HFA: 2011 NFC Predictions

A proper sized logo

All of our wishes have come true, despite 130+ days of fear, panic and utter chaos, the National Football League is back. This 2011 NFL preseason has more fanfare than I can ever remember, the free agency migrations is akin to a Fantasy Draft in the Madden video game series, and a new found feeling that anyone can win this year. HFA published it’s AFC preview earlier today, and due to Oregon being in a different time zone, I’m behind, had to sleep in on my day off; thanks for hanging in there, one day later. With no further ado, the NFC conference, which has gained significant advantage over the AFC, let me show you why.

NFC SOUTH

Note: The NFC South plays the AFC South and NFC North this season

1.) New Orleans Saints (13-3)

The Saints are back, and most certainly with an angry run defense which was thrashed in one of the beastliest runs of the decade as Marshawn Lynch went Beast Mode (relive it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBHk9rc4hHc) over the Saints booting them in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. Drew Brees has excellent talent around him, a good balance of young and experienced, one of the more potent offenses in the league. The threat to fumble from anywhere on the field, Reggie Bush, is gone; insert hard working, utility back Darren Sproles from San Diego. With Sproles they shouldn’t miss a beat, and the defense is the same with an influx of rookies, and Malcolm Jenkins moves in to take FA Darren Sharper’s SS spot.There’s too much good to cover every aspect of this team.

Strength: Skill positions- Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Jimmy Graham are all incredible athletes and can provide offense from anywhere on the field. There is no lack of talent anywhere; the receiving core consistently has one guy step up every game providing a new target, second year tight end Jimmy Graham is a rising star, absolute beast, and there isn’t a more dynamic stable of backs in the league. The Saints will hurt you from anywhere, and they will do it often.

Weakness: Defensive line depth- teams are built on defensive lines, their production is a good indicator of a teams success, and the Saints are lacking in depth. They’ve signed NT Shaun Rogers, but the 2’s and 3’s are inexperienced or castoffs who couldn’t cut it with other teams. Will Smith had 5.5 sacks last year, Sedrick Ellis racked up 6, Jeff Charleston with 3 and MLB Jonathan Vilma contributed 4. As long as the starters can stay healthy and keep the offensive line off of the linebackers, this won’t be a weakness. Alex Brown, Jimmy Wilkerson and an aging Shaun Rogers aren’t exactly players to hand your hat on anymore, but Sean Payton could be a guy to get the most out of them.

Key Losses: TE Jeremy Shockey (Panthers), RB Reggie Bush (Dolphins), S Darren Sharper (FA), CB Randall Gay (FA), RB Mark Ingram (draft)

Key Additions: RB Darren Sproles (Chargers), CB Fabian Washington (Ravens), NT Shaun Rogers (Browns)

2.) Atlanta Falcons (12-4)

Atlanta has a host of good players and one of the games best young quarterbacks. Weaknesses were plugged, strength’s bolstered, giving Atlanta unlimited potential. Matt Ryan is entering his 4th season, expect big numbers from him throwing to Roddy White, TE Tony Gonzalez and rookie Julio Jones, who seems to be in the best fitting offense for his skill set. Michael Turner had a big season running the ball last year, and draft pick Jacquizz Rodgers will surprise some as a very tough little running back. However Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood’s status with the team is up in the air. The defense, again is above average; CB Brent Grimes has blossomed, DE John Abraham went berserkwith 13 sacks and Curtis Lofton is back to anchor the D.

Strengths: Quarterback- the NFL is an ever-changing world, and having that solid, consistent leader as QB1 is extremely valuable. Matt Ryan, as every pocket passer, needs good pass protection and a good running game. Michael Turner guarantees that. Ryan is a leader and this is his year to step up into elite status.

Weakness: Overall depth- all around are oft-injured, or castoff, or inexperienced guys, which can be a detriment if a starter is hurt. Depth is absolutely key to a long run, and Atlanta could see wins slip away if any of their ones goes down. Roddy White is great, Harry Douglas is a good number 3, but we don’t know yet about Julio Jones in the NFL. Jacquizz Rodgers had injury problems in college, can he hold up behind Michael Turner? Only the defensive line appears to be okay after the signing of DE Ray Edwards. The secondary and linebacking corps are done if Lofton or Grimes is hurt. Guys will have to step up and be consistent contributors, if they want to stop division foes like the explosive Saints.

Key Losses: DE Jamaal Anderson (Colts), WR Michael Jenkins (Vikings), S Erik Coleman (FA), P Michael Koenan (Buccaneers)

Key Additions: DE Ray Edwards (Vikings), WR Julio Jones (draft), P Matt Bosher (draft), T Tyson Clabo (re signed), G Justin Blalock (re signed)

3.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)

Josh Freeman is a stud, and Tampa has proven it can with with literally anyone. They set the record last year for number of undrafted rookie free agents to play. Oh boy. RB LeGarrette Blount ran for over 1,000 yards starting only 7 games, and the long holdout allowed all of the injured to heal. Mike Williams could be special, Arrelious Benn is healthy, Kellen Winslow is working hard, the offensive line did not change, and the defense hasn’t changed. If you’ve payed any attention to Tampa’s offseason, nothing changed. Teams will be better prepared for the Bucs, but Raheem Morris has found a way to reach his players and motivate them, winning 10 games in ’10, the most improved team in the league. Can the hodge podge group of misfits and unknowns strike again in 2011?

Stregths: Youth- there is an incredible amount of young talent in Tampa Bay, from all over the field. These young guys have showed a hunger to learn and adapt, from every level. Rookie defensive lineman Gerald McCoy and Brian Price went to the IR last year, so Roy Miller, Frank Okam, and Tim Crowder stepped in an played well. Adrian Clayborn really isn’t a high motor guy, he won’t be around long, but Da’Quan Bowers has been very good in the practices so far this season. Kellen Winslow and Ronde Barber are the elders of the team, mentoring the young players and still contributing to the team.

Weakness: Youth- youth can also hurt. Aqib Talib was a wanted man this offseason for some gun charges (the team has retained him and he will play this season), and the safety situation is frightening. Tanard Jackson is always in trouble, Cody Grimm is a good saftey but not yet a starter, Sean Jones and Corey Lynch are often burned. Barrett Ruud is gone so a rookie Mason Foster has to step up and battle a few undrafted guys. And other than Davin Joseph who resigned, who is on this offensive line? Donald Penn has been a pleasant surprise at LT, but the others are just inexperienced. Hopefully the injuries will decrease as guys learn to fight through some pain and just compete, something one could be afraid that the lack of veterans has hurt the learning curve with things like this.

Key Losses: MLB Barrett Ruud (Titans), KR Kareem Huggins (FA)

Key Additions: DE Da’Quan Bowers (draft), MLB Mason Foster (draft), P Michael Koenan (Falcons)

4.) Carolina Panthers (5-11)

5-11 is realistic for Carolina due to their productive offseason, or what there was of an offseason. Cam Newton comes in to be their QB, we’ll see how that works out, but so far there’s been a “Cam Newton effect” as guys like DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith and Charles Johnson have resigned. Plus the addition of Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen provide talented security blankets for Newton. They still have a lot of holes, as they were the worst team in the league last year, but they now have a little optimism, and round out one of the toughest divisions in football.

Strengths: Running Backs- What more can I say? DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart. Two young studs who could run behind an 8th grade offensive line. There is also talent at linebacker to take notice of.

Weakness: Quarterback, secondary, wide receivers behind Steve Smith- Cam Newton or Jimmy Clausen. Good luck. Chris Gamble is their top corner, they have no safety’s and no real number 2 WR. It could be another long year in Carolina with those gaping holes.

Key Losses: DE Tyler Brayton (FA), CB Richard Marshall (Cardinals)

Key Additions: TE’s Jeremy Shockey (Saints) and Greg Olsen (Bears), RB DeAngelo Williams resigning

NFC WEST

Note: The NFC West plays the AFC North and NFC East this season

1.) San Fransisco 49ers (8-8)

Fitting I would move from Carolina to the atrocious NFC West. And fall trap to the SF allure. Reports say things aren’t going well in San Fran, a lack of optimism and bad luck run rampant. I’ll save the rest of this for weaknesses. Moving on.

Strengths: Linebacker, Tight End, Runningback- Patrick Willis is a beast and he gives the defense direction as well as playmaking ability.  Vernon Davis has finally played to his potential giving whoever is playing QB a good target, and Frank Gore is, well Frank Gore. Plus they drafted RB Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State, potentially a very good runningback for them.

Weakness: Decision-making- so far I’ve only seen one truly good decision and that is letting Takeo Spikes go (no team has ever made the playoffs with Takeo Spikes on the roster). The college coach route is a difficult one and who knows if Harbaugh is the right guy. Alex Smith is the quarterback, despite his inability to improve, and Michael Crabtree has the early signs of a headcase. The offensive line is young, and there aren’t enough playmakers on defense.

Key Losses: LB Takeo Spikes (Chargers), C David Baas (Giants), LB Manny Lawson (Bengals), CB Nate Clements (Bengals)

Key Additions: GM Trent Baalke (has to better better than the last guy), S Madieu Williams (Vikings)

2.) St. Louis Rams (8-8)

Now this could be the sleeper team, but their lack of experience and depth could definitely hurt. Sam Bradford is a future MVP, Steven Jackson is one of the most underrated players in the game and their receiving corps isn’t all that bad. Donnie Avery will surprise some, and the addition of Mike Sims-Walker will help tremendously. Al Harris gives the secondary a leader, and draft pick Robert Quinn has instant production qualities about him at defensive end.

Strength: Skill positions- Sam Bradford, barring injury will throw for 4,000 yards, Steven Jackson providing he gets carries will be around or above 1,000 yards and Mike Sims-Walker is a good receiver–let’s see if he can make a smooth transition to St. Louis.

Weakness: Secondary- S Oshiomogho Atogwe is gone, leaving the Rams with a very young secondary. Al Harris will help but there isn’t much experience anywhere.

Key Losses: S Oshiomogho Atogwe (Redskins), TE Daniel Fells (Broncos)

Key Additions: WR Mike Sims-Walker (Jaguars), S Quintin Mikell (Eagles), DT Justin Bannan (Broncos)

3.) Arizona Cardinals (5-11)

Kevin Kolb is the new hotshot in Arizona, and he still has Larry Fitzgerald to throw to, so he has something to work with. They’ve signed Todd Heap and, well I don’t even know, this entire division is messed up. Arizona only has a chance based on it’s potential for accidental play making abilities, and just potential. Chris Wells isn’t an #1 RB, and other than Larry Fitzgerald there are a bunch of guys pretending to be NFL WR’s. Their defense is much either, so they’ll have to win on the shoulders of Kolb, Fitz and Heap.

Strenghts: Larry Fitzgerald- dude is an animal, can go catch the ball anywhere on the field, out muscle you, out maneuver you, he could make Kolb into a great QB.

Weakness: Defense- there isn’t much of one to speak of, which is no bueno in the NFL. They better pray the defensive line plays well to protect a young defense.

4.) Seattle Seahawks (3-13)

Pete Carroll is a lot of false hope and hot air, Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu are gone. Don’t be fooled by Seattle’s offseason. Tavaris Jackson at this point is not a starting QB, and there really isn’t the coaching to progress him. Seattle is the Bermuda Triangle for wideouts… see ya Sidney Rice. Their starting center is gone, and they still don’t have much in the way of pass rush. Seattle won’t be sneaking into the playoffs this year.

Strengths: Last year’s first rounders- S Earl Thomas and LT Frank Okung were strong in their rookie seasons and will be leaders for this overhauled Seattle team. Okung gives the line an anchor for years to come, and Thomas is a ball hawk with the skill set to lead a defense in the future.

Weakness: Run defense- their defensive line is weak, as well as the linebackers with Tatupu gone. They won’t be able to contain the run, which isn’t good with Frank Gore and Steven Jackson in the division. Other runningbacks will most likely go Beast Mode on their defense. And Tavaris Jackson to be your everyday QB? Charlie Whitehurst passed over, and made the backup. Seattle has a lot of problems.

Key Losses: QB Matt Hasselbeck (Titans), C Chris Spencer (Bears), LB Lofa Tatupu (FA), hope…

Key Additions: QB Tavaris Jackson (Vikings), WR Sidney Rice (Vikings), G Robert Gallery (Raiders)

NFC EAST

Note: The NFC East plays the AFC East and NFC West this season

1.) Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)

The Eagles. The new sexy pick in the NFL after a Yankee style offseason with the signing of guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, trading for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ronnie Brown. Philly vastly improved after Michael Vick took over at quarterback leading the team to the playoffs. DeSean Jackson is holding out for now, but Jeremy Maclin is around, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy. They have one of the top cornerback trios in the league, although recent news say Asante Samuel wants out. Their front on defense is somewhat weak in comparison to last year, Trent Cole is really their only good returning player in the front seven and FS is a position in need. Rush defense will hurt, but the Colts of the past have shown that can be overcome. Whether or not the offense clicks depends on how far they’ll go.

Strength: Skill positions- Michael Vick is revived, Vince Young is his backup, LeSean McCoy is a tough man to cover, as well as the two dynamic receivers Jackson and Maclin. McCoy and Brent Celek are excellent security options in the passing game allowing the offense to spread out, and the offensive line is returning most to all of its starters (Max Jean-Gilles status is unknown). It will be hard to disrupt this offense, making Vick a non-factor is your best shot.

Weakness: Rush defense- Trent Cole is a top of the line DE. But the Eagles Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon aren’t strengths in this defense. DE’s Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin will be an upgrade, whoever gets the spot opposite of Cole. Ernie Sims is gone, Stewart Bradley as well. Casey Matthews, Clay’s little brother was drafted, but he is an undersized LB, with high risk, high reward potential. Those pretty cornerbacks won’t be so useful if they can’t stop the run.

Key Losses: K David Akers (49ers), LB Stewart Bradley (Cardinals), DT Broderick Bunkley (Broncos), QB Kevin Kolb (Cardinals), LB Omar Gaither (Panthers), S Quintin Mikell (Rams), P Sav Rocca (Redskins), FB Leonard Weaver (released)

Key Additions: CB Nnamdi Asomugha (Raiders), CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Cardinals), DE Jason Babin (Titans), DE Cullen Jenkins (Packers), QB Vince Young (Titans), RB Ronnie Brown (Dolphins)

2.) New York Giants (9-7)

The New York Giants are about the same, average team they were last year, with a little more conflict and a new offensive line (yikes, sorry Eli). Manning’s do win, however how many games Eli can win with a new line, we’ll see. Ahmad Bradshaw was retained, Steve Smith better get his situation locked down and return to the Giants, and Umenyiora wants out. This year could be another struggle for the Giants, if their offensive line does well, and the defensive stays tough, they could sneak their way into the playoffs.

Strengths: Quarterback, runningbacks- Eli Manning is a leader and a winner, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are a very good running back tandem, together they give the offense strong assets. Wide receivers are almost there, Steve Smith was their leader but he has yet to re-up his contract–Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham are improving, another solid year and they will have an outstanding group of wideouts.

Weakeness: Linebacker- The G-Men defense is hurting for the first time in a long time, and it’s not looking any better. They didn’t add any linebackers, instead relying on unproven guys. Michael Boley is back alongside Jonanthan Goff, Zak DeOssie will have a shot to start, then it’s a group of players with 2 years or less experience. Their defensive ends are studly, even if Umenyiora doesn’t play. The defensive tackles are a bigger question. Can the linebackers plug holes up the middle? Will the corners and safeties be relied on too much, due to inexperience at linebacker? If anyone can make it work, it’s New York, fans better hope they do.

Key Losses: T Shawn Andrews (released), DT’s Rocky Bernard (released) and Barry Cofield (Redskins), C Shaun O’Hara (released), G Rich Seubert (released), WR Steve Smith (has not yet reported, still without contract although one could be completed soon)

Key Additions: ehh P Steve Weatherford (Jets [no more Dodge?]), C David Baas (49ers)

3.) Dallas Cowboys (7-9)

Dallas, oh how you struggle. Tony Romo is back, but almost every other position saw a change of some kind. The offensive line is inexperienced (careful with that collarbone Ton’) and their secondary is still atrocious. DeMarcus Ware has to dominate to save the D in Big D.

Strengths: Running game- make that runningbacks. Their offensive line is in transition, but one cannot deny the ability of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. Whether or not they have any running lanes is a big question; work that O-line.

Weakness: Secondary, secondary, secondary- Allen Ball, Gerald Sensabaugh, Terrance Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins were awful, and they missed out on Asomugha. Pass rush better get to the QB or they’ll get exposed again.

Key Losses: T Marc Colombo (released), G Leonard Davis (released), RB Marion Barber (Bears), WR Roy Williams (Bears)

Key Additions: T Tyron Smith (draft)….

4.) Washington Redskins (2-14)

It’s looking to be another long season in D.C. Mike Shanahan has his work cut out for him, doesn’t look like he can succeed just yet. QB John Beck may take a step back this year, in order to get better in the future. Clinton Portis is gone, but the WR’s are still mostly intact. The defense? Outside of the line, it doesn’t look so good.

Strengths: Pass rush- Brian Orakpo is a rising star, Adam Kerrigan is a good pass rusher who could contribute early and they’ve added some DT’s. A good pass rush will force some bad throws, allowing DeAngelo Hall for those gambling opportunities he loves most.

Weakness: Offense- can I do this? Yes I can. Their offense is inexperienced, lacking talent and not NFL starting caliber everywhere but the receivers. Santana Moss and Chris Cooley are very good, rookie Leonard Hankerson will be a breakout player, but those qualities are far from the truth in regards to the rest of the squad.

Key Losses: deep breath, QB Donovan McNabb (Vikings), RB Clinton Portis (released), G Derrick Dockery (released), DE Phillip Daniels (released), DT Albert Hanyesworth (Patriots), DT Ma’ake Kemoeatu (released), C Casey Rabach (released)

NFC NORTH

Note: The NFC North plays the AFC West and NFC South this season

1.) Green Bay Packers (13-3)

The defending Super Bowl champions are back, and yes, they’re still good. This division isn’t great, so the Packers are sitting pretty with a good shot to build an impressive resume. Aaron Rodgers is a top QB, Ryan Grant is healthy, Greg “put-the-team-on-my-back” Jennings is a top WR and the defense is just as stout with Woodson and young players like Sam Shields. Moving the ball on this defense is extremely hard, same goes for this year.

Strengths: Passing game- they have a few in Green Bay but the passing game is the best. Rodgers to Driver and Jennings is top notch, and JerMichael Finley is back. The line is strong, with some room to improve, but Rodgers can improvise and will again display why he is an elite QB.

Weakness: Defensive line- this is barely a weakness, the loss of Cullen Jenkins will hurt a little, but B.J. Raji is an excellent anchor. OLB Clay Matthews is a great source of support in defending the run game, shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Key Losses: DE Cullen Jenkins (Eagles), LB Nick Barnett (Bills), G Daryn Colledge (Cardinals),T Mark Tauscher (released)

Key Additions: OL Derek Sherrod (draft), WR Randall Cobb (draft)

2.) Detroit Lions (10-6)

Here come the Lions. For those readers of my generation, and other 90s kids, these aren’t your childhood Lions. A winning record is very, very possible this year, as they could finally put it all together. Matt Stafford is healthy and reportedly playing well, Calvin Johnson is a beast, and Ndamukong Suh is a future perennial Pro-Bowler. Jim Schwartz has a good team on his hands and could finally achieve a playoff spot.

Strength: Skill positions- Stafford is one of the leagues best young QB’s, Jahvid Best is a quick back who is dangerous in space, Calvin Johnson can go get the ball over anyone and the depth at these positions is skilled. Rookie Titus Young could come around in the next few years and be a good receiver.

Weakness: Pass defense- Louis Delmas is the undisputed leader of this group, but he doesn’t have much help. The corners are young without a lot of play time, other than Nathan Vashar, and the linebackers are young so their skill sets are not so clear yet. Getting to the QB won’t be hard with Suh and rookie Nick Fairley, stopping the receivers will be more difficult.

Key Losses: WR Bryant Johnson (released), DE Turk McBride (Saints), LB Julian Peterson (released)

Key Additions: S Erik Coleman (Falcons), LB Justin Durant (Jaguars), DT Nick Fairley (draft)

3.) Minnesota Vikings (6-10)

Minnesota is in for a rough year, and this was a difficult prediction to make. The defense is getting old, the line is gaining holes (lack of players as opposed to running lanes), coach Leslie Frazier will have his hands full. Adrian Peterson can only do so much, Percy Harvin is fragile, not a #1 option at WR, so the signing of a guy like Braylon Edwards or the remote chance of getting Randy Moss out of retirement could help a little. McNabb’s success will determine how far the Viks go.

Strength: Running game- Adrian Peterson’s nickname All Day was given to him for a reason–he will run all day. Donovan McNabb will need to lean on that, as he is showing signs of age. The release of LT Bryant McKinnie is not conducive whatsoever; the offense may never move.

Weakness: Pass defense- a lack of established players hurts and no upgrades were added. Rookie Brandon Burton will possibly start at corner, which isn’t ideal, the safety position is up for grabs.

Key Losses: LT Bryant McKinnie (released), DE Ray Edwards (Falcons), QB Brett Favre (retired, maybe? Don’t know yet), QB Tarvaris Jackson (Seahawks), WR Sidney Rice (Seahawks)

Key Additions: QB Donovan McNabb (Redkins), T Charlie Johnson (Colts)

4.) Chicago Bears (5-11)

I don’t think Da Bears understand the offseason. Their passing game was already iffy, and trading the reliable, consistent security blanket in TE Greg Olsen was a head scratcher, and all of their free agent signings bring more questions than answers.

Strength: Return game- Devin Hester, there isn’t much else in Chicago.

Weakness: Most of the team- Jay Cutler is an erratic QB and no consistent receivers hurts; Matt Forte hasn’t showed much consistency since his rookie year; Urlacher has become injury prone; Mike Martz isn’t the coordinator for this team; cutting leader and longtime C Olin Kreutz will mess with the flow of the line; and best of luck with the lazy Dallas castoffs Roy Williams and Marion Barber.

Key Losses: C Olin Kreutz (released), DT Tommie Harris (released), TE Greg Olsen, S Danieal Manning (Texans)

Key Additions: DE Vernon Gholston (Jets), RB Marion Barber (Cowboys), WR Roy Williams (Cowboys), WR Sam Hurd (Cowboys), DT Amobi Okoye (Texans), C Chris Spencer (Seahawks). Downright terrible.

NFL Playoffs

1. New Orleans Saints

2. Green Bay Packers

3. Philadelphia Eagles

4. San Francisco 49ers

5. Atlanta Falcons

6. Detroit Lions

Wild Card Round

Philadelphia over Detroit

Atlanta over  San Francisco

Divisional Round

New Orleans over Atlanta

Philadelphia over Green Bay

AFC Championship

New Orleans over Philadelphia

Awards:

Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans

Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Ware, DE, Dallas

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

HFA: 2011 AFC Predictions

I think we should have found a bigger AFC logo.

 

What’s better than a condensed NFL off-season that has all the fun of free agency packed into about three days, while training camps are starting at the same time? I’d say that it’s making premature predictions about how, what is likely to be the most unpredictable NFL season in years, will unfold. I’ve called dibs on the AFC, while Schwartz will be around later with the NFC. We’ll bring you something special for the Super Bowl prediction. However, since enough important free agents have signed for us to get a feel for who we like, it is time to start making our doomed prognostications. (Doomed Prognostications sounds like a garage band name.)

AFC South

Note: The AFC South plays the AFC North and NFC South this season

1.) Colts (11-5)

No matter what, if you’ve got 18 on your team, you’re going to win games. In addition to that, weapons like Austin Collie and Dallas Clark will be returning from injury, Joseph Addai hopefully won’t miss a nice chunk of the regular season, as well.

Strength: Weapons- The Colts, when healthy, have as much playmaking potential as any team in the league with Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark for Peyton to throw to. All the running game has to do is be respectable and this offense is instantly one of, if not the, best in the league. It’s never been a secret that it’s hard to outscore the Colts.

Weakness: Run D- This never seems to get addressed. Yesterday they added Jamaal Anderson, former top-10 selection of the Atlanta Falcons, who was rated as the 6th DE against the run last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He has been labeled as a “bust” for his 4.5 sacks over 4 years, but that’s why they have Mathis and Freeney. Drake Nevis, the Defensive Tackle they drafted in the third round from LSU, has been brought in to try and disrupt the ball-carriers of the AFC South in the backfield. Retaining Antonio “Mookie” Johnson was key as well, as he was their most effective Defensive Tackle last season. Linebackers Gary Brackett, Pat Angerer, and Kavell Conner have talent as a corps, but have a ways to go before they are a feared unit.

Key Losses: Clint Session, LB (Jacksonville), Charlie Johnson, OT (Minnesota), Dan Muir, DT (St. Louis), Kelvin Hayden, CB (Free Agent)

Key Additions: Jamaal Anderson, DE (Atlanta)

2.) Texans (10-6)

Despite the fact that Arian Foster ran rampant over the NFL last season, Gary Kubiak’s job was in jeopardy at the end of it, simply because the Texans failed to meet the lofty expectations the media set for them. I bought into the hype last year too, and think that this year they have an even better chance of realizing it.

Strength: Offensive Playmakers- Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have become a lethal hookup by any NFL Standard, and Arian Foster turned into a defense-terrorizing monster last season. Even Jacoby Jones can be listed as an offensive playmaker, simply because of his ability to keep defenses honest, creating better opportunities for Foster to run.

Weakness: Transition- Switching to a completely different defense in a lockout-shortened off-season is not going to the Texans any favors early in the season. If this defense performs like it has the potential to, they will win double digit games this season, especially given the additions of Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning to the pass-defense, which was easily their biggest weakness last season.

Key Losses: Vonta Leach, FB (Baltimore)

Key Additions: Jonathan Joseph, CB (Cincinnati), Danieal Manning (Chicago)

3.) Jaguars (6-10)

Not buying the hype. Defense, though needing to be addressed, was not what kept the Jags from being real contenders last year. They still don’t have enough talent on the offensive side of the ball to support Maurice Jones-Drew. Mike Sims-Walker was hit or miss at best, and they didn’t even bring him back. Mike Thomas had a good season last year, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to have a ton of help on the other side. Marcedes Lewis will have a lot of catches this season.

Strength: Running Game- Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t need to be explained. The Jaguars run the ball really well, and he’s the reason they do.

Weakness: Passing Game- David Garrard has always been a decent quarterback, with nobody of great merit to throw the ball to. Nothing much has changed. They drafted Blaine Gabbert, who will only make the situation more tenuous, because Garrard screw-ups will now be followed by chants for Blaine.

Key Losses: Mike Sims-Walker, WR (St. Louis), Justin Durant, LB (Detroit)

Key Additions: Dajuan Landry, S (Baltimore), Paul Posluszny, LB (Buffalo), Clint Session, LB (Indianapolis)

4.) Titans (5-11)

They just really don’t have anything going for them. Their biggest off-season addition was Matt Hasselbeck, who, over the last two seasons has thrown far more interceptions than he has touchdowns. Kenny Britt might not even be allowed in the country by the time the season starts, if he keeps this pace, and they lost two of the strongest members of their defense in Stephen Tulloch and Jason Babin. Oh yeah, their best player is currently planning to sit out for the long-haul as well. Not a good sign.

Key Losses: Stephen Tulloch, LB (Detroit), Jason Babin, DE (Philadelphia), Vince Young, QB (Philadelphia)

Key Additions: Matt Hasselbeck, QB (Seattle), Daniel Graham, TE (Denver)

 

AFC West

Note: The AFC West plays the NFC North and AFC East this season

1.) Chiefs (10-6)

The Chiefs kept all the key pieces to the puzzle that won the AFC West last year in place. Jamaal Charles emerged as one of the biggest big-play threats in the NFL, while being complimented nicely by Thomas Jones. They have added pieces at WR, Steve Breaston and rookie Jonathan Baldwin to help increase Matt Cassel’s options. What was one of the most talented young defenses in the NFL, will have another year of experience under its belt, ready to shut down the attacks of the AFC West.

Strength: Ground Game- Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, and a quality O-Line are a recipe for disaster for any AFC West team that thinks the Chiefs’ run last year was a fluke.

Weakness: Depth in Passing Game- We will see how Breaston and Baldwin can help Cassel in the passing game, but right now this is still something that needs to be seen to be believed in KC.

Key Losses: Mike Vrabal, LB (Retirement), Brian Waters, G (Free Agent)

Key Additions: Steve Breaston, WR (Arizona), Kelley Gregg, DT (Baltimore), Brandon Siler, LB (San Diego)

2.) Chargers (8-8)

I’m never really into the Chargers kool-aid, I’m never really into the Norv Turner kool-aid, and I just don’t see how they got better this off-season. Honestly, I think I’m being generous at 8-8. If nothing else, their signing of Takeo Spikes should guarantee that they won’t make the playoffs, as he is cursed.

Strength: Passing Game- Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, etc. They throw the ball about as well as any team in the league, and even missing the playoffs last year they had one of the strongest offenses in the NFL.

Weakness: Running Game- Ryan Mathews couldn’t stay healthy (or play well, for that matter) last year, Mike Tolbert isn’t exactly a game changer, and they lost Darren Sproles in free agency.

Key Losses: Brandon Siler, LB (Kansas City), Kevin Burnett, LB (Miami), Malcolm Floyd, WR (Free Agency), Darren Sproles, RB (New Orleans)

Key Additions: Takeo Spikes, LB (San Francisco)

3.) Denver Broncos (7-9)

At least the Broncos have made an effort to look like they care about the fact that they finished with the 2nd-worst record in the NFL last season. Though, I will always find it amusing that the team that finished with the 2nd-worst record, signed the guy who coached the team with the worst record to be their head coach. I know it’s deeper than that, but the issue itself is pretty entertaining at face value. Getting Elvis Dumervil back is going to be huge for the Broncos. Adding Von Miller to the mix is going to make their pass-rush something to watch. There’s no way their D is as bad as it was last year. Willis McGahee should help Knowshon Moreno to spice up the running game. And, as long as the front office hangs on to Kyle Orton for this season, there’s a chance that the passing game can remain potent as well.

Strength: Pass Defense- Elvis Dumervil was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL before he tore a pectoral muscle last season. If he is 100% (and we haven’t heard anything to indicate that he isn’t) he immediately strengthens the entire defense. Von Miller should help immediately, as well. Whoever draws double-teams creates opportunities for the other. And don’t forget Champ Bailey.

Key Losses: Daniel Graham, TE (Tennessee), Jabar Gaffney, WR (Washington)

Key Additions: Brodrick Bunkley, DT (Philadelphia), Willis McGahee, RB (Baltimore)

 

4.) Oakland Raiders (6-10)

They lost their best player, and potentially their 2nd-best player…they signed Trent Edwards.

Key Losses: Nnamdi Asomugah, CB (Philadelphia), Zach Miller, TE (Free Agency)

Key Additions: Trent Edwards, QB (Jacksonville)…because I had to put somebody in here.

AFC East

Note: The AFC East plays the NFC East and AFC West this year.

1.) New England Patriots (12-4)

We have been given no reason to believe that Bill Bellichick is taking last year’s one-and-done playoff run lightly. This is a Patriots team that has not won a playoff game since my Junior year of high school (I’m about to be a Junior in college.) However, if nothing else, the Ochocinco and Haynesworth adds show that they are willing to make a splash (if Randy Moss a few years ago didn’t say it, what does?) They should be able to do a lot of the same things they were able to do on offense last year, if not more. They’ve shown they can run the ball with anybody, and they’ve got more than enough weapons to throw to. On defense, I’d like to see who’s going to run on a newly minted 4-3 defense that features Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork in the middle, and Jerod Meyo at MLB just in case you make it to the linebackers.

Strength: Can’t Pick Just One- Passing Offense and Coaching- You’ve got one of the two best QBs in the NFL and one of the best coaches of all time. You’re going to win games with that every time.

Weakness: Defensive End depth- They don’t really have anybody at DE besides Gerard Warren.

Key Losses: Ty Warren, DE (Free Agency)

Key Additions: Chad Ochocinco, WR (Cincinnati), Albert Haynesworth, DT (Washington)

2.) New York Jets (11-5)

They didn’t get any worse, they just didn’t get Nnamdi. The biggest off-season addition for the Jets is adding Tom Moore to the coaching staff. This is the guy who developed Peyton Manning into the machine he is today. If there’s anybody who can make Mark Sanchez worth his weight in gold, it’s Tom Moore. Adding Plax is a nice touch for them as well, but I believe this team won’t miss a beat. It kills me to say it, because I hate them, but they’re legitimate.

Strength: Defense/Mind-Games- They play great defense, they’ll have Revis and Cromartie back at it again, and they do a better job than just about anybody, of getting into the opposition’s head. You can go ahead and credit Rex Ryan for that.

Weakness: Quarterback- Mark Sanchez is far too inconsistent to be considered a reliable option at QB. He has been provided great targets to throw to, but he often misses and causes turnovers. He can be good, but he needs to be a lot better.

Key Losses: Brad Smith, WR (Buffalo), Braylon Edwards, WR (Free Agency),

Key Additions: Plaxico Burress, WR (Prison), Chris Bryan, P (Australia)

3.) Buffalo Bills (9-7)

The Bills lost a lot of close games last season, and towards the end of the year, they really started to gel as a unit, and looked like they could be a handful if they made the right off-season moves. Well, I really believe they’ve made the right off-season moves. They weren’t able to hang on to Paul Posluszny, but they have made some key additions, including drafting Marcell Dareus, that I believe make them a real candidate to finish over .500 this season.

Strength: Coaching- I love Chan Gailey and I think his creativity and innovation are going to lead to a lot of production from the Bills’ offense this season. They’ve got Brad Smith listed as a QB, Stevie Johnson emerged as a playmaker, Tyler Thigpen can pass and catch. This team can do a lot of stuff, and it’s not all gimmicky.

Weakness: Underdeveloped- The team is probably still a year away from making real noise, but I think that they’re going to be a lot better than people are giving them credit for this season.

Key Losses: Paul Posluszny, LB (Jacksonville)

Key Additions: Brad Smith, QB (New York Jets), Tyler Thigpen, QB (Miami), Nick Barnett, LB (Green Bay)

4.) Miami Dolphins (6-10)

I drank the Miami kool-aid last season, and I’m not falling for it again. Chad Henne is not an NFL starting quarterback, but they’re going to try and make the world believe he is. Reggie Bush was a nice touch, but they’re going to need somebody who can carry the bulk of the load, and I don’t know who that’s going to be. There’s not really anybody out there who looks like they can be the horse for the fish. The defense didn’t really get any better, either.  I think we may see some heads roll in Miami this year.

Strengths: Weapons- Reggie Bush and Brandon Marhsall do create weapons for Chad Henne, I just strongly doubt his ability to utilize them properly.

Weaknesses: Defense- I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe that the Dolphins can stop anybody from doing anything.

Key Additions: Reggie Bush, RB (New Orleans), Marc Colombo, T (Cowboys)

Key Losses: Ronnie Brown, RB (Free Agency…still could re-sign, but I don’t think he’ll help either way), Ricky Williams, RB (See: Ronnie Brown)

AFC North

Note: The AFC North plays the AFC South and NFC West this season

1.) Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

The Ravens like to pound the rock. The Ravens added Vonta Leach. There are few players in the league who better help to pound the rock than Vonta. A strong defense stays largely in-tact, and the Ravens had a strong draft, I think they got better than Pittsburgh this off-season. They cut some guys who didn’t really serve a purpose anymore in Derrick Mason and Todd Heap (he was hurt too much,) and a guy like Kelley Gregg who was pretty much pushed out by Haloti Ngata. I think they will capitalize on the moves they made this off-season and take the lead in the AFC North.

Strength: Physicality- They can run, they can beat you up when you try to run, and you have to respect the run, because they can throw. Dangerous combination. Vonta Leach was a perfect fit for them, an immediate upgrade over an already quality LeRon McClain.

Weakness: Passing Game- Joe Flacco just needs to step up a little bit more. They can pass well enough for teams to respect the run, but nobody’s altering their game-plan because they’re worried about what Joe Flacco is going to do to them. If they can get to that stage, they will be near-impossible to stop.

Key Losses: Derrick Mason, WR (Free Agency), Todd Heap, TE (Arizona), Kelley Gregg, DT (Kansas City)

Key Additions: Vonta Leach, FB (Houston)

2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

This may not be completely rational, but I don’t get a good vibe from the Steelers right now. They lost Max Starks and Flozell Adams, who helped them do what they were best at doing. James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall, Hines Ward are all doing things negatively off the field. Ben Roethlisberger settled down. I mean, what can we believe in anymore?! Add all of this to the Super Bowl Loser’s Curse, and this seems like a recipe for disaster. I think I’m being nice at 10-6.

Strengths: They can still kick your butt. They are the most intimidating team in the NFL defensively, and anybody who disagrees just really doesn’t watch football.

Weakness: Secondary- They are not very effective against the pass, and nobody highlighted that more than Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl. Obviously, it’s hard to look good against Aaron Rodgers, but the Steelers secondary struggled to look good at all last season.

Key Losses: Max Starks, T (Free Agency), Flozell Adams, T (Free Agency)

Key Additions: Nobody yet.

3.) Cleveland Browns (9-7)

The Browns haven’t made a lot of noise in free agency, but I don’t really know if they had to. They could stand to surround Colt with another target to really solidfy the passing attack, but I think the Browns should be happy with the way their roster looks right now. The only significant loss they had this off-season was Eric Wright heading to Detroit, and that’s not earth shattering. This is a team that was one of two losses for the New England Patriots in the regular season, and a team that beat the defending Super Bowl Champions. Those were both in games where Colt McCoy started, but did not play especially well. I think with the experience he gained last year, he will help be a contributing factor to increased Browns success this year.

Strengths: Running Game- Peyton Hillis destroyed people last year, and unless the Madden Curse stops him, I don’t think anybody else will. That offensive line is no joke, and he will keep running behind them, making Josh McDaniels look like a buffoon every step of the way.

Weakness: Defense- They still need to solidify a couple different areas on defense, and one of them was the defensive line. Phil Taylor was a nice addition through the draft, but I don’t think we’re going to see an immediate impact from the minimal additions made by the Browns this off-season. They may be able to score a lot, but I don’t think that defense is going to help them very much. Their best bet is to chew up as much time running the ball down the field, which I fully expect them to do.

Key Additions: Brandon Jackson, RB (Packers)

Key Losses: Eric Wright, CB (Detroit)

4.) Cincinnati Bengals, (3-13)

They really didn’t do anything to get better this off-season. Nate Clements is a decent addition, but he’s a significant downgrade from Jonathan Joseph. Carson Palmer is taking his ball and going home (I don’t like Andy Dalton or Bruce Gradkowski), and Chad Ochocino and Terrell Owens are both gone. They may get Cedric Benson back, but other than that, they have no real focal point on offense, and their defense isn’t much, if any better.

Strengths: None.

Weakness: Too Many.

Key Additions: Nate Clements, CB (San Francisco)

Key Losses: Chad Ochocinco, WR (Patriots), Carson Palmer, QB (Retirement), Terrell Owens, WR (Free Agency), Cedric Benson, RB (Free Agency)

Playoffs

1. New England

2. Baltimore

3. Indianapolis

4. Kansas City

5. New York Jets

6. Houston Texans

Wild Card Round

Indianapolis over Houston

Kansas City over New York

Divisional Round

New England over Kansas City

Baltimore over Indianapolis

AFC Championship

Baltimore over New England

Awards:

Offensive Player of the Year: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City

Defensive Player of the Year: Mario Williams, OLB, Houston

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Sense of the MLB Trade Deadline

Whoa. Ok. That was a lot of movement. Between the new players on new teams in the NFL and now MLB, my head is spinning.

Naturally, when there is any sort of mass player movement in any of the major sports leagues in the United States, we must pick ourselves some winners and losers. So, why should we be any different?

We will break this down into three categories: winners, losers and those in limbo. That’s right. You came for two, and we’re giving you a third on top of that. Take that, ESPN!

WINNERS:

Texas Rangers:

-Acquired RP Koji Uehara from BAL for SP Tommy Hunter and 1B Chris Davis

-Acquired RP Mike Adams from SD for 2 pitching prospects

The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League not playing in the East. They had a clear weakness on their ballclub: the bullpen. They can mash with the best of them and they have solid starting pitching thanks to All-Stars C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando. However, their bullpen ranked 11th in the league and outside of Arthur Rhodes, the unit was under-performing.

One American League official went as far to say that if the Rangers were able to trade for Uehara (1.71 ERA, 62 Ks in 47.0 innings), they would play in the World Series. Ok, maybe that guy got ahead of himself. But, the Rangers did pick up the most dominate reliever available for their eighth inning, then got Mike Adams (1.13 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 49 Ks in 48.0 innings) to shorten the game even more. Starters need only to go six innings with Adams, Uehara and Neftali Feliz to round out the ‘pen.

The Rangers did part with a youthful arm in Tommy Hunter (13 wins as a 23-year old in 2010), but the team had given up on fixing Chris Davis (24 Ks in 76 at bats this season). As for the pitching prospects, they weren’t the best the team had to offer, which is always good to hear from an organizational stand point. The Texas Rangers had the best deadline, dare I say.

New York Mets:

-Acquired two players to be named later from MIL for RP Francisco Rodriguez

-Acquired SP Zack Wheeler from SF for OF Carlos Beltran

Whoa! Before you go calling me a homer, understand something. First, the Mets escaped from what was going to become a vesting option of $17.5 million to Francisco Rodriguez if he finished 55 games this season. Emphasis on finished. He could’ve lost 55 games this year and it wouldn’t have mattered, the option would’ve kicked. All he had to do was be the last pitcher to appear in the game. Literally, my grandmothers could be the players to be named later in that deal with Milwaukee, and it won’t matter. That money is going right to Jose Reyes, thankfully.

Second, you need to realize that had the Mets held onto Carlos Beltran, they would not have been able to offer him salary arbitration. In fancy talk, that means the Mets wouldn’t have gotten any draft pick compensation for Beltran had he left in free agency. He would qualify as a Type A free agent, which normally means the team that signs him surrenders their first round pick to the Mets, plus a compensation pick at the end of the first round. But, none of that would’ve gone to the Mets due to a loophole in his contract (damn you, Scott Boars!).

Third, while the Mets had offers from teams to either A) bring home a truck of B-level prospects, B) pay off Beltran’s remaining $6 million+ or C) both, Sandy Alderson and company held firm on getting the best available player they could. And, you know what? They did just that. Wheeler was the Giants’ best pitching prospect (out of a system that has produced Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, among others) and Baseball America had recently rated Wheeler as high as 35th out of all prospects in baseball. Wheeler immediately slots into one of the top four Mets pitching prospect slots (along with Matt Harvey, Jenrry Meija and Jeurys Familia) and projects to be a power, top-rotation type pitcher.

Getting value for Beltran was key for Alderson. He accomplished that, and that makes the Mets winners at the deadline even though they probably aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Hooray!

Houston Astros:

-Acquired OF Jordan Schafer and 3 pitching prospects from ATL for OF Michael Bourn and cash

-Acquired SP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton and 2 prospects from PHI for OF Hunter Pence

Alright, another team that isn’t competing for a playoff spot. You think I’m crazy. Hey, you may be right. But, you need to look long-term here.

Remember, the Astros are stuck in the king of rebuilding projects and have a new owner coming into office. They need a franchise makeover. Does it hurt to trade away the face of the franchise and the one productive player on the team? Absolutely.

But, what does that say about your franchise if Hunter Pence is your keystone guy? Is he a good player? Absolutely. Should he be the best player on your team? No way.

In Cosart and Singleton, the Astros got the Phillies two best prospects not named Dominic Brown. That’s a win right there. From the Braves, they got 3 pitchers that project into productive parts, but not necessarily stars. However, they sold Bourn when his stock was highest, so that should be commended.

San Francisco Giants:

-Acquired OF Carlos Beltran from NYM for SP Zack Wheeler

-Acquired INF Orlando Cabrera from CLE for player to be named later

We already covered the Beltran trade from the Mets angle. The Giants angle is a lot easier to understand. They needed immediate pop in the middle of their order. Well, that’s Beltran.

What I love even more is the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera. This man IS playoff baseball. I understand the Indians traded him because their second baseman of the future has been playing well, but Cabrera is a lock to make the playoffs on whatever team he is on. I don’t know why, it’s just the truth. Expect Cabrera to play the 2010 Edgar Renteria role on this team.

Oh, and by the way, remember that it was Renteria who was named World Series MVP last year.

Team that went in the right direction, but didn’t impress: Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks

LOSERS:

New York Yankees:

-No major acquisitions

Absorb that sentence for a little bit, Yankee fans. Your general manager has pretty much informed you that he feels the mix of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes will be good enough for a long run in the October. To me, that seems a little bit optimistic. And by optimistic, I mean delusional.

This team needed a starting pitcher in the worst way. C.C. Sabathia would be the likely Cy Young Award winner for the American League if Justin Verlander didn’t exist. But, after him, A.J. Burnett? And that’s really all you can trust? Wait, we’re trusting A.J. Burnett now? Oh, brother.

Hey, in their defense, it’s not like the Yankees didn’t try. They really wanted Hiroki Kuroda, but he refused to waive his no-trade clause and chose to stay in Los Angeles. They tried to get Ubaldo Jiminez (I’m not done with him) from Colorado before the Indians package trumped the Yankees. And, its not like the Red Sox and the Rays broke the bank in their trades either. But, the Red Sox did improve their rotation (Erik Bedard) and they added infield depth (Mike Aviles).

The Yankees didn’t do anything, and that hurts.

Cleveland Indians:

Acquired SP Ubaldo Jiminez from COL for SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Alex White and 3 prospects

-Acquired OF Kosuke Fukudome from CHI for 2 prospects

-Acquired a player to be named later from SF for INF Orlando Cabrera

The Cleveland Indians feel that they are in the thick of the race for the AL Central. And, less than three games out of first certainly means they are in the race. The Twins held firm at the deadline, the White Sox appeared to be sellers, and the Detroit Tigers added a nice piece in SP Doug Fister, but he doesn’t necessarily put them over the edge.

So, kudos to the Indians for putting in the effort to try and win this division. Now, time for my problems with both of these trades. Starting with Fukudome.

Ok, I understand their offense needed a bit of an upgrade. Not a full upgrade like the Giants needed, but enough of one where the Indians offered to pay Beltran’s entire remaining salary to the Mets plus prospects. So, why did they go after a guy that is ranked behind the likes of Ryan Theriot and Brian Schneider in terms of his career production rate on BaseballReference.com? Fukudome’s beautiful triple slash (average/on-base/slugging) for 2011? .273/.374/.369

Yikes. Not sure where I should be seeing an upgrade. Luckily, I’m not overly impressed with the prospects they gave up for the aging outfielder. So there’s that.

But, believe it or not, I had a bigger problem with their trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jiminez. In his first 16 decisions of 2010, Jiminez went 15-1 and looked like the shoe-in for NL Cy Young. Since then, however, Jiminez has gone 10-17. This year, he sat at 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA, a far cry from his 2.88 in 2010, and that was even lower in the first half of 2010.

Furthermore, does anybody else find it strange that the Rockies were so quick to trade Ubaldo Jiminez? He’s under team control until 2014, and its not like the Rockies are cheap when it comes to locking down their home grown talent (see: Tulowitzki, Troy and Gonzalez, Carlos). So, I smell something that the Rockies are seeing that maybe the Indians are not. The shine on Jiminez seems to be fading in the sense that Francisco Liriano is not the pitcher we all thought he’d be, either.

Also, the Rockies made out like bandits here. They acquired two of the Indians last three first round picks (Pomeranz and White). In fact, those two picks were both Top-10 selections. Pomeranz was such a recent selection that you see his name in the transaction column as “player to be named later” because the Indians aren’t allowed to trade him since he hasn’t been a member of the organization for a full calender year yet.

The Rockies are exceptionally good at rebuilding on the fly. They now have two controllable power arms that may be ready by next year or 2013. And the Indians? They traded for the market’s largest questionmark. You can be aggressive to a fault at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that’s what the Indians were.

San Diego Padres:

-Acquired a prospect from PIT for OF Ryan Ludwick

-Acquired two prospects from TEX for RP Mike Adams

Ok, the Padres got the most out of what they could for the players they traded. The problem in San Diego is more of who they didn’t trade: closer Heath Bell.

Bell is a very good closer and a huge fan favorite in San Diego (as he was at Shea Stadium when he was the conductor of the old Norfolk Shuttle). But, the Padres probably did themselves a disservice by not trading him away. This was the highest his trade value would ever be, and now the team has put themselves in a situation where they will have to pay the big bucks to keep their stopper long-term.

Now, hindsight is always 20-20. This non-move could turn out to be great for the franchise. But, I honestly do not like it when teams invest in relievers not named Rivera. So, I will let this one play out a little bit. I just don’t understand why a team in full fledged rebuild mode wouldn’t move their most valuable asset that could be replaced rather quickly from within.

Other teams that disappointed, but not as poorly: Oakland A’s, Washington Nationals

Teams in Limbo

Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals:

Basically I group all three teams together because they conducted the largest, craziest trade of the deadline period. Stay with me here:

White Sox acquired RP Jason Frasor and SP Zach Stewart from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays acquired INF Mark Teahan from the White Sox, OF Colby Rasmus, SP Brian Tallet, RP Trevor Miller and RP P.J. Walters from the Cardinals

Cardinals acquired SP Edwin Jackson from White Sox, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Marc Rzepczynski, OF Corey Patterson and three players to be named later from Blue Jays

Have you digested all that? So, how do three teams conduct a huge trade and seemingly stay in the same place they were pre-trade? I’ll explain.

For the White Sox, General Manager Kenny Williams just confuses me to no end. When the team should be sellers, he buys. When the team should be buyers, he sells. He gave Adam Dunn a four-year contract when no team was willing to go more than two. He picked up Alexis Rios from the Blue Jays when the team was bound to release him anyway. I don’t get it.

Edwin Jackson was having a good year, and the White Sox did well to sell him when his value was high because Jackson has been an up-and-down talent his entire career, hence why he’s played for six teams in eight years. Mostly, the White Sox stay in limbo with this trade because while Zach Stewart is a promising pitching prospect from Toronto, he is no Daniel Hudson, who is the player the White Sox traded to get Jackson in the first place.

For the Blue Jays, I think I understand this trade. I think. The big prize they picked up is OF Colby Rasmus, who was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball while he was maturing in the St. Louis farm system. He hit .276 with 23 home runs for the Cardinals in 2010 as a 23-year old, but has been marred in a season-long slump in 2011, dipping his average to .240 with only 11 home runs. Apparently, Rasmus wore out his welcome with manager Tony LaRussa for seeking outside help for his hitting woes, which is a no-no for the Cardinals. When push came to shove, the team stuck with management and not Rasmus.

 However, he’s still young (24). He could easily figure out this funk and blossom into the well-rounded centerfielder experts had predicted he’d become. Here’s my problem with the trade: the Blue Jays didn’t need the help with their offense.

In the American League East, you will not win with a powerful line-up. Look at the Rays. Their line-up is below average for the American League, but they’re constantly competitive in the East because they have pitching depth very few other teams have. The Blue Jays dealt Stewart, one of their better pitching prospects, to get Jackson who enabled them to get Rasmus. In their system, they still have Kyle Drabek, their prize in the Roy Halladay trade. But, he struggled in his first stint of Major League action. The Jays will need a massive amount of pitching to catch up to the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t see how this trade helps them, at all, in the long run.

Lastly, for the Cardinals, here’s why I don’t quite get it. I believe they are a team that has become in love with the notion that pitching coach Dave Duncan can fix any pitching problem. Edwin Jackson shows flashes of brilliance, and the Cardinals will try to harness those flashes into sustained excellence. And with Duncan’s track record, that very well could happen.

The team’s biggest hole was at shortstop, which they feel they answered by acquiring Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, we will see if Furcal can stay healthy for any long period of time to actually help the team. They felt they could afford to trade Rasmus now because Lance Berkman has played so well in right field, and Jon Jay has exceeded expectations from all outfield positions.

My problem with this deal really comes back to Rasmus. I feel the team gave up on him much too early. He was their youngest player starting every day and, more importantly, was under team control on the cheap for at least another two years. With Albert Pujols soon to get a new contract, cheap, reliable talent is a major point of salary relief the team will need. Jon Jay has hit over .300 in his 600+ Major League at-bats thus far in his career. But, is he really your long-term centerfielder in St. Louis? I’m just not certain.

For me, the Cardinals will have to show me they have a viable solution in center before I move them out of limbo.

Other teams who tried to improve, and may have improved, but didn’t impress: Pittsburgh Pirates

What’s new in Butch Davis’ life? Updated!

Breaking news today shares that University of North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis has been fired. Now at 6:00 EST/3:00PST, the university will neither confirm, nor deny the firing UNC has announced that Butch Davis’ contracted has been terminated. Davis has completely turned around the UNC football program, churning out NFL prospects like Miami (something he did from 1995 to 2000), but also creating quite the laundry list of violations.

The 2010 season saw 13 players suspended, and 3 stars: DT Marvin Austin, WR Greg Little and DE Robert Quinn were ruled permanently ineligible after a scandal involving agents, passing off parking tickets and improper benefits. 5 more players were found guilty, leaving a heavily depleted team.

Sound familiar? Ohio State went through something similar, but only now is the NCAA conducting an investigation on UNC. Did the university fire Butch? We don’t know, (update: yes, we do know) although by the time you read this it could be clear (update: clear). But rumors like this rarely turn out to be false (update: bingo). Butch has had a lot of scrutiny concerning illegal benefits, set in motion by the investigation of star defensive tackle Marvin Austin before the season last year.

In his time as a Miami Hurricane, Butch was cleaning up a mess, coaching Miami through scholarship reductions and sanctions left be Dennis Erickson and the Pell Grant scandal. His tenure at Miami had a few watchful eyes after reports of some shady deals going down, but nothing was discovered. Butch jumped ship to the born-again Cleveland Browns in 2000, Larry Coker took over The U and went to consecutive National Championships with Davis’ players, winning the first and cheated out for the second (that was not pass interference).

Butch has always been able to reel in top high school prospects no matter where he was coaching, but recent stories have shed light on the fact that not all of it was legal. And then, Tarheel football players had free reign over the school, as a whopping 395 parking citations were filed over the past three and a half years, and all went unpaid by the players, totaling more than $13,000. Still unpaid to this day.

What is with college coaches these days? How can the NCAA prevent more coach scandals? The risk seems worth the reward, a shot at a national championship, but in the long run, it has tainted the coaches, players and the university involved. Blame the Big XII, or Big 8 retroactively, as they all competed with illegal benefits for recruits. Blame the SEC–Somebody Else is Cheating–as every school seems to be under investigation. Blame the ACC–the All Cupcake Conference–because it’s been a garbage conference and they want to get ahead (zero ACC conference championships, good try Butch). Blame sponsors or boosters or fans or greed. At this rate, college football will be a rotating landscape every 5 years as one team plunges into sanctions and another rises from hibernation, with more scholarships now available and bowl eligibility to coax high school stars.

Butch Davis is most likely gone, as the allegations are piling on, potential major violations to be uncovered, and ol’ Butch is a nomad, never staying too long. Multiple sources are reporting it, and it’s terrible timing 5 weeks before the season. But a university cannot condone these illegal actions coach Davis has taken, especially not a university like North Carolina.

It’s a shame to see so many scandals, however in hindsight, scandal has been a large part of college football for a long time. Does this make it right? Not at all. Give me a clean coach. Build a winning team with student-athletes who want to be there. Now that I can cheer for. Butch Davis is a good coach, but he made an incredibly bad decision in how to pursue prospects and control his players. 14 players suspended is disgraceful for any university, these next 48 hours we will most likely  and because of it we saw Butch Davis’ contract terminated due to the looming of two major violation allegations.

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Carlos Beltran and Me

As Major League Baseball approaches the trade deadline, a few stories stand out to me.

The first, the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a team that hasn’t had a winning record at the end of the season since 1992. 19 seasons. But, the Buccos are ON TOP of the National League Central standings, ahead of the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. This is why its silly to make pre-season predictions on where teams will finish.

The second, the power of the Eastern division teams. In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are all fighting for what appear to be two play-off spots (the Wild Card is likely to come out of the East). While in the National League, the Phillies are dominating everybody with the best record in baseball and the Atlanta Braves are building a huge lead in the Wild Card as they have caught fire, too.

While those stories are nice, I must once again focus on the trade deadline and my New York Mets. Back in April, I sat down in front of my computer and wrote about a potential break-up between my fanhood and shortstop Jose Reyes. Well, since then, Jose Reyes has become the most exciting player in baseball, and quite possibly the most valuable. The Mets couldn’t afford to trade him, and no team could afford to acquire him. Signs are beginning to point towards a future extended stay in Flushing for Reyes, and I am happy as a clam.

Though that is good news, something else has begun to dawn on me:

The departure of right fielder Carlos Beltran.

You see, any Mets fan’s relationship with Beltran is one full of misconceptions, extreme highs and devestating lows. When the Mets signed Beltran in the winter of 2004 to his monster seven-year, $119 million contract, us Mets fans were stunned. Couple that signing with Pedro Martinez’s contract, and for the first time in what felt like centuries, there was brewing excitement. Beltran even coined the phrase “the New Mets”, which became a marketing tool for the team.

Before I go any further, let me remind Mets fans of my generation of one thing that I think they’ve overlooked greatly in evaluating Carlos Beltran’s Met career.  Beltran’s seven year stay in New York is easily the second-most successful seven year period of my Mets fanhood, behind only the Bobby Valentine years of 1996-2002. Yes, I am taking into account losing Game 7 in the NLCS in 2006, blowing late leads for playoff spots in 2007 and 2008, the crapshoot that was 2009 and even the meaninglessness of 2010.

Remember, the Mets don’t have much success. Period. They have a total of SEVEN playoff appearences. Four of those appearences happened before I was born. So the fact that the Mets won a division with Carlos Beltran as the team’s MVP that year HAS  to mean something.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, back to my point. Beltran’s first season in New York was, for lack of a better term, a disappointment. There were high hopes for the team, but Beltran scuffled as he adjusted to the bright lights of the big city. He hit .266 with 16 home runs (seemingly only in games started by Pedro Martinez) while driving in 78 runs. People were quick to call him soft and not tough enough for New York. But, they also forget that the man played in 151 games that season even after bashing his face into Mike Cameron’s face in easily the worst on-field collision I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.

Then, after the Mets added the likes of Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca in trades, it was Beltran that led the charge for the Mets as they dominated the National League all year long. Beltran hit 41 home runs, drove in 116 runs, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Even with his success, Mets fans probably remember Beltran’s 2006 as leaving the bat on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright dropped in a devastating curveball to advance the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2006 World Series, which they would win.

Side note: Why do Mets fans blame Beltran for this loss? I never understood it. I watched the same game as they did. To me, you look at Jose Valentin grounding into a double-play with the bases loaded after Endy Chavez made his orgasmic catch first. Then, why does Willie Randolph use a crippled Cliff Floyd as a pinch-hitter with a runner in scoring position? Lastly, it was Aaron Heilman’s hanging change-up that Yadier Molina ripped into the visitor’s bullpen that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in extras. Going even further back, what the hell was Guillermo Mota thinking in Game 2 when he served up that cheesecake to Scott Spiezio?! Alright, I digress. Not Beltran’s fault. End of story.

2007 and 2008, I feel like Mets fans forget the success Beltran had due to the team’s overall collapse. Beltran averaged 30 home runs and 112 runs batted in that year, while receiving his second and third Gold Gloves as a Met. But, Beltran’s body started to betray him in 2009 (though every Met had his body betrayed in 2009). And in 2010, Beltran made the decision to have microfracture surgery on his knee seemingly without the Mets permission, having him miss the majority of that season as well.

Looking back at everything, I strongly believe Carlos Beltran will go down as the most underrated Met of all-time. He did it all for the Mets, and he made it seem so effortlessly and easy. In the end, its that ease to the game that made him seem lazy or soft. Unfair, I say!

When Carlos Beltran ever comes back to Citi Field wearing a different team’s uniform, I will always remember Beltran for 2006. I can list you my favorite five Mets games I’ve ever attended in person with ease (I’ll save you the time). On that list is a game from late August in 2006 when the Mets played the St. Louis Cardinals.

The game was touted as a match-up between the two favorites for the MVP, Beltran and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. By the third inning, Pujols was getting the best of the Mets, smashing two home runs and seven runs batted in to give the Cardinals a 7-1 lead. However, after a Carlos Delgado grand slam made it 7-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Mets began to rally. Jose Reyes drove in a run to bring the Mets within one and with two outs, it was Beltran who came walking to the plate.

Looking back at the highlights later, Gary Cohen said on the broadcast “one swing of the bat could win it for the Mets..” Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen’s next pitch was a cutter that never cut and Beltran drilled it off the K Board for the walk-off homer. It was a no-doubter. The second it hit the bat, my dad and I both knew the Mets just won maybe the most thrilling game of the 2006 season. My long-time Met game buddy Ted refers to that game as “the game he should’ve went to” (my dad was originally supposed to work and offered his ticket to Ted, but called out and decided to go himself. Ted hasn’t let it go.).

That will be my image of Carlos Beltran. Walking to the plate to the rhythms of “El Esta Qui” day in and day out. His level swing crushing the pearl into the dark of night. Beltran was a cornerstone in what was one of the more entertaining periods of Mets baseball. No, they didn’t get the ring I was hoping for. But, Beltran put the Mets back into the conversation for the first time post-Piazza. While David Wright and Jose Reyes got all the headlines, it was Carlos Beltran quitely leading from the back of the room.

I will miss Carlos Beltran. The greatest center fielder in New York Mets history. And I promise you, there won’t be another one like him any time soon.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

POST EDIT: I published this story at 8:39pm EST. At 8:40, Carlos Beltran connected on a two-run home run to tie the game at 4 against none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Something about that seems very special to me.

Baseball’s Second Half

The All-Star break has come and gone, a new home run champ was crowned, and the National League extended their Midsummer Classic win streak to: 2.

Derek Jeter went yard for #3,000– he should really thank David Price for that beauty.

Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander both threw no-hitters, and each came close to a second. Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision and Albert Pujols broke his wrist, then regenerated in half the time as a machine would. The Pirates are 47-43, yes the Pittsburgh Pirates, sitting in 3rd place, just one game out in the NL Central. The Mets are above .500 due to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran having seasons they’re capable of, the Mets have some hope. Their manager, Terry Collins, 62, “is older than the remote control and hadn’t managed a game in 11 years, is suddenly the second-youngest manager in the NL East (or, as it might be known in the latest realignment plan, the Del Boca Vista Division)” (SI Tom Verducci, Inside Baseball) And those Cleveland Indians, name one of their starting pitchers; name two of their outfielders; their DL is the who’s who of Cleveland but they’ve been in first and are currently in 2nd, half a game out. Whoda thunk it? Plus Brian Wilson and his beard have become the new rock star of baseball.

But don’t worry, the season isn’t too upside down, the AL East is a close race (you know who), the Phillies pitching rotation is competing at a high level and the Marlins can’t sell tickets (they closed the upper deck). So what’s going to happen in the second half? Who will hold on to each division? Can Pittsburgh make the playoffs?!

Milestone Progress

Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hit? Check, he’s at 3,004

Jim Thome’s (595) 600th home run? 5 away

Alex Rodriguez (626) catching Griffey (630) on the all-time home run list? 4 more. And Willie Mays (660)? 34 bombs, not likely

Ichiro’s 11th consecutive  200 hit season, breaking his tie with Pete Rose? 101 hits at the break, on pace for about 190 hits (ASG isn’t halfway point, technically)

Mariano Rivera (581) all-time saves leader? 22 saves in 2011, on pace for around 40, putting at or above Trevor Hoffman’s record 601

Albert Pujols’ 2,000 hit? 16 to go

Matt Stairs’ record breaking 13th team played for? Check: Expos, Red Sox, A’s, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Padres, Nationals. That’s 52 different jersey’s he’s worn (Can be contested that he’s still tied at 12  with Mike Morgan since the Expos became the Nationals)

Awards

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda, Mariners

AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Indians

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies

NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman, Braves

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pirates

October, who has survived?

AL East: New York Yankees

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers

Yankees win the East? One of the East teams will be struck with key injuries causing a slide, I know I’ll probably pick the wrong one, but the Yanks have shown excellent ability to plug holes and win, and they have the run support. Boston needs to stay healthy and if their 1 through 5 starters continue to pitch well, plus their bullpen, they could be on top. And the West, what was I thinking? Diamondbacks over the Giants? It’s a wild division and it’s Arizona’s time. Something special in the desert again, they’re my surprise pick.

Parting Thoughts

Will we see Bryce Harper in 2011? Don’t think so, don’t care yet. He will be good though. I also think there will be no more no-no’s, plenty of rumors around a Mets fire sale (not happening), Jose Reyes’ price tag continues to fall, Lance Berkman stays an MVP candidate until the end, the Rangers lose focus, and their lead in the West, and Ichiro blows up with a hefty hitting streak.

Baseball has been very, very good to me

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Why I Love Writing About Sports

This won’t cover anything recent, other than the movie “Midnight in Paris,” which I just got back from seeing, and has inspired this current post. The movie was great, and I highly recommend anybody who loves to write about anything to go see it. If Owen Wilson’s character doesn’t inspire you to write about what you love, and something that means something to you, then you’ve died inside. You have.

In the movie, Wilson plays a self-proclaimed “Hollywood hack” who makes a lot of money writing unfulfilling scripts. He’s engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) who has the loving touch of a sea urchin, and has superficial caricatures for parents. Wilson, seeking to fulfill his urge to be a “real writer” has taken his novel to Paris with the family (tagging along with Inez’s father on a business trip) for inspiration. After a drunken midnight stroll throughout the city, Wilson gets into a car that takes him back to Paris in the 1920s, where he hangs out with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other famous artists of the day. He keeps going back to the same spot, and at midnight, continues on these adventures, continuing to be inspired, and polishing his book into a real work of art. The book itself is about a man who works in a nostalgia shop, questioning his place in the universe, and really capitalizes on the “golden age” idea that gets highlighted throughout the film; the idea that people will always feel like they belonged in a different era, because the present just isn’t that fulfilling. What does any of this have to do with sports? Well, in the grand scheme of things, not a ton, but to me specifically, everything.

In the film, Ernest Hemingway (played wonderfully by Corey Stoll) says “No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.” To anyone who wants to be a writer, that quote should hang above your computer, your notepad, or whatever it is you write on. I think that people get lost trying to be gregarious with their storytelling, and lose the substance of the story by trying to impress people with their vocabulary. This is never more true with sports, where it is incredibly important for the prose to be “clean and honest.” We’re writing about largely open-ended events that are quantified by statistics that we invent to give them meaning.

Corey Stoll's Ernest Hemingway, bottle in hand

Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody wins a game of catch. Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody set any records playing a game of catch. Sports are about results; wins, losses, championships won, yards gained, innings-pitched, etc. But really, sports are just people on a field of play, playing a game, and at the end, the rules we invented determine these wins and losses. Naturally, this warrants explanation, and that’s where we (the people who write about sports) come in. We explain how we got from point A (the game) to point B (the results.) Not simply that the guy threw the ball, but how his throwing of the ball led his team to victory. We find aspects of the game that specifically can be attributed to the results that come out of it, and explain (to the best of our abilities) how.

Does sports history exist without sports-writers? No. We are the record keepers for sports history. We place events in sports that happen every day into the historical context that has been created by those who wrote about sports before us. There is no debate about Peyton Manning vs Joe Montana vs Tom Brady if nobody writes about sports; if there’s nobody to tell the stories that come out of these games.

We create the demons that these guys overcome. We make Quarterback X a playoff choker and we make Point Guard X a stone-cold assassin, who thrives under pressure. There is none of this if nobody watches, records, and analyzes the results of these games, and creates a context and a plot for a story to be told. LeBron James losing in the Finals means nothing if nobody writes about it, if nobody wrote about The Decision, if nobody wrote about him at St. Vincent St. Mary’s. Without sports writers we just have games that mean nothing.

This is why I think it’s great to write about anything you love. Writing about a subject, any subject, gives you the ability to attribute meaning to something you care about. Without writers, there’s nobody to attribute meaning to anything, or at least nobody to record those meanings. That is why Hemingway’s words should be gospel. Keep your stories true, clean, and honest. Analyze what you see, record events, and for the sake of all that is good in the world, keep writing.

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage