Wednesday, June 5, 2013
At the very least, Major League commissioner Bud Selig hopes so.
Over the coming days and weeks, you will become intimately familiar with the names Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch. It was Bosch who produced a list of 20 Major League Baseball players his company, the now-defunct Biogenesis of America, allegedly provided with performance-enhancing drugs.
Atop that list are New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun.
Rodriguez already admitted to PED use during his time with the Texas Rangers, but avoided suspension because, at the time, a player could not be suspended without a failed drug test. Braun was initially set to be suspended before the 2012 season, but became the first player to successfully appeal a PED-related ruling.
Because of those brushes with PED-related violations, and because officials believe the two sluggers lied about PED use, Major League Baseball is seeking 100-game suspensions for the former three-time American League MVP, and the 2011 National League MVP.
While both players are superstars, the circumstances surrounding their potential suspensions couldn't be any more different.
Few would be surprised to find out the allegations against Rodriguez - those accusations claim Bosch directly injected Rodriguez with illegal substances inside the Biogenesis clinic - are true. Rodriguez has largely been considered disingenuous and petty over the course of his career. In a piece by Ian O'Connor on ESPNNewYork.com, it is revealed that many in the league's inner circles, and even some of Rodriguez's close friends, consider Rodriguez to be immature, and have qualified him as a drama queen.
The same cannot be said about Braun. While he did come dangerously close to being suspended last winter, Braun's close call was a shockwave to the landscape of many baseball fans. Braun is a quiet leader in his locker room, and hasn't been smeared about by former teammates and media members alike.
Just as their circumstances differ, the aftermath of any significant suspensions would be worlds apart.
If this is the end of Rodriguez's time in the Bronx, it will be just another instance of a supposed superstar who just couldn't hack it under the ultra-bright lights of Yankee Stadium.
Rumors of Rodriguez's departure began swirling this past offseason, when Rodriguez had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Because of his massive contract, many pundits speculated that the Yankees would look to get out of paying some, or all, of the money still owed to Rodriguez. A-Rod has never been hugely popular among the Yankee faithful, and rumblings of a similar sentiment in New York's front office have been widely publicized.
Rodriguez may not play another game in pinstripes if he escapes these latest allegations unscathed, and there is no doubt his Yankees career will end if he is found guilty of any wrongdoing. Rodriguez will go down as the dirtiest Yankee of all-time, surpassing Roger Clemens, who refuses to admit PED use despite a number of solid cases made against him. Rodriguez would be among the blacklisted elite, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Clemens and Barry Bonds, steadfast in denial.
Travel 900 miles west, and you may as well be traveling to another dimension.
Ryan Braun is the face of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise. Once part of a feared batting duo with homegrown talent Prince Fielder, Braun took favor in the hearts of Brewers fans everywhere when Fielder chased a bigger payday and left Milwaukee on the first train out of town.
The Brewers are a small-market team - the polar opposite of the seemingly unlimited Yankees payroll - that hasn't been to the World Series in 31 years. In fact, Milwaukee has only made the playoffs twice in that time, with both occurrences coming in the last five years. It is no coincidence that those two trips to the postseason coincide with Braun's time with the club, as Braun debuted for the Brewers in 2007.
Losing Braun for the remainder of the 2013 would be the kiss of death for a team struggling mightily to win games. Manager Ron Roenicke likely won't make it through the season as Milwaukee's skipper as it is, and losing his best player wouldn't do Roenicke any favors, with the Brewers already on pace for 100 losses.
The damage in Wisconsin, however, would last much longer. Over the past decade, the state has grown accustomed to wining football, thanks to the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers. But success has largely evaded Wisconsin's other popular teams.
A 100-loss season, with the face of the franchise banned from Miller Park until this time next season, would almost certainly expedite what appears to be the inevitable rebuilding process facing the Brew Crew. Gone would be the likes of Roenicke, Rickie Weeks, John Axford, and other high-priced flops. The keys would likely be handed to the latest batch of young guns, led by recent call-up Scooter Gennett.
And what would become of Braun? While Brewers fans would likely forgive their fallen star, a certain level of trepidation would accompany such sympathy. Outside of Wisconsin, Braun would join the ever-growing list of superstars who felt the need to enhance their all-world talents in the hopes of more home runs, more zeroes on their paychecks, or whatever else drives these athletes to habitually violate policies, despite their dire consequences.
When will the list of PED users stop growing? If you ask those in the know, it might not be any time soon. Jayson Stark included an interesting line in a commentary piece published Tuesday on ESPN.com:
"And if you believe the rumor mill, Braun and A-Rod might not even be the biggest names on that list."
While Stark admits that statement goes much further ahead than we need to be right now, he presents a devastating point: What happens if there are more super-duperstars on Bosch's list?
And, really, who's left that's bigger than Braun and Rodriguez?
Will the names be past players? Present players? Both?
I've long said that I will lose faith in professional baseball if any collection of a handful of players tested positive for PED's. One, David Ortiz, already has admitted to past use. A second, Braun, is in the middle of a second PED scandal. The third, and final, hasn't been named yet. But will he?
Are we to start wondering if Albert Pujols, the purest hitter of this generation, wasn't so pure after all?
By no means am I accusing Pujols of wrongdoing. But when the best of players are slowly joining the list of guilty parties, nobody is safe from speculation.
If the rumor mill is true, the worst is yet to come. How baseball will recover remains to be seen.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
There are hundreds upon hundreds of mock drafts out there that will predict what will happen Thursday night, but, as usual, my first-round mock draft will show who I would pick for each team, not necessarily what the so-called experts say.
This year, I'm adding a wish list of sorts, a collection of prospects my Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (if you don't think I'm going to type that as many times as possible, you're insane) and the team most of the people reading this follow, the Green Bay Packers, would love to see fall to them. Providing the Packers wish list is my long-time partner in sports crime, Ryan Fantozzi. If you haven't been checking out his blog, click the link in the sidebar.
Baltimore Ravens Wish List
Manti Te'o (ILB, Notre Dame) - He's Baltimore Raven through and through. If he makes it to the end of the first round, he won't fall to Day Two.
Menelik Watson (OT, Florida State) - Bryant McKinnie looks like he's a goner. Watson is raw, but John Harbaugh's coaching staff is the type to turn Watson into a blind-side stalwart.
Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee) - Replacing Anquan Boldin's experience and intelligence in the draft just isn't possible. Plugging in another big, physical receiver is.
Jonathan Cyprien (S, Florida International) - Many mocks have the Ravens taking Florida's Matt Elam, but Cyprien is the nasty, physical safety perfect for Baltimore's defense.
Travis Frederick (C, Wisconsin) - If Ozzie Newsome and company like Frederick, he could very easily be there at no. 32. Matt Birk retired, and Gino Gradkowski likely isn't the long-term answer.
Green Bay's Wish List
Eric Reid (S, LSU) - Reid is a safety with great size and athletic ability. The Packers need to find a stud replacement for Nick Collins. Jerron McMillon and M.D. Jennings aren't doing it.
Datone Jones (DE, UCLA) - It seems every NFL team running the 3-4 has a tall, long-armed defensive end. Green Bay doesn't have any linemen taller than 6'3". Jones is athletic and can help contain the read-option offenses the Pack will see this season.
Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame) - Jermichael Finley will be gone after the 2013 season. The Packers have plenty of tight ends, but no starting-caliber options once Finley leaves town.
Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama) - A running back in the first round for the Packers! While his workout wasn't great, Lacy gives the Packers a physical presence on the offense that they absolutely need.
Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State) - B.J. Raji can walk if Green Bay finds a huge guy to anchor the middle. Hankins is sliding down the draft board, but the Pack could use a true nose for the 3-4 defense.
Let's get to the picks.
1. Kansas City - Luke Joeckel (OT, Texas A&M)
If you have a quarterback and a running back, you'd better take care of them. Now that the Chiefs have both (instead of just the latter) they would do well to pair Branden Albert with Luke Joeckel. At worst, Joeckel can replace Albert if the veteran tackle leaves Kansas City after being franchised last month.
2. Jacksonville - Eric Fisher (OT, Central Michigan)
Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that it looks like the first two players off the board will be tackles. Offensive tackle is one of Jacksonville's biggest needs, but the Jags could really use a guy like Dion Jordan to help their pathetic pass rush. Nonetheless, you can't really go wrong with Eric Fisher, who has often been compared to fellow Central Michigan alum Joe Staley.
3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
The Raiders are in the midst of a massive overhaul - 38 of the 53 players Reggie McKenzie inherited have left Oakland. Both of Oakland's starting defensive tackles are no longer with the team, and Floyd will be a fantastic replacement. Floyd is big, but surprisingly quick. He can anchor the middle of Oakland's defense, while disrupting the middle from the three-technique position.
4. Philadelphia - Dion Jordan (OLB, Oregon)
Pass rush isn't atop Phiadelphia's list of needs, but with Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher off the board, Dion Jordan becomes the best option. Jordan was a terror on the edge in Eugene last year, and should help the Eagles' pass rush right out of the gates. And who better to coach Jordan in the pros than his college coach, new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly?
5. Detroit - Lane Johnson (OT, Oklahoma)
Ideally, the Lions would see local product Eric Fisher slip to no. 5, but Kansas City, Jacksonville and Philadelphia all position ahead of Detroit, it is unlikely to happen. Lane Johnson, who many believe to have the highest ceiling of any of the offensive line prospects in this draft, isn't a bad consolation prize.
6. Cleveland - Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
Every year, the Browns play four games against the Ravens and Steelers, who are both quarterbacked by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. If Cleveland wants to compete in the division, and in the AFC, they'll need to stop the pass. Joe Haden is very good, but the cupboard is bare after Haden. Enter Milliner, who could quickly give the Browns one of the best cornerback tandems in the league
7. Arizona - Chance Warmack (OG, Alabama)
Rarely is a guard worthy of the seventh overall pick, but Chance Warmack isn't your typical guard prospect. Warmack is widely regarded as a can't-miss prospect, and the Cardinals are in dire need of help up front. It's a long road back to the top in Arizona, but Warmack will only help the new-look Cardinals offense in 2013.
8. Buffalo - Jarvis Jones (OLB, Georgia)
Once upon a time, Jarvis Jones was appearing in the top two in mock drafts. Since the combine, experts across the board have dissected his checkered medical history. Jones, however, was examined by doctors after the combine, who said his spinal injury shouldn't affect his ability to play in the NFL. There is a ton of value in this pick. Jones is a beast.
9. New York Jets - Barkevious Mingo (OLB, LSU)
If the Jets want Barkevious Mingo, they better take him ninth overall. Tennessee and San Diego both need pass rushers, and could easily take the LSU product if New York passes. Mingo has one of the most highly regarded skill sets of the pass rushers in this class, and is a much safer pick than BYU's Ziggy Ansah.
10. Tennessee - Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
This wouldn't be the ideal position for the Titans to be in, but the draft will do that to a team. With the elite tackles off the board, Tennessee would be best to grab the best player available. Star Lotulelei was once in the discussion to go first overall, but like Jarvis Jones, medical concerns pushed him down the board. There is good value in Lotulelei, whose play fits the gritty mold of head coach Mike Munchak.
11. San Diego - D.J. Fluker (OT, Alabama)
The road back to the top of the AFC West begins with protecting Philip Rivers. If Rivers is spending more time on his back than looking downfield, the Chargers have no chance. D.J. Fluker will go a long way toward helping keep Rivers upright.
12. Miami - Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State)
Offensive tackle is a need, but it's one that may be filled by the rumored acquisition of current Chiefs tackle Branden Albert. Cornerback, once a strength in south Florida, is now an area of need. Miami's best corner, Brent Grimes, is coming off an Achilles injury, and there isn't much to speak of after Grimes. Xavier Rhodes is a big, aggressive cornerback who makes plays and shuts down receivers.
13. New York Jets (via Tampa Bay) - Jonathan Cooper (OG, North Carolina)
Both of New York's starting guards from 2012 are no longer with the team. With two top-13 picks, and Jonathan Cooper still on the board, the Jets would be fools not to jump on the North Carolina product. Cooper is the type who should be able to start right away and give the Jets a little more solidarity up front.
14. Carolina - Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas)
Carolina has plenty of needs, and most of them are on defense. Sheldon Richardson could be in play here, and would be a solid pick, but if you're playing Drew Brees and Matt Ryan four times each year, you'd better be able to defend the pass. Vaccaro is the consensus no. 1 safety, and will likely start right away for the Panthers.
15. New Orleans - Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
Carolina isn't the only NFC South team in dire need of help on defense. If Richardson goes to Carolina, Vaccaro would be a great addition to the New Orleans secondary. Richardson can disrupt the middle of opposing defenses, and give the Saints a presence up front for the first time in years.
16. St. Louis - Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
Anyone who follows the draft, or the Rams, or knows anything about the 2012 St. Louis Rams season knows that the St. Louis Rams need a threat at wide receiver. Tavon Austin is just that - he can stretch the field and change the game as a kick returner. Austin fits the Percy Harvin mold. Time will tell if he can affect the game like Harvin.
17. Pittsburgh - Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
There once was a time when Heath Miller was among the best tight ends in the league. After age and injuries caught up to Miller, he has gone from very good to very unreliable. Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert could infuse some youth and flexibility into Pittsburgh's vertical passing game, all while taking pressure off of Miller.
18. Dallas - Menelik Watson (OT, Florida State)
This may be a little high for Menelik Watson to come off the board, but if you're going to invest as much money as the Cowboys did in Tony Romo, you'd better protect him. Watson is raw, but he's still very new to the game. With the right coaching, many believe Watson to have the same ceiling as Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher.
19. New York Giants - Ziggy Ansah (OLB, BYU)
I've never been a huge fan of prospects rated highly because of potential. It's more likely than not that Ziggy Ansah will be off the board in the top 10, if not the top five. The Giants would be a good place for Ansah, another raw product, to go. New York's coaching staff had a ton of success with another raw linebacker prospect, Jason Pierre-Paul, and could find that same success with this pick.
20. Chicago - Alec Ogletree (OLB, Georgia)
Alec Ogletree has gone largely unheralded throughout the pre-draft process, but the Georgia linebacker wreaked havoc on opposing offenses last season. He was the best player on his team's defense on more than one occasion, and he played alongside Jarvis Jones. The Bears might take a long look at Manti Te'o here, but Ogletree is a playmaker and can add his dynamic play to Chicago's historically vaunted defense.
21. Cincinnati - Eddie Lacy (RB, Alabama)
Safety is one of Cincinnati's most pressing needs, but a quality safety should be available in the second and/or third round. Eddie Lacy is a physical runner who has been compared to fellow Alabama alum, and former teammate, Trent Richardson. Eddie Lacy's presence adds a physicality to Cincinnati's offense, and takes the offensive impetus off Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.
22. St. Louis (from Washington) - Eric Reid (S, LSU)
St. Louis stole Janoris Jenkins in last year's draft, and Cortland Finnegan is still serviceable, but the safety position leaves a bit to be desired. Quintin Mikell isn't much more than a stop-gap at this point, so drafting a physical guy like Eric Reid would benefit the Rams greatly.
23. Minnesota - D.J. Hayden (CB, Houston)
If you don't defend the pass in the NFC North, you can forget about winning the division. The cupboard is nearly bare on the corner in Minnesota, and the Vikings must address that need in the first round. Scouts are raving about Hayden's complete game as a corner, and some have him rated higher than Dee Milliner. Minus a terrifying injury, Hayden could be a top-10 pick.
24. Indianapolis - Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
Bjoern Werner is a Chuck Pagano type of guy. Werner's major knock is his motor when the play goes opposite his way, but Pagano could groom the German import into a terror on the end. Werner disrupts plays and gets after the quarterback, and while not a pressing need for the Colts, you can never have enough playmakers on the edge.
25. Minnesota (via Seattle) - Manti Te'o (ILB, Notre Dame)
Plenty of mocks have the Vikings taking Te'o, and for good reason - the Vikings badly need help at inside linebacker. Remove all the off-the-field headlines, and you find a player who made plays between the stripes. Te'o was a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine, and he's one of the smarter inside linebacker prospects to enter the league in some time.
26. Green Bay - Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
Like it or not, B.J. Raji is overrated. He can't anchor the 3-4 defense like Dom Capers needs Raji to do, and if you don't believe me, watch game tape of the 2012 Packers defense. Sylvester Williams is a big dude who gets off the snap in a hurry. Raji has his place, but it isn't anchoring the defense. That place could now belong to Williams.
27. Houston - Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
Andre Johnson can't do it all. Close, but not everything. The Texans need a receiver who can stretch the field, and Hunter can do just that. He ran a 4.36 at the Combine, and is a fantastic route runner. Houston needs another receiver if they want to get to the next level. It's really the only thing the Texans offense is missing.
28. Denver - Cornellius "Tank" Carradine (DE, Florida State)
The departure of Elvis Dumervil is well-documented, as is the need for his replacement. Before going down with a season-ending ACL tear, "Tank" Carradine completely terrorized opposing backfields. Carradine was tied with teammate Bjoern Werner for the ACC lead in sacks at the time of his injury, and could be the replacement for Dumervil the Broncos need.
29. New England - Robert Woods (WR, USC)
Can you name a wide receiver currently on New England's roster? The fact that you probably can't says all you need to know about the Patriots' need at the position. Robert Woods didn't get a lot of attention at USC last year, mainly because everyone was watching 2014 top-five pick Marquise Lee. That isn't a knock on Woods, though - he's a real player who can help New England's offense.
30. Atlanta - Desmond Trufant (CB, Washington)
Brent Grimes, one of Atlanta's starting cornerbacks last year, took his talents to South Beach this winter, leaving Atlanta to depend on Asante Samuel. Desmond Trufant has plenty of experience playing against high-octane offenses, and professional success runs in his blood - older brother Marcus has been one of the most reliable players in Seattle for the last decade.
31. San Francisco - Jonathan Cyprien (S, Florida International)
San Francisco has 14 draft picks this weekend, so the rich will almost certainly be getting richer. There is depth on the defensive line and at safety, where the Niners must add youth and talent. Jonathan Cyprien is a big, physical safety who plays with the type of aggression head coach Jim Harbaugh looks for. Cyprien is a little inexperienced against top-notch talent, but playing for a coach like Harbaugh will set him on course.
32. Baltimore - Kevin Minter (ILB, LSU)
You may have missed it, but Ray Lewis retired ... but the Ravens knew that was coming. What they didn't expect was the departure of fellow inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Rolando McClain may have competed for a starting position on the inside of Baltimore's defense, but it remains to be seen if the former Raider will even make the 53-man roster. Kevin Minter is an intelligent defender who reads the play quickly and isn't afraid to drop the hammer. He's just the type of linebacker that Baltimore will be looking for.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Boy, did it live up to expectations.
The first four hours following the official opening of the new league year - and subsequent onset of free agency - was as crazy as we've seen in recent years. The league's legal tampering period allowed us a taste of what may or may not go down when the gun sounded on free agency, but the flurry of news certainly did not disappoint those anticipating chaos.
Through all the rumors and signings came, arguably, the biggest storyline of the 2013 NFl season: The wholesale exodus of veterans from the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens.
As of this writing, six players who started for Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII are now former Ravens. Linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk retired. Safety Bernard Pollard was cut. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the NFC-champion San Francisco 49ers. Outside linebacker Paul Kruger signed with division-rival Cleveland. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe provided the first major shocker of the free agency period when he signed with the Dolphins, and not the Ravens.
Now, after reports surfaced of a full-scale purging of veterans, Ed Reed is set to visit with the Texans. He's also been a rumored target of the 49ers, Colts and Patriots.
Cornerback Cary Williams and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, both starters in Super Bowl XLVII, are unrestricted free agents in their own right, and have yet to have any reported contact with the Ravens.
Not to be passed over, though, is the arms race taking place in the NFC. Last season, the NFC appeared to be the better of the two conferences, but if the last day and a half has been any indication, the gap between the AFC and NFC is growing.
Even more, the gap between the have's and the have-not's has grown. San Francisco, the defending NFC champion, acquired Anquan Boldin or a sixth-round pick. The Niners are also rumored to be in contention for another former Ravens player, safety Ed Reed.
San Francisco's division rival, Seattle, may have done more than just about anything to put themselves over the top. The Seahawks traded a bundle of draft picks to Minnesota for perennial playmaker Percy Harvin, then went out and landed the top pass-rusher on the free-agent market, former Lions defensive end Cliff Avril.
Avril's former team has been busy as well. Detroit added a new cog to its offense by signing running back Reggie Bush. The Lions also picked up former Seahawks defensive end Jason Jones, former Texans safety Glover Quin, and re-signed defensive back Chris Houston.
Further, the Packers are chasing running back Steven Jackson and may re-sign wide receiver Greg Jennings. Tight end Martellus Bennett and offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod left their respective teams to join the Bears, and the Eagles have been very busy overhauling a roster that was nothing short of disappointing last season.
It's been a crazy start to the 2013 NFL league year. As things wind down, we get to look to the future of the league, as the 2013 NFL draft is only six weeks away.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
But are four teams enough?
Let's look at this year's rankings. It's clear Notre Dame and Alabama would be in the four-team field, but how could anyone separate Florida, Oregon, Georgia, Kansas State and Stanford?
Both the Bulldogs and Cardinal have two losses, but Stanford, along with Kansas State, are the only conference champions of the five. Florida has been skirting by teams all season long. Oregon looked mortal in their only loss of the season ... against Stanford. Florida's only loss came to, you guessed it, Georgia, which was one missed opportunity away from heading to Miami to play Notre Dame.
Now that the annual BCS mess as allegedly been sorted out, I'll do what the money-grubbing university presidents refuse to do: Set up a logical playoff system, created to remove any and all doubt surrounding college football's national champion.
My system is a 12-team, single-elimination playoff. Like the existing BCS guidelines, my rules are plentiful, and complicated. Some rules transfer over from the existing system, and some are brand new.
Let's break down the ground rules.
- The BCS standings would remain in place to determine seeding.
- Each conference champion from the "Big Five" conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) earns an automatic bid.
- The highest-ranked team from the remaining six conferences earns an automatic bid, should that team finishes ranked in the final BCS standings.
- Any non-conference champion ranked in the top four of the final BCS standings earns an automatic bid.
- If Notre Dame finishes in the top 8 of the final BCS standings, they earn an automatic bid.
- If any team, regardless of conference affiliation, finishes undefeated, said team cannot be excluded from playoff field.
- There are no limits to the amount of teams from one conference to earn a playoff bid, eliminating the current BCS rule.
- Any team that did not win its conference championship cannot be seeded ahead of more than two automatic qualifying (AQ) conference champions.
- All conference champions must be the highest-seeded representative of their respective conference.
- First-round games will be held at the home field of the higher seed. Quarterfinals would take place at a neutral site, while semifinals and BCS National Championship Game would follow the guidelines set forth in the four-team playoff format set to begin in 2014.
For example, last year's playoff field would have looked like this:
1. LSU (SEC champion; automatic bid)
2. Oklahoma State (Big 12 champion; automatic bid)
3. Oregon (Pac-12 champion; automatic bid)
4. Alabama (finished no. 2 in final BCS standings; automatic bid)
5. Stanford (finished no. 4 in final BCS standings; automatic bid)
6. Arkansas (at-large)
7. Boise State (highest-ranked non-AQ team; automatic bid)
8. Kansas State (at-large)
9. South Carolina (at-large)
10. Wisconsin (Big 10 champion; automatic bid)
11. Clemson (ACC champion; automatic bid)
12. Virginia Tech (at-large)
Last year's first-round games:
(12) Virginia Tech at (5) Stanford - winner to face (4) Alabama
(11) Clemson at (6) Arkansas - winner to face (3) Oregon
(10) Wisconsin at (7) Boise State - winner to face (2) Oklahoma State
(9) South Carolina at (8) Kansas State - winner to face (1) LSU
And now, the fun part. Here's what this year's playoff field should look like:
1. Notre Dame (finished in BCS top 8; automatic bid)
2. Alabama (SEC champion; automatic bid)
3. Kansas State (Big 12 champion; automatic bid)
4. Florida (finished no. 3 in final BCS standings; automatic bid)
5. Stanford (Pac-12 champion; automatic bid)
6. Oregon (finished no. 4 in final BCS standings; automatic bid)
7. Georgia (at-large)
8. LSU (at-large)
9. Texas A&M (at-large)
10. Florida State (ACC champion; automatic bid)
11. Northern Illinois (highest non-AQ team; automatic bid)
12. Wisconsin (Big 10 champion; automatic bid)
This year's first round match-ups:
(12) Wisconsin at (5) Stanford - winner to face (4) Florida
(11) Northern Illinois at (6) Oregon - winner to face (3) Kansas State
(10) Florida State at (7) Georgia - winner to face (2) Alabama
(9) Texas A&M at (8) LSU - winner to face (1) Notre Dame
Thanks to the Rose Bowl, we already know the first-round battle between Wisconsin and Stanford would be a good one. Could Johnny Manziel lead the Aggies into Death Valley and leave with a victory?
While all first-round games aren't created equal (Northern Illinois/Oregon would be a laugher) they would be good match-ups, and would only get better as the tournament progressed.
The powers-that-be claim a playoff doesn't exist because it would interfere with the academic schedule. It's certainly an argument, but I'll put it to rest. First-round games would take place during the weekend following Conference Championship Weekend (Dec. 8 for the 2012 season) with the quarterfinals taking place two weeks afterward (Dec. 22) to allow adequate time for final exams. Semifinal games would take place over New Year's Weekend, while the National Championship Game would remain in its current slot.
Two of the "core bowls," as have been discussed for the upcoming playoff model, would host semifinal games on a rotating basis, while the national title game would follow a similar rotation.
Would this model ever have a chance of becoming a reality? Of course not. It makes too much sense.
Friday, February 1, 2013
By the time Super Bowl XLVII kicks off at 5:29 p.m. local time, you'll have survived 13 days of insufferable pre-game coverage, and another seven more hours on Super Sunday.
I'm not going to cover the off-the-field storylines, because a) you've heard them ad nauseum for the past two weeks, and b) I want you to continue reading.
For the first time in a dozen years (wow ... it has been a long time) I am watching the biggest football game in the country with direct rooting interest. Normally, I find someone to root for, because it's always fun to have a dog in the race. This year, my dog is in the race. I'm equal parts excited and terrified.
Needless to say, I'll be a wreck by dinnertime Sunday. I may need a few adult beverages to calm the nerves.
For that reason, I will not be making an official pick for Sunday's big game. I can't make an unbiased pick. If I picked the Ravens, it'd be a pick made with emotion, and nothing else. If I took the Niners, I'd be doing it while not-so-secretly hoping I would reverse-jinx the Ravens to victory.
My brain hurts.
Let's get to the Super Bowl XLVII analysis.
Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore Ravens (13-6) v. San Francisco 49ers (13-4-1)
Another year, another improbable playoff run.
In each of the last two seasons, a team seeded fourth or worse has made the Super Bowl. Two years ago, it was the 10-6 Green Bay Packers. Last season, the 9-7 New York Giants made it to the big game. Baltimore looks to make it three victories in a row for the lower-seeded Super Bowl participant.
Colin Kaepernick beat out Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson as the dual-threat quarterback who actually took his team to the biggest of NFL games. Kaepernick torched Green Bay with his feet in the divisional round, then did it with his arm in Atlanta two weeks ago.
Something has to give in Sunday's big game. Neither one of these franchises have lost a Super Bowl. San Francisco will look to improve to 6-0 in the NFL Championship bout, while Baltimore looks for its second win in two chances.
The Case For Baltimore
The odds have been stacked against the Baltimore Ravens since the season ended.
Talking heads and analysts nationwide said the Ravens couldn't ride the emotional wave of Ray Lewis' retirement all the way to New Orleans. The Ravens were underdogs in Denver and New England, and they'll be so again Sunday night.
Maybe the Ravens wouldn't want it any other way. The greatest linebacker in NFL history will play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his final game. Ed Reed, who grew up just 20 minutes from New Orleans, will finally get a chance to play for the greatest prize in the league.
And, oh yeah: Joe Flacco has won the most road playoff games in NFL history. Those white jerseys resemble a certain type of armor for the AFC North champions.
The "Big Four" of Baltimore's defense - Lewis, Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata - didn't take the field together until the wildcard victory over Indianapolis. Maybe that's why Baltimore's aging defense has turned back the clock long enough to earn this trip to New Orleans.
The league's 17th-ranked defense has been the Ravens' defense of old since we turned the page on 2012. Ask Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady, or Stevan Ridley. It's fitting that Baltimore wears black and purple every Sunday, since that's how most of their opponents look after 60 minutes with the Ravens.
Sometimes, sports is more about the X's and O's. Is Ray Lewis destined to end his career in the same way John Elway and Jerome Bettis did?
The Case For San Francisco
Everyone with an opinion on sports questioned Jim Harbaugh when he benched incumbent starter Alex Smith, instead going with the unproven Colin Kaepernick.
Who looks foolish now?
Kaepernick and the Niners have run roughshod over the NFC's elite, knocking off Green Bay and Atlanta to get to New Orleans. Frank Gore has found a new level of effectiveness under the read-option scheme, and Michael Crabtree has emerged as an elite wide receiver.
San Francisco now has an offense to along with that phenomenal defense.
The Niners had six defensive starters named to the Pro Bowl this year. Six. Most teams didn't even have six Pro Bowlers in total. The defense is fast and physical. When the Niners' defense takes the field, they'll be led by no. 52 - his name is Patrick Willis, though, not Ray Lewis.
Maybe San Francisco has flown a little under the radar these past two weeks. With so much of the attention focused on the Harbaugh-versus-Harbaugh coaching match-up, the retirement of Ray Lewis, and the brashness of Terrell Suggs, the NFC champions haven't gotten the attention a team of their stature rightfully earned by hoisting the George Halas Trophy.
They'll have their opportunity to prove their worth this Sunday, though. Baltimore has slain giants on their way to New Orleans, but the Niners have been about as effective in taking down their opponents as anyone in the NFL these past three months. Will the Ravens be the final notch in the wildly impressive belt of Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers?
It's shaping up to be yet another great game for all the proverbial NFL marbles. Of course, I wouldn't mind a repeat of Baltimore's Super Bowl XXXV performance for the sake of my sanity, but I know both teams are too good, and too well-coached, for anything like that to happen.
Enjoy the game Sunday. I'll do my best to do the same, though it will admittedly be very tough.
Last week: 1-1
Final playoff record: 6-4
Final season record: 177-88-1
Fab Five last week: 1-1
Fab Five season record: 63-34
Saturday, January 19, 2013
In Sunday's first game, we'll be in store for one heck of an offensive showcase. Colin Kaepernick is dynamic, as is Matt Ryan and Atlanta's passing attack. In the nightcap, we'll see the AFC's latest inter-division rivalry, when Baltimore returns to New England in a rematch of last year's AFC title game.
If you remember when I said, "Let's see Round 2 in New Orleans this February," you'll know my Super Bowl pick before reading what follows. In a postseason filled with rematches, we may just be in store for one more in two weeks.
Let's get to the picks.
NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1) at Atlanta Falcons (14-3)
Line: San Francisco -4
Sunday's opening tilt will not be decided by home-field advantage. It's may be as simple as discovering which Niners team, and which Falcons team, show up to the Georgia Dome.
Will we see the 49ers team that ran roughshod over the Packers defense, or will it be the team that was thoroughly dominated in a 42-13 loss in Seattle less than a month ago?
On the other side, will it be the Falcons team that was beaten by Carolina and Tampa Bay, or will we see the resilient team that used a balanced attack to come back against one of the league's best defenses last week?
The masses seem to think the Niners will bring their A-game to Atlanta and earn a trip to New Orleans. Recent history seems to favor San Francisco as well: In the past 20 years, only five road teams have been favored in conference championship games. Only one - the 2009 Eagles - lost.
Atlanta has the blueprint on how to beat the Niners. They saw a mirror image of San Francisco last week. While Colin Kaepernick is a little more dynamic on the ground than Russell Wilson, the Falcons aren't foreign to the concept of stopping a dual-threat quarterback - they play Cam Newton and the Panthers twice a year.
That is where the key to the NFC Championship truly lies. The Falcons have consistently struggled against Newton, and Kaepernick is going to be a lot tougher to catch than Newton is.
I've said it time and again: When it comes to close match-ups like this one, I'll take the team with a better defense and a better running game. Advantage: San Francisco.
The Pick: San Francisco 27, Atlanta 24
AFC Championship - Baltimore Ravens (12-6) at New England Patriots (13-4)
Line: New England -9
For the second consecutive year, the Baltimore Ravens travel north to Foxborough to challenge the Patriots with the AFC Championship on the line.
This game features two teams who look very different than last year's counterparts.
New England has found offensive balance for the first time in recent memory. Stevan Ridley finished seventh in the league with 1,263 rushing yards, and Shane Vereen has been productive as well. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, capable of dropping a four-touchdown performance on any of the league's best defenses.
The long-awaited arrival of Joe Flacco may finally be upon the Ravens. Flacco was outstanding last weekend, outdueling Peyton Manning in an historic double-overtime victory over the Broncos. Ray Rice has once again become a focal point of Baltimore's offense, and with Flacco's potential emergence, the Ravens may have finally reached the lofty expectations they had of their talented, but struggling, offensive unit.
Flacco is the X-factor in this game. If the Ravens want to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years, they'll need Flacco to be as sharp as he was in Denver last weekend. They'll need a strong effort from Rice, and another opportunistic performance by a defensive unit playing with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata on the field together for just the second time all year.
Brady has struggled, at times, against the Ravens, and will need to be the quarterback most people expect him to be if the Patriots want to hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the second straight season. They'll certainly need Ridley to have a stellar performance to balance the attack, and in turn, keeping Baltimore's defense on its toes.
My heart says Baltimore wins this one, but I'm just a wee bit biased. I hope my head is wrong.
The Pick: New England 34, Baltimore 28
Last week: 2-2
Playoff record: 5-3
Season record: 176-87-1
Fab Five last week: 2-2
Fab Five season record: 62-33
Saturday, January 12, 2013
First and foremost, the NFL playoffs are anything but a foregone conclusion. Ask the 2011 Packers, who went 15-1 and promptly lost their first game of the postseason. Last year's Packers were just the most recent in a long line of teams to fall under the weight of January football.
If you ask anyone who gets paid to talk about these NFL playoff games, the AFC Championship is already written in stone: New England at Denver, in the latest iteration of the Brady-versus-Manning rivalry. My very loving relationship (said with tongue firmly planted in cheek) with the Entertainment Sports Programming Network hasn't improved after their talking heads decried Baltimore as having "no chance" of beating Denver Saturday afternoon. The same can be said about the Houston Texans' chances in New England, against the supposedly unstoppable Tom Brady.
The playoffs are all about match-ups, not necessarily what happened in the regular season. Those so-called "experts" seem to lose sight of that.
Someone is going to prove these "experts" wrong this weekend. Will it be a rookie in the NFC Championship Game? A legend returning to the AFC Championship Game? A franchise's first trip to their conference's title game?
Let's get to the picks.
Baltimore Ravens (11-6) at Denver Broncos (13-3)
Line: Denver -10
Something has to give.
Peyton Manning has won nine straight starts against Baltimore, and the Broncos have won their last 11 games. But Manning is 0-3 in playoff games when the game-time temperature is below 40 degrees. Saturday's high in Denver isn't expected to be much more than 20 degrees.
Can the Ravens continue Ray Lewis' farewell tour? That will depend on Joe Flacco, as it often does. Flacco is a surprising 6-4 in the playoffs in his career, and was one dropped pass away from leading Baltimore to the Super Bowl last season. He'll need to start faster on Saturday than he did in last weekend's wildcard victory over Indianapolis, though, if the Ravens want to return to the AFC Championship Game.
This weekend's first divisional playoff game will come down to the play at quarterback. When comparing Manning and Flacco, the advantage lies in the hands of the Broncos. Don't write the Ravens off (after all, an overwhelming home favorite has lost a divisional playoff game in each of the last seven years) but the guy with the Super Bowl ring has to be trusted more than the guy without one.
The Pick: Denver 30, Baltimore 27
Green Bay Packers (12-5) at San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1)
Line: San Francisco -3
For one of these two teams, their first opponent of the 2012 season will also be their last.
In a 30-22 victory in the season opener, San Francisco controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Frank Gore was a factor all day long, and the Niners pass rush prevented the big play.
They'll need a repeat performance to win again Saturday night.
The Packers are one of the league's hottest teams, winning 10 of their last 12 games. Aaron Rodgers has been at the top of his game, and the rest of the roster is finally getting healthy.
But this is a bad draw for Green Bay. Since the beginning of last month, I have said the one team the Packers want to avoid in the playoffs is San Francisco. If you're playing the Packers, you win by controlling the ground game and winning the battle against Green Bay's erratic offensive line.
That is exactly what San Francisco does best. Colin Kaepernick presents a challenge the Packers didn't face when Alex Smith started the season opener. Look for the Niners to use their safeties to prevent the deep ball, while forcing Rodgers to make decisions faster than he'd like.
The Pick: San Francisco 28, Green Bay 23
Seattle Seahawks (12-5) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
Line: Atlanta -2.5
The Falcons may be the first ever no. 1 seed that nobody believes in.
Most of the talk surrounding Sunday's divisional-round clash in the Georgia Dome surrounds Seattle, and super-rookie Russell Wilson. The Seahawks looked like a legitimate threat last weekend in Washington, scoring 24 unanswered points after falling down 14-0.
But don't underestimate the Falcons. Matt Ryan leads one of the league's most potent passing attacks, flanked by Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez. Atlanta can score points in a hurry, especially under the lights of the Georgia Dome.
Much like Green Bay's unfortunate draw against the Niners, the Falcons are in an unenviable position in facing the Seahawks. Few teams have defensive backs big enough to go toe-to-toe with Jones and White, but Seattle's "Legion of Boom" is built to do just that.
When your air attack is contested in that way, you must be able to run the football. Not only do the Falcons lack a potent rushing attack, but the Seahawks sport one of the league's best rush defenses in the league.
Unless Michael Turner can turn back the clock on Sunday, Matt Ryan will drop to 0-4 in his career in the postseason.
The Pick: Seattle 31, Atlanta 24
Houston Texans (13-4) at New England Patriots (12-4)
Line: New England -9.5
Another January, another playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Same old, same old.
This one brings in the Houston Texans, the same team that was 11-1 before the Patriots ran them out of New England, by way of a 42-14 drubbing.
Don't expect another blowout, but a similar result is likely. Houston's secondary has been abysmal as of late, and the Patriots can throw the ball downfield as good as anyone.
Forget the mystique of "The Hoodie" or Tom Brady. As I've said, it's all about match-ups this time of year. When your defensive weakness plays into the hands of your opponent's offensive strength, you're in a lot of trouble.
The Pick: New England 35, Houston 27
Last week: 3-1
Season record: 174-85-1
Fab Five last week: 3-1
Fab Five season record: 60-31