Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thoughts From Week 12

Steelers 3, Dolphins 0: The Swamp Bowl had to make for one of the ugliest games in NFL history. My favorite moment had to come in the third quarter when a punted ball stuck in the mud and the players just stared at it for a moment, in utter bewilderment. Amazingly the weather managed to be more entertaining than Ricky Williams brief and ill-fated comeback. That injury was perhaps the best thing that could've happened to Williams who now has a legitimate excuse not to play football. Now he can toke up to his heart's delight.

Patriots 31, Eagles 28: Who would've thought that the only team other than the Colts to put up a fight against the Patriots would be the Eagles? The Eagles had some favorable match-ups, especially in the secondary. If anyone could stay with Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth, it's Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. Wes Welker killed Philadelphia, but one has to think the Eagles would have won that game if they had a competent nickel back (sorry Joselio Hanson). Also working in their favor was the fact that the Eagles' biggest weakness (run defense) coincided with the Patriots' biggest weakness (rushing offense). That said, this was the perfect storm for the Patriots to lose a game and the Eagles fell just short. No one remaining on New England's schedule appears to have the right mix of players to follow the Eagles' blueprint.

Meanwhile, despite his three interceptions, does anyone doubt that the Eagles are better off with A.J. Feeley than Donovan McNabb? It's not because of McNabb as much as the way Andy Reid calls the game when McNabb starts. He gets the Eagles playing a pass-happy offense and seems to forget that Brian Westbrook is his best player. With Feeley in, as with Garcia last year, the Eagles run a more balanced attack and it is far more effective. McNabb will still start when he is fully healthy, but this game proved on national TV that the Eagles should go a different direction.

Chargers 32, Ravens 14: Despite another quiet game from LaDanian Tomlinson (at least by his standards), the Chargers dominated this one. When Philip Rivers isn't suffering from Philip Rivers disease (symptoms include the inability to perceive linebackers), he's a pretty good quarterback, though he got a lot of help from Antonio Gates on Sunday. More notable is the way that Baltimore's defense continues to get embarrassed. The Chargers have a good offense, but it's very clear that the Ravens D has lost several steps this year. Seeing as their offense was never much to speak of, Brian Billick has to be on his way out.

Bears 37, Broncos 34: WHY DO TEAMS KICK TO DEVIN HESTER?? Sorry, I know everyone's been asking that all year, but if I don't say it I won't be allowed to write sports anymore. Actually, I understand why teams kick to him. Punting the ball out of bounds and squibbing every kick off gives the Bears great field position and even Rex Grossman can find his way down the field on occasion. What I don't get is why teams don't just punt the ball really high. I understand it would still give the Bears good field position, but it's easier to control where the ball lands if you kick it high, than if you aim for the sideline. Plus, keeping the ball in the field of play makes a fumble all the more likely. Force Hester to fair catch it. Kick-offs are trickier, but there must be a way to slow him down. Maybe put a smaller and faster group of players on the kick-off team. At least change something up.

49ers 37, Cardinals 31: Impressive win by San Francisco, or at least an exciting one. If anyone was going to fumble in the end zone in overtime, it was going to be Kurt Warner. Who else could throw for nearly 500 yards and still lose to one of the worst teams in the league? But I think the real question is whether the 49ers can accumulate 37 points in the rest of the season. I don't like their odds.

Jaguars 36, Bills 14: No one takes the Jaguars too seriously, but they've been a very good team with David Garrard behind center. Garrard has yet to throw an interception and the tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew is as good as it gets. If their defense can improve and stay healthy, they could be very dangerous. Despite the Week 7 blowout, they have a legitimate chance to upset the Colts this week.

Saints 31, Panthers 6: The Panthers should be able to win their match-up with the 49ers. If nothing else, they've shown that they can beat equally terrible teams. Meanwhile, why isn't Reggie Bush involved in special teams? We know he's a capable return man and we also know he's an inept running back. He was out-gained by Pierre Thomas. Need I say more?

Vikings 41, Giants 17: Hard to believe the Giants have lost 2 of their last 3 and Eli Manning looked like Rex Grossman in a blowout loss to the Vikings. Oh wait, the Giants do this every year. Expect a loss to the Bears this week and a loss to the Eagles in Week 14 (provided McNabb isn't 100% yet. After Feeley nearly beat the Patriots, something tells me McNabb's injury will linger). In fact, would anyone be shocked if the Giants lost the rest of their games? The easiest match-up is Week 16 at Buffalo, and the Bills nearly beat the Cowboys at home earlier in the year. They won't go down easy.

Browns 27, Texans 17: Apparently the Browns have the look of a playoff team this year. Well that's great, but so did last year's Jets. That didn't translate into playoff success or a competitive team this season. Can't wait until the off-season when they have to choose between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.

Speaking of Quinn, I saw his Subway commercial for the first time this weekend. Loved it. The announcer says that Quinn will deliver Subway to a lucky fan every Sunday, to which Quinn responds "Wait, I'm kind of busy on Sundays." That's right, Brady. That clipboard won't hold itself.

Bengals 35, Titans 6: Well, I understand half of this score. The Bengals offense (Chad Johnson in particular) was due to have a monster game, as they hadn't scored 30 points since Week 7, but how did the Titans only muster 6 points? Granted, Vince Young is terrible, but how does Tennessee only rush for 61 yards when the Bengals don't have any linebackers?

Colts 31, Falcons 13: Finally, the Colts returned to their old selves. Peyton Manning couldn't stay that bad, even with all their injuries. Aside from this week's match-up versus Jacksonville, the Colts should have it easy the rest of the way. Can't we just fast-forward to the Patriots-Colts Super Bowl -- I mean AFC Championship Game?

Cowboys 34, Jets 3: Too bad the Jets couldn't carry over momentum from their upset of the Steelers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys should enjoy it while they can. Nothing's coming easy against the Packers next week. For that matter, the rest of the season is fairly tough for Dallas, as they also play Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington.

Packers 37, Lions 26: I really like Green Bay's chances against Dallas this week. Dallas' biggest weakness is their pass defense and the Packers can't run the ball anyway. Plus, Green Bay's impressive linebacker corps and their physical corners should be able to slow down Dallas' offense. I can't wait to watch -- oh wait, NFL Network. Well I can't wait to...read about it afterward.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Phillies Acquire Brad Lidge

The Phillies struck first in the Orlando GM meetings when they traded Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary, and Mike Costanzo to the Astros for Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett. It feels like the Phillies gave up a lot in this trade, as Costanzo was one of their top prospects (though that's not saying much with the Phillies' farm system) and Bourn looked very promising in limited playing time, but the trade should significantly upgrade the Phillies' pitching. Lidge has not been the same dominant closer ever since Albert Pujols took him deep in the 2005 NLCS, but in the second half of last year he seemed to settle down and looked a lot like his old self.

Even if Lidge never returns to his pre-Pujols form, he should be an improvement on Brett Myers. With Myers, it was feast or famine. Either he had his best stuff and he would dominate the opposition, or he would self-destruct. In the end, he posted a 2.87 ERA as a reliever and converted 21 saves in 24 chances, which is very respectable, but the Phillies badly needed starting pitching and this was the best way to acquire it. With Curt Schilling re-signing with the Red Sox, there is not likely to be anyone worthwhile available on the free agent market. If anything, the Phillies would have wound up overpaying for a mediocre pitcher, as they did with Adam Eaton last year. Lidge only has one year left on his contract, so if he does not work out as a closer, they can let him go after one season, send Myers back to the 'pen, and improve the rotation either with minor leaguers (perhaps Scott Mathieson will be ready) or through free agency (it can't be that bad two years in a row).

One thing to keep an eye on is whether Andy Pettitte becomes available. With Joe Torre out in New York, Pettitte could very well follow him out the door and he would be great fit for the Phillies. Their rotation would be Cole Hamels, Pettitte, Myers, Moyer, and Kendrick, which would potentially be among the best in the NL and if nothing else it would be a substantial upgrade from the likes of Eaton, Kyle Lohse, and J.D. Durbin. With the Phillies' offense, even a slight pitching upgrade, could be enough to put them over the edge and retake the NL East. The Phillies would probably have to overpay for Pettitte, but as his age it's hard to imagine him wanting a very long deal, so what's one year and $16 million if the Phillies believe it can buy them a pennant?