NFL Power Rankings: At the Half

1. Houston Texans: They are an absurdly complete team. Defensively, they are anchored by an MVP worthy J.J Watt. It should be impossible for a second year player to lead a team who lost Mario Williams and Demeco Ryans in free agency, then lost Brian Cushing to injury, but that is exactly what he’s done. Offensively, Arian Foster is the perfect compliment to the duo of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Only a perfect Aaron Rodgers was able to blemish their record. This is a team ready for the Super Bowl.

2. Chicago Bears: They’ve very quietly been the best team in the NFC. After years of Jay Cutler’s team always coming up just short, the additions of Brandon Marshall and QB Coach Jeremy Bates have been nothing short of perfect. Now that they have extreme output from the secondary (thanks to Major Wright and both cornerbacks) they don’t have to rely solely on the front seven defensively. They look like team that’s finally ready to put it all together. The loss to the Texans wasn’t pretty, but that’s why their on top.

3. Atlanta Falcons: After finally blemishing their record, no one has to listen to the insane argument that hey’re the best team.  They shouldn’t have any trouble putting up points with Roddy White, Julio Jones and the never-aging Tony Gonzalez, but at points Matt Ryan has had trouble putting it all together. This team has been bad in the postseason in years past, but they’re hoping this is the year they can make up for it.

4. San Francisco 49ers: The Jim Harbaugh experiment in the Bay Area continues to work wonders. If only Alex Smith was more than a lowly game manager. The 49ers do a better job than anyone in beating bad teams badly, but the offense hasn’t stepped up against a good opponent. The Packers were not playing well in Week 1, and their losses to the Vikings and Giants were their only two matchups against playoff caliber teams.They need to step it up to prove their a Super Bowl team.

5.. Green Bay Packers: Thank God they finally found their grove. Their offense was in a funk at the start of the season, and clearly the defense wasn’t going to bail them out. But now Rodgers and the boys in green have brought back the good vibes to Lambau Field. The loss of Clay Matthews for a period could prove interesting.

6. Denver Broncos: A good-as-ever Peyton Manning has done right by John Elway and put the Broncos in the drivers seat of the AFC West. After an inconsistent start to the season, the Broncos look unbelievable. They may be the hottest team right now, and going into the weakest second-half schedule in the league everyone should be scared to face them.

7. New England Patriots: Tom Brady finally has a real running game behind him. And Bill Belicheck is still breathing so they are still a top 10 team. End of story.

8. New York Giants: Eli Manning, king of the 4th quarter, would give me a lot more faith if he could carry any of his magic into the first three quarters. They’ve had to pull way too many wins out of nowhere to be a favorite. A Manning Bowl is still on the horizon though.

 

9. Baltimore Ravens: The defense has taken way too many hits, but the offense is making up for that this year. If Ray Lewis comes back in time for playoffs watch out. They will be out for the final final harraugh.

10. Indianapolis Colts. I didn’t jump on the Andrew Luck bandwagon, I built it up from stick and stones. All the talk was about RG3, and still is, but Luck has been unbelievably Peyton-esque. Number 10 seems high for the Clots, but I’d take them over Pitsburgh, Seattle. Minnesota, Miami and the Cowboys in a big game, so 10 they are.

Unleash (Or Release) Tim Tebow!

The Jets have got to do something about the Tebow situation. They seem complacent to leave him on the bench for the most part, and if he was only brought to motivate Mark Sanchez, it’s been a train-wreck. Only Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden have a worst QB ranking and have retained their starting jobs, and Mark Sanchez has a worse completion percentage than both of them (worst in the NFL). Whatever Tim Tebow was brought into do, it’t time to change the strategy or abort the mission.

So what should they do? Ideally, they would trade Sanchez to Kansas City for Matt Cassel and swallow whatever they need to from Sanchez’s salary. Sanchez just isn’t the answer for this team, and the 5 year/ $58 million contract would be less restrictive. Tebow would take over the starting job and all would be good again. But that won’t happen so let’s get real.

TIm Tebow isn’t doing anything good for the team, and having the $58 million man on the bench would create serious salary cap issues if Sanchez wouldn’t restructure the contract. The only answer is to quickly trade Tebow for whatever they can get. And I really mean anything. It’s worth it just to have him off the team so Sanchez might regain some sense of security. And having $2 million of the books would just be an added bonus. So what teams are on the Messiah Market? Kansas City and Seattle make the most sense to me. Although Jacksonville makes sense too, they some content to go with Gabbert for the time being.

If Kansas City is desperate enough to make Brady Quinn a starter, they’re depserate enough to at least give Tebow some meaningful minutes. The idea of Tebow running an offense with Jamall Charles and Peyton Hillis would make defensive coordinators with a weak front seven shudder. Even if they weren’t willing to make Tebow a starter, he could run an option or Wildcat package with the versatile Dexter McCluster. As far as the passing game goes, Jon Baldwin could be a solid deep threat for Tebow (a la Demarius Thomas) and Dwayne Bowe is a great number one option. They could also trade Bowe away for another part to a young defense that could be good in the near future. Personally, this is my favorite option.

Seattle has an awesome defense, but they need a spark on the offense to turn them into a contender. Russel Wilson has shown promise, but Tebow could take some pressure off him and get the most out off power-running Marshawn Lynch. The one thing holding this back is that this would leave the Seahawks with three quarterbacks worth starting, and a whole lot of unused money. Trading Matt Flynn for an offensive weapon would remedy the situation though.

To be honest, both of these are long shots and I’d be shocked to see Tebow anywhere but the bench come next week. But as we’ve learned with the Mile High Messiah, anything’s possible.

The Cy Young Debate

In a year with two of the most interesting MVP debates in years, the Cy Young race doesn’t disappoint. In the NL, it’s a mess with R.A Dickey, Johhny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Matt Cain, and even the relievers Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel all vying for the coveted award. In the AL, it’s a tight race with the two aces Justin Verlander and David Price duking it out while Jered Weaver sits back as a dark-horse candidate. All fans of baseball, buckle your seat belts because the race to this award is going to be bumpy.

The voters wish there was a clear winner in the NL like last year’s winner, Clayton Kershaw.  At the All-Star break R.A Dickey looked like he had a fast track into the award, but the downturn of the Mets have changed that. The three top starting pitchers are all having extremely similar stellar seasons, with the only big difference being that Johnny Cueto is throwing strike outs at a much slower pace than Dickey and Gonzalez. On the other hand, Johnny Cueto has led his team to a division title. The two relievers in the mix make it more interesting. Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel have has two unbelievably dominant seasons, on par with Eric Gagné’s 2003 Cy Young season. Both have ERA’s below 1.55, and strikeout just under 2 batters an inning. That’s just plain absurd. But should the Cy Young go to someone who’s pitched under 80 innings while there are three deserving starting pitchers? In my opinion, Johnny Cueto is the deserving winner. Gio Gonzalez wasn’t the number one on his own team for much of the season, and R.A  Dickey’s team is 15 games below .500, unlike Cueto, who with identical stats, led his team to the division title.

In the A.L it’s a less cluttered, more straightforward race. David Price of the Rays is supposedly toe to toe with Justin Verlander. While David Price leads the A.L in ERA, Verlander led his Tigers through a horrible first half and back into the playoffs, as well as leading the league in runs allowed. Unlike in 2009 and 2010, the Rays pitching wasn’t good enough to bailout their hopeless offense, and they missed the playoffs. I believe Verlander is the deserving candidate. He has been unbelievably dominant at certain stretches and took his team from fourth-place to division champs. There is little doubt in my mind that Verlander should be bringing back the hardware.

V is for Vacant: Finding the Next Red Sox Manager

After the first losing record since 1997, there’s not a big question as to whether or not Bobby Valentine should be fired. We are only to wonder who should replace him. Here are five great candidates for the job.

Dave Martinez: After sitting under Joe Maddon, possibly the best manager in baseball, for five years, Dave should finally be able to take over a team for himself. The Rays have been the opposite of the Red Sox, extremely well managed, well disciplined, and with great pitching. He was a top candidate for the White Sox managerial position last year, and has interviewed for the Astros this year. It may take a lot to get him, but he’d be worth the price.

Rick Honeycutt: The Dodger’s pitching coach is among the most undervalued coaches in the MLB. The Dodgers rank in the top five for runs allowed, ERA, and batting average against this season. The man simply knows how to teach and motivate his team. He would be a slightly underwhelming pick, but a deserving one.

Jackie Moore: The Ranger’s bench coach would be an unexpected and savvy pick as manager. He has served for the most consistent team over the past few years, as well as having managed for the A’s and in the minor leagues for a period. He knows the game inside and out, as he has played or managed in baseball for 54 consecutive years.

Larry Bowa: Some may think he would end up being another Bobby Valentine-like misadventure, but this is not the case. Bobby Valentine is crazy in the sense that he doesn’t have a tight grip on reality or how to handle a team. Bowa is sometimes driven to “meltdowns” by his passion for the game and his team. Bowa could do a better job of handling the brutal Boston media, and would give the players a figure in the dugout who really cares about them.

Terry Francona: I can dream, can’t I?

The MVP Race Heats Up

It’d be safe to say that no one saw this kind of MVP race coming for the 2012 season. In the American League, a player has smashed rookie records despite missing the first 20 games of the season was a lock for the MVP, before someone threatened to become the first Triple Crown player since 1967. And what about in the National League? Well, the two contenders are a 25 year old who had his leg reconstructed a year ago and a player on a team who hasn’t had a winning record in 19 years. Not your average race.

The American League MVP race has taken an unexpected twist. Mike Trout had emerged as the runaway favorite for a while after Josh Hamilton fell into a slump, but now things aren’t looking so certain. With a rookie season like this Mike Trout could become an all-time great but he’s no longer a lock for MVP. Miguel Cabrera is having a career season and deserves serious consideration for MVP. Stellar performances from Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre, and Josh Hamilton have put them all back in the talk as dark horse candidates, but the real race is between Miggy and Trout. Mike Trout is putting up an historic rookie season; he has a 10.3 wins-above-replacement (four more than second place Robinson Cano), a record for a player his age in the modern era. But can you really not give the MVP to a Triple Crown winner, or someone a handful of home runs from it? Players have been chasing it since Yastrzemski did it 1967, but the first player to achieve it isn’t even regarded as the MVP? It all seems a bit nuts. So who truly deserves it?

It pains me to say it, as Mike Trout is my favorite player in baseball (not on the Red Sox), but Miggy deserves it. The Triple Crown is so impressive at this point he’s the more deserving candidate. He’s played twenty more games than Trout, and has put up identical or better numbers in every category. He clearly doesn’t have the base stealing ability of Trout (46 steals on 50 attempts) but he’s struck out 40 fewer times. There’s still time in the season for Trout to turn it around but at this point Miggy is the deserving champ.

In the National League there’s an even more cluttered race. Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, David Wright, and even Matt Holiday are all viable candidates for MVP. Andrew McCutchen was looking like the runaway favorite for a while, but he and the Bucs have hit a heavy slump. The Pirates have somehow managed to drop 22 of their last 31 games while McCutchen’s batting average and OPS have plummeted. The Pirates, who looked like they were heading for their first playoff appearance since 1992, are only two games above .500. On the other hand, Buster Posey’s bewildering second half has led the Giants to a commanding NL West lead. He’s hit .388 since the All-Star-Game, an incredible pace. Ryan Braun is posting numbers very similar to last his 2011 MVP season but the questions about PED’s puts a big onus on his campaign. David Wright and Matt Holiday have had very impressive seasons and could be dark horse candidates. So who really deserves to win?

Well, it really depends on how the season ends. At this point it’s a complete toss up. Pittsburgh is only 3 games behind for the second wild card spot. If they manage to reverse the slump and slip into the playoffs I think McCutchen is the clear winner. There’s no way the Pirates could have turned around their abysmal history if McCutchen hasn’t had such an amazing season, with or without his late season slump. Even if the Pirates don’t make the playoffs, but McCutchen turns around his slump to put them in position to compete, I’d argue he’s the rightful MVP. McCutchen is the face, leader, and unquestioned best player on his team. Posey has the luck of playing for a team with phenomenal pitching defense, and an offense that manages to get it done. But if Posey’s upward trend and McCutchen’s downward trend continue, we’d have no choice but to give it to Posey.

To me, this is one of the most exciting MVP races and overall MLB seasons I’ve experienced. Mike Trout has emerged as the future face of baseball (MVP or not), the National have finally grown into the playoff team they were destined to be, and the NL MVP race is dominated by two players 25 or under. To paraphrase Ernie Banks, it’s a good year for baseball, let’s hope it becomes two.

5 NFL Bounceback Years

They say that in sports, it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down, but wether or not you get back up. These guys definitely got knocked down in 2011 but 2012 should prove to pick them back up.

DeSean Jackson: I really want to believe in this guy. I’ve hated his on-field antics through the years but his playmaking skills are hard to look away from. DeSean says he was playing to not get hurt last season, and will give it his all this time around. I’m inclined to believe him and I expect to see him flying downfield again this season.

Peyton Hillis: After getting destroyed by the Madden Curse last year, 2010’s breakout star should find his niche as a red zone and change of pace back for the Chiefs. Romeo Crenel will install a ground and pound game that should leave enough touches for number one back Jamal Charles and Peyton.

Sydney Rice: I think things are finally going to break just right for Sydney this season. His health concerns have subdued and he will finally have a good quarterback under center in either Russell WIlson or Matt Flynn.  On a team horribly thin at wide receiver, he will be the number one option for either quarterback while they’re learning the system.

Sam Bradford: After a very promising rookie season, Bradford drastically regressed, due to injuries to himself and the Rams mediocre receiving core. His offensive line was partly to blame for the disappointment, as he was sacked more times in the ten games he played in 2011 than the sixteen he played in 2012. Coach Jeff Fisher and rookie receivers Brian Quick, and Chris Givens should help Bradford return to 2010 form.

Jay Cutler: Mr. Cutler got a hell of an off season bonus from the Bears front office. He has finally been reunited with Brandon Marshall and QB coach Jeremy Bates from his Denver glory days. On top of that, he has been given rookie red zone threat Alshon Jeffries and a respectable backup for the injury prone Matt Forte in Michael Bush. Jay Cutler finally has all the toys at his disposal to be a top ten quarterback.

5 Things We’ve Learned From Olympic Basketball

What appears to have been the last American Dream Team sure gave us a lot of entertainment. They appropriately destroyed Tunisia and Nigeria, and came up when it mattered against Spain, Argentina, and Lithuania. But now that it’s all over it’s time to wrap up and see what we learned.

1. LeBron is on the top of the world: By now he is unarguably the best player in the world, and the best player since the Jordan. I will still never love LeBron, but the things he can do on the court are just jaw dropping. He scores at will, and is probably the second best passer in the world (second to the Nash). He rebounds like a center and finally learned how to play in the post. It’s actually frightening to think that he is only 27 and is only entering the prime of his career.

2. Small Ball can still be trumped: After the Thunder-Heat finals, in which Power Forwards and Centers seemed to be missing in action, people very quickly bought into the idea that playing four ultra athletic guards and a small forward for good measure, is the new state of basketball. However, as Spain showed us, being able to pound it inside is the most effective way of controlling the tempo of the game.

3. Kobe still has more than enough game: 17 points on 5-10 shooting is pretty impressive on it’s own, but throw in the fact that he had two in-and-out threes and sunk the three that finally sparked the fourth quarter comeback, and you have yourself a hell of a game.

4. The T-Wolves weren’t crazy for signing Andre Kirilenko: The Olympics do nothing better than making average international players look like superstars, but I’m willing to be Kirilenko can ball again. He was the unquestioned leader of the bronze medal Russians, playing 36 of the 40 minute medal match. He’s a volume scorer, a quality rebounder, and a lock down defender. I’m not crazy enough to say he’s as good as LeBron or Durant, but he’s the only other player with their skill set. The T-Wolves made a good gamble on him.

5. Pau Gasol still has fight: This will come as a shock to all Lakers fan but it looks like Pau can show heart under the right circumstances. After two extremely disappointing playoffs from the Spaniard, it seems that if we can tap into his patriotism we can get back the 08′-09′ Pau.