

Indianapolis - Great offense, a defense that has improved a lot more than people give it credit for, and pretty mediocre special teams. Indy probably had their best overall team under Dungy last year, and it was just their bad luck that it happened in a year when there were two teams better than it in the playoffs. I haven't seen them lose enough this year to make a real difference, and if teams continue to try to defend them as they always do, then they will enjoy a lot of success again. While I am always skeptical of Manning's ability to defeat a Belichick scheme, and the defense still lacks the size to combat the big running teams, this very well could be the year that they get a bye in the playoffs (home field?). Mind you, of all the games Manning has played against the Pats, the only truly attrocious one was the AFC championship game in 2004 ('03 season). So, basically, the question becomes will they do well enough in the regular season to win enough games to get home field for the playoffs. The answer? It depends. If defenses continue to be frightened by Manning's no-huddle (but not hurry-up; that thing were he makes the lineman stay in the crouch for 30 seconds as he flaps his arms and makes shadow puppets with his hands), then yes. Most of Manning's success, and by contrast his failure, comes from the fact most defenses don't play anything other than a base defense against him, fearing that motion and misdirections will come right when the snap does and leaving their guys out of position. The few teams that shift the coverage and actually throw different looks at him (see: Patriots, New England) have success shutting him down because he'll be forced to audible a dozen times before each snap, then have the wrong play called, and end up having that whiny "why me?" face on as he swings his arms in dissappointment and unbuckles his chin strap. However, I don't think the offense needs to repeat it's level of success from last year, as the defense looks a lot scarier than people have been giving credit for. Personally, I see Indy winning 12 games, which just might be good enough for home-field, which means anything can happen in the playoffs.

I will get to more teams tomorrow. Right now I have a breakfast date, and I am excited for blue eyes and long locks of blonde hair. Name is Adam.


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