Friday, August 29, 2008

0 comments Gregg Easterbrook Speaks of Himself in Collective Third Person, Unnecessary Acronyms

Thought you could get away with copying my idea Easterbrook? Do an NFC Preview on the sly without BoB seeing it? BoB? Oh my God, now I'm doing it! Let's just end this introduction before I go mad. To preserve my sanity, I could not go through everything, I had to take regular breaks to take in pure oxygen from a tank to not go delirious. There's only so much sacrifice I'm willing to make for this blog.

Don't go here!

Raise your hand if you want cupcakes

Arizona: This team has one playoff victory in the past 61 seasons; Liechtenstein has more wins in that period. For reasons I do not pretend to know, every summer, football pundits suggest that the coming year will finally be the Cardinals' year. It's never going to be the Cardinals' year! Pundits saying nice things about the team this summer base their optimism on last season's 8-8 finish. But Arizona defeated only three teams that finished with winning records, while the Cactus Wrens managed to lose twice to hapless San Francisco. Receiver Anquan Boldin is demanding a new contract with star-sized numbers though he didn't post 1,000 receiving yards last season and has never had a 10-touchdown receiving season. Players who aren't that good demanding to be treated as stars is the sort of thing that happens to a terrible team. Plus, the Cards play in ridiculous uniforms that look like children's pajamas; they might as well have feetsies instead of cleats. Year in, year out, this club shows it has earned TMQ's nickname, the Arizona (CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN FOOTBALL-LIKE SUBSTANCE) Cardinals.

this is the level of analysis you can expect kids, Lichtenstein, childrens PJs, that's pretty much it. "TMQ" asked to preview Arizona's season - not good!

Mission accomplished Easterbrook.

The ultrafawning team bio of new Falcons head coach Mike Smith rivals the Broncos' team bio in which Mike Shanahan proclaimed himself "The Ultimate Leader" (see below). Smith "has always been a man with a plan." His coaching is "deeply rooted in certain basic tenets or a core of beliefs that drive him to succeed." According to the official Atlanta bio, Smith is tireless, a great communicator, a teacher, has passion, has an unbelievable work ethic and nobody has a better football mind. TMQ is still trying to figure out what this means...

Bob Dole knows what it means, Bob Dole, Bob Dole...Bob Dole...

It means they think he's a good coach Gregg, or should I say "TMQ". Have you changed your name to TMQ legally? Because no one else I can see writes this column. It's just you. Calling yourself TMQ at every opportunity is kind of childish isn't it? I bit self involved too right? You're not a brand man. And it doesn't sound cool. DMX? Maybe kind of cool. TMQ, not cool in the slightest.

The official bio further declares Smith has a "winning résumé." Considering the Atlanta roster, the coach may have to send his résumé into the game!

fucking love the self satisfied exclaimation point. Can just see him at his keyboard, laughing heartily, "Good One TMQ!". I hate you so much it hurts sometimes. The remainder of the Atlanta bit is about third rounder, there are three sentences on Michael Turner.

Carolina: Dear Panthers, the Eagles' front office thinks you will be awful this season. That's why Philadelphia traded its 2008 first-round choice to Carolina for the Cats' 2009 first-rounder and other selections. The trade made sense if you assume Carolina's 2009 first-round choice will come near the top of the draft; if the Panthers have a winning season and draft low in 2009, the Eagles will be losers in the transaction. Two-thirds of NFL teams have at least one No. 1 drafted quarterback. As Darin Gantt of The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C., has pointed out, Carolina is the sole NFL club without a drafted quarterback. Records note: Though the Cats have appeared in a Super Bowl, this club is underwater at 103-114 (including playoffs) since its inception.

this isn't analysis! Let's paraphrase - Carolina and Philadelphia made a really boring pretty insignificant trade. Some teams draft quarterbacks in the first round. Carolina did not. Doesn't have a drafted quarterback in fact. Their record in past seasons is not impressive. If you're only allocating half your column to football (an improvement, admittedly, over the initial effort of 11%) and some seven sentences for a "preview" at least pack it with relevant information.

Just after their Super Bowl appearance, the Bears unloaded running back Thomas Jones and canned defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

saying "canned" is disingenuous, Rivera was understandably looking for more money and a new contract, Chicago didn't want to give it to him so he left. I'm not saying it was the right decision, but he wasn't fired or anything.

Jones was shown the door so that Chicago could start Benson in 2007; the club had a bureaucratic stake in Benson because it expended a high first-round pick on him.

again, it makes it sound like they wanted the team to fail. Like this wasn't made for football related decisions. They thought Benson would be good, yes, they were wrong, but they thought the money spent on Jones could be better used elsewhere, at the time it was a reasonable, calculated risk. It wasn't to save face, it was to improve the team.

Last year, things came together for the Cowboys, who finished 13-3 before losing in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion. Dallas performed well, Terrell Owens remained calm, the stats were good, two No. 1 draft picks were added in April. Into this favorable picture we insert -- Adam Jones, who brings the same nutty flavor as Mr. Peanut. Jones was nothing but trouble in college at West Virginia and nothing but trouble in the pros at Tennessee, where he missed the 2007 season on suspension.

thanks for the scoop!

Between Tony Romo's celebrity dating rituals and Owens' genetic proclivity to self-destruct, you would think the last thing the Cowboys need is the kind of me-first locker room influence who can bring out the worst in teammates. Yet that's exactly what owner Jerry Jones brought in by trading for Adam Jones.

not mentioned - exceptionally talented cornerback. I daresay that factor was a little more relevant than the points raised here. Again, it's not that it's wrong, more that it clearly, wilfully doesn't tell the whole story and is a deceptive comment to make.

Plus, the owner signed the cornerback to a contract whose terms encourage selfish play. A bonus clause specifies that if Adam Jones intercepts at least seven passes in two of the next three seasons with Dallas, about $10 million will be added to the back end of his contract.

much like home runs in baseball, interceptions are the worst possible barometer for how good a defensive back is. Yes, I understand gambling for INT's isn't always wise, particulary with a poor cover safety in Roy Williams, but interceptions are good, not bad, right?

So what's going to happen? Jones may gamble for interceptions and not care if he gives up easy touchdowns; there's a bonus for interceptions, but no penalty clause for being burned deep. Contrast that to the contract cornerback Darrelle Revis signed as the Jets' first draft choice in 2007: that deal has all kinds of incentive clauses, but none for interceptions, because Eric Mangini wants Revis to be a team player. Indeed, Revis showed great fundamentals in his rookie season. Don't expect Jones to show fundamentals with the Cowboys -- expect him to gamble for interceptions to bring himself bonus money and personal attention.

even for someone as troubled and immature as Jones, this seems to be a pretty outrageous comment to make.

And now that he no longer wishes to be known as Pacman, TMQ will call the gentleman Adam "Pong" Jones. That's snappier than Adam "Missile Command" Jones -- Pacman, Pong and Missile Command being the initial arcade products of the video-game revolution.

yeah, we get it, thanks.

Detroit and most of the Packers is, SHOCKER, uninformative rambling, but then we have this;

Green Bay has lost three of its past five playoff games at Lambeau Field, which seems like saying Maria Sharapova has been turned down by three of the past five guys she asked out.

I read this, no joke, like seven times to try and get it. I think it means that Green Bay should never, ever lose at Lambeau field in the playoffs...which seems, in a set of five games, a pretty ridiculous thing to say. But then again, I'm guessing because the comparison is fucking terrible.

This next one is a doozy;

Minnesota: The Vikings are the darlings of NFL conventional wisdom -- with a great run defense and Adrian Peterson, they are being picked by almost everyone to push deep into the postseason. TMQ is not sold on Minnesota, however. This team lost 34-0 at Green Bay last season, and you can't hang that all on struggling quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

yeah, that game sucked. It was ONE game of sixteen man, ONE, against a 13-3 team...on the road. I think we can excuse that ONE performance.

Holding the inside track to a wild-card berth, the Vikings dropped their final two games last year, and you can't hang that all on struggling quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

well no, they choked and that's bad, sure, but they were 8-8. It's not like people were saying the Patriots are this "most likely to improve team". They are improved because they had flaws last year, if they didn't have flaws last year they wouldn't be being talked up. Yes, they lost games "TMQ", we all realise this.

Football is a team sport, and often last season the Vikings were not a particularly good team.

they lost as much as they won, everyone knows this, everyone.

Their big offseason addition was defensive end Jared Allen, who's talented but plays a selfish, my-stats-matter-more-than-winning style.

he had 15.5 sacks in fucking 14 games! TMQ's world - sacks bad, INT's bad, cheerleaders good. Got it. I bet you don't like Alex Rodriguez do you Easterbrook?

More importantly, the pair of deals means the Saints have mortgaged a chunk of their future for two players that the state of New Jersey did not wish to retain. Usually, when a team wants to get rid of a player, there's a reason.

of all the stupidity in this column, maybe this takes the cake. Most trades are bad, is the claim. Rasheed Wallace, Kevin Garnett, Randy Moss, Curt Schilling, Shaquille O'Neal (not the latest disaster for Phoenix, I mean the Miami one), a billion other examples of trades helping teams. These were all players that their teams did not want for various reasons, all turned out to be awesome swindles.

Wait, that one isn't even close to the next bit of lunacy.

Philadelphia: Five of the past six years, the Eagles' highest draft choice has been a lineman -- three defensive tackles, a defensive end and an offensive tackle. Add to that another defensive end chosen with the team's second of two second-round selections in 2007, and Andy Reid has gone line-heavy in a spectacular way. Reid's Eagles always have strong offensive stats, despite using few high draft choices on running backs and wide receivers.

49 sacks.

This follows TMQ's rule that football success is primarily determined by line play, away from the ball that the sportscasters are watching. For three seasons now, sports pundits have talked nonstop about Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, missing the line-play aspect of the Eagles' success.

they finished last in their division, last also in 2005.

Line play was the primary reason that, in 2007, Philadelphia was ranked sixth on offense and 10th on defense -- the NFL's only double top-10 team not to reach the playoffs.

49 sacks, 28 in 2006 (pretty good), 48 in 2005; rankings of 28th, 8th, 21st. That's right, fifth worst O-Line in the league last year. He had to have looked this up right? Come on. Is he fucking with us or what? Is this column all sarcastic? Like a sendup of itself? If so, bravo Mr.Easterbrook, I salute you, you are indeed a card!

The Rams, 15-28 since Mike Martz departed, are at the nadir of a talent cycle. Their Super Bowl players are either gone or aging. Brett Romberg, Quinton Culberson, O.J. Atogwe -- these are just a few of the household names expected to start for St. Louis this year.

Charlie Johnson, Gijon Robinson, Tyjuan Hagler -- these are just a few of the household names expected to start for Indianapolis this year.

Sean Mahan, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel -- these are just a few of the household names expected to start for Pittsburgh this year.

Will Heller, Brandon Mebane, Darryl Tapp -- these are just a few of the household names expected to start for Seattle this year.

This is fun! Try your own.

Alex Smith, the first overall draft pick of 2005, will hold the clipboard. TMQ can't help but think that if Smith had been chosen in the second round instead of at the top of the first, his career would be going a lot better.

based on what? What's that? Nothing. Oh. Business as usual then, much like your "the 49 sack Philly O-Line is awesome you guys!" call.

But the standard dismissive comment about the Hawks -- "they're just a system team" -- drives TMQ crazy. If so, why doesn't everybody adopt their system? Transplant the Pittsburgh Steelers or Carolina Panthers to the Emerald City, give them the same record and results over the past five years, and football pundits would yak nonstop about how great they were. Instead, the Seahawks barely even get mentioned.

what does this mean? Do you mean the Steelers/Carolina's records? They aren't that far off Seattle's btw, all went to Superbowls. In fact, I'd almost say these two teams are two of the closest to Seattle in terms of on field performance/track record. Definately above average, and usually consistantly so, but not by much. Oh, I think on like the fifth reading it's because Carolina/Pittsburgh are perenial that what he means? Should reading a sports column be this much fucking work? Pittsburgh aren't even sleepers at all generally. You literally are giving me a headache.

This isn't about sport (of course not, it's TMQ time!) but it's so laughable, I had to throw it in. Contains Dark Knight spoilers BTW

The latest Batman installment is a hit, and well-made from a cinematography standpoint, but the Joker character was unrealism carried to an extreme, even by Hollywood's low standards.

the dude in the batsuit, with access to state of the art militant weaponary, who is also a billionaire playboy who flies through the windows of buildings - apparently OK, but a guy who paints his face and kills people, hang on a minute here! Something smells funny about this!

The Joker has hundreds of obedient, superefficient henchmen, including surgeons and high-ranking police officers, who serve him without question -- even though they know he murders his own henchmen.

it's not hundreds at all, it's a few, and for most of the film, if Gregg paid any attention, The Joker has access to the entire criminal underworld's services, so they aren't actually his henchmen at all. He even tells one of the mobsters that his men work for him now, near the very end of the film, after they had been essentially contracted out to Joker for most of the film. I do kind of agree it's a bit weird they did it, knowing he'd kill them at the drop of the hat, but they were desperate, batman was fucking shit up and generally doing his batman like thing.

The Joker knows things no one could possibly know, such as what street the police van carrying Harvey Dent will turn down during a wild chase. (He has henchmen positioned on that street, one of dozens the van might have turned down). The Joker can get poison into the police commissioner's private office without anyone suspecting anything. City officials make a sudden decision to load several hundred people into ferries; in just a few hours, Joker is able to place thousands of pounds of explosives aboard the ferries without anyone noticing, plus rig devices to take over the ferries' engines. Joker is able to move thousands of pounds of explosives into Gotham General Hospital without anyone noticing. Positioning the explosives for the two giant-blast sequences in "The Dark Night" would have required large trucks and a front-loader carrying multiple heavy objects through places crawling with police officers without anyone noticing. Joker always knows exactly where everyone he wants to kill is in a huge city (how?)

let's leave aside the obvious point that Easterbrook would be just a huge downer to take to a movie, or any social function really, with this ridiculous hyperanalysis and just a buzzkill for the ages. He's just fucking wrong. Listen carefully Gregg, it's said in the movie several times. Harvey Dent can't fucking shut up about it in fact. It's a key plot point, it's WHY he goes on a killing spree at the end. The Joker also says it to the commissioner in the interrogation room, you know when he says "what about your men commissioner? Assuming they are still your men?". That's called an allusion. Let me spell it out.


Joker steals from the mob, yet no mob soldier simply shoots him

they threaten this explicitly when he first confronts him. You know? The black guy? There's also the guy he kills with the pencil thing? One of the films most famous scenes? No? Fell asleep Gregg? I probably would too if I had the dull internal monologue of "TMQ". Did you watch this film or read crib notes? You know that guy they kill? He put a BOUNTY on the Joker. They keep him alive because a) he threatens to blow them up with explosives in his jacket and b) they dislike him, but they need batman gone, and he's the one man who seems likely to accomplish that goal.

Joker has a bomb sneaked into the jail where he's being held -- somehow he knew in advance what cell he would be in! -- and it blasts open the jail wall, plus kills all the police officers standing around the Joker, but does not hurt him.

this, I grant you, was a bit weird, but I'm gonna let it go on account of general coolness, something you will never understand Gregg.

Washington: The Redskins were fast becoming the federal government of the NFL, with two people owning the title Associate Head Coach: Al Saunders and his 700-page playbook, and Gregg Williams and his ultracomplex defense. Maybe the Redskins should file Environmental Impact Statements for their plays!

Ugh, you suuuuuuck. Is this the biggest nerd in history? Honestly, he giggles at cheerleaders, makes up a psuedonym that no one else finds cool except him, refers to himself in the third person (like The Shermanator) and enthusiastically laughs at his own jokes about bureaucratic red tape such as "Environmental Impact Statements". 50/50 that he has a clubhouse.

Next Week: For seven years, the lead-up to my annual all-haiku predictions column...


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

0 comments Rick Reilly Makes a Good Point and Then Ruins It By Continuing to Type Words


Rick Reilly almost writes a good column. I was able to wade through the poor analogies, cheesy sentimentality and crappy 2nd grade references to read the column and not feel the need to post it. Then I read the end and decided it all irritated me after all.

How hard is it to write once a week, for only 600 words, and write a good column that is coherent and not incorrect? For Rick Reilly, it is really hard.

Mitch Jones is the biggest fish in the puddle, the fastest snail on the beach, the best understudy on Broadway. No active player has hit more home runs in the minor leagues—nearly 200 dingers—without getting a shot at the bigs.

Two things here: First, all of the analogies is overkill. To write the same analogy over and over shows either (a) a lack of good material to write about or (b) you are the type of writer who gets off on killing space. I will let you decide which, if not both, of these Reilly suffers from.

My question, and one Reilly is too busy getting sentimental to ask is this...What do his other numbers look like, outside of homeruns? Once you find this out, then you might have the reason he was not called up sooner.

Seriously, his numbers are pretty freaking good in the homerun and RBI department.

Then you see he struck out 131, 152, 174, and 145 times in four consecutive years. No big deal, strikeouts are the same as any other out, as long you get on base other ways, should not be a big deal. This is called the Adam Dunn Theory.

His OBP for those years was .338, .334, .347, and .318, so you see he was not exactly getting on base at an alarmingly good pace. He mostly played OF and 1B, so I would say he is a borderline major league player at best. It is wonderful to hit homeruns but when you hit below .250 you are not going to get noticed.

Nine years now, and not even an at-bat. These September call-ups could be his last chance. He's 30, and 30-year-olds get called up every other pyramid.

I find this sad, I really do. I personally think someone should have called him up at some point but maybe there is a long line of OF/1B who can hit homeruns that don't strikeout and get on base?

"Gets called up every other pyramid?" Is that really the best you can do? You can't just write, 30 year olds don't get called up very frequently, followed by a quote from a front office executive somewhere, and actually make it sound like you are a professional writer.

Why didn't he make it? Because he was dumb enough to start his career at the exact wrong time in baseball history: during the Pharmacy Era, when old guys got young with syringes and injured guys got well with shipments from Mexico.

I have never heard it called the Pharmacy Era...that is not catchy so we will never call it that again. He played in the Yankees farm system, so it was not a good time to be in the Yankee farm system either, because they were spending $450 million on free agents per year. Rather than a generalization that this was the steroid era and attribute it solely to that, maybe acknowledge the Yankee roster is a tough one to crack and that this fact could have something to do with it.

I think minor league players like Jones should file a class action, restraint of trade lawsuit against Major League Baseball because they sat stewing in the minors while big leaguers were allowed to cheat.

I hope this is a joke. There are so many reasons this would fail. Namely the fact the players in said class action suit would have to prove they were denied an opportunity because the 24th and 25th man on the roster was using steroids that increased their performance to where they were better than the class action players and the only reason the major league kept the steroided bench players in the majors was because they had incredible skills (aided by steroids) and did not have to do with a certain bench player being out of options or any other silly baseball reason.

I could list 100 other reasons and couch it in terms Reilly is not familiar with, such as the rules of free agency and minor league contract terms, but I don't want to confuse him. It's easier for him to take a 3rd grade, "this is unfair" approach.

Take Shawn Garrett of the Tacoma Rainiers, who, at 29, has played the most games (more than 1,200 since 1998) without being called up. He's had to participate in four cow-milking contests on the field. He's had to wear Hawaiian Night jerseys, camo jerseys, pink jerseys and tie-dye jerseys. He's a lifetime .290 hitter and never had day one in the majors.

That is interesting, I wonder what Reilly's reasoning is for this.

Yeah, steroids.

I did some super-secret research that may help us figure this mystery out. Check out Shawn's statistics and take out the small sample size .371 that he has never even come close to reaching since then.

During the "Pharmacy Era," which I am going to go ahead and assume is 1998-2005, he played for San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Colorado. If anyone can name one player on each of those teams that has been even suspected of using steroids, then you win a box of Cheez-Its. There was some other unfair reason why he was not called up potentially, but the reason was not steroids for those three teams during that time period.

Let's be honest, it may be a reflection of those team's inability to identify talent or the fact Shawn Garrett had Juan Pierre-esque power. It could have been a Scientology related reason where the team was afraid he was the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard and did not want him on the major league roster due to this irrational fear. This is likely more likely than a person on those three teams were blocking him due to that player being steroided up.

The whole point Reilly and many other who dare to discuss steroids has missed is that if any of these players were called up, it would most likely not be to start, it would to be on the bench and pinch hit when needed. So the star players, who were on steroids, are not the problem, it is the bench players a call up would replace on a major league team who players like Mitch Jones would replace.

This may seem like a "chicken or the egg" argument but it is really not. Some of the players accused of using steroids were better than 90% of the league without the steroids.

Oriole David Segui told his GM that he wanted to go to Florida to pick up juice, and the GM never reported it. A Twins visiting clubhouse attendant found a used syringe and told manager Tom Kelly, who never reported it.

Wasn't this all covered nearly a year ago? Baseball turned a blind eye because they were prospering from it and there were probably other players who were using so they did not want to open Pandora's Box. This is wrong, but just because a visiting clubhouse attendant found a used syringe does not mean that is the exact reason Shawn Garrett or Mitch Jones have never played in the major leagues.

Jones played in the Yankees' farm system from 2000 to 2006 as a corner outfielder and first baseman. He hit 39 HRs in a season, and nobody in the Bronx even blinked. That's because the Yankees had Jason Giambi at first and Gary Sheffield in right. And guess who were both cited in the Mitchell Report? Giambi and Sheffield.

I am as anti-steroid as everyone else in the free world, but Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield were exceptional ball players before they took steroids and are exceptional ball players after they took steroids. Their steroid use did not propel them to being the players they were, they were good before the steroids. The steroids did propel them to putting up exceptional numbers though but I really doubt Mitch Jones would have matched these numbers.

I would go out on a limb over the Grand Canyon and say the presence of Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams in the outfield also had something to do with Micah Jones not being called up.

Rick Reilly is the master of hyperbole and trying to use an emotional viewpoint to get his point across. I am devoid of emotion so this is useless on me. You can not tell me Jason Giambi, Mitch Jones and Gary Sheffield, are on an equal playing field regarding baseball talent when all three are not on steroids. This is wrong.

"Man, I look at what those guys make," says Jones, who's never driven anything nicer than a Toyota pickup, "and I think, That could've been me."

(vein popping out of forehead) They were better than you before they used steroids! Blame the 24th/25th man on the roster who you would have actually replaced. People like Shane Spencer, Luis Sojo, and Enrique Wilson, not players who were All Stars before they took illegal drugs.

What happened to Jones on May 19, 2006, alone ought to be worth a few mil in punitive damages. He was in Richmond when the Yankees called him up, emergency style. He raced to the airport, flew to LaGuardia, got in a cab, had to talk his way into Yankee Stadium, picked up his uniform, called his dad to tell him ("I'd always dreamed of the day I'd make that call," Jones says), sat next to Sheffield in the dugout (oh, irony!) and … never got into the game.

I guess Reilly was not joking about the lawsuit. I have never been really excited for something and then been let down. Mitch Jones has to have been the first person in the history of the world to get this feeling. I am glad Rick Reilly was here to document this significant historical moment.

This is how being a marginal baseball prospect works. If you can't deal with it, leave the game and sell patio furniture by the side of the road out of the back of your Toyota pickup.

Afterward, Joe Torre called him into his office and said, "Man, I hate to do this to you, but we're sending you back down." Jones was, naturally, crushed.

I would be very disappointed also and it seems like Joe Torre did not like to make this decision. Also he was sent down for a pitcher named Colter Bean. That is just embarrassing.

Now Jones is in the Dodger organization, and guess who's the Dodger manager? Torre.
Hey, Joe, call him up right now, and we'll ask the lawyers to go easy on you during the cross.

First off, it was not Joe Torre's fault Jones was sent down, only a moron would not know that Brian Cashman or someone else made that decision. Second off, I know Rick Reilly is being funny but do the Dodgers really need another OF?

This column started well but blaming steroids for the reason these two players were not called up is blatantly incorrect. It is not the star players on steroids who prevented them from playing in the major leagues, it was the bench players who would have gotten sent down instead.

All I ask in my human interest stories is to not let facts get run over by the need to get everyone emotional about the situation. Reilly stinks at this.

Monday, August 25, 2008

3 comments We're Not Sinking, That Was Not An Iceberg, and We Have Plenty of Lifeboats...Look! Something Shiny!

I hate Jay Mariotti and other writers who just rip into teams/managers for no apparent reason. It seems bitter and angry to just tear into a team/manager based on a personel vendetta. There is a flip side to this though. Unbridled enthusiasm from a should-be neutral columnist that takes a negative and tries to make it positive or goes to old, "at least we still play hard" excuse. Jeff Schultz, blind us with bullshit first please.

Given that the line between sports and accounting blurred years ago, the Braves could be excused if they viewed this off-season much like Ms. Peebles in bookkeeping. Never mind the names, the Q-scores or the legacies of exiting players. How fat are the paychecks?

I am not googling this reference but I am assuming it has nothing to do with baseball and should be exorcised from this column. The Braves have made horrible personnel moves in the past and now they are all coming off the books! Get me 45 virgins and 45 bottles of wine for every man! They can't run a team efficiently and now they have more money to screw it up. Giddy up bitches, we are headed away on the wagon of stupidity!

Make way. The Braves are about to head somewhere they haven’t really been in years. The mall.

The postseason? The World Series? Headed towards respectability?

It is now a good thing the Braves have free agents that either:

1. are horrible at the game of baseball

2. are too old for the game of baseball

3. are too old and injured to play the game of baseball

If the object of the sport were to accumulate as many contracts as possible for players who are 5 years past their prime, then the Braves have won the World Series.

“It’s a situation we relish, and we’re looking at this off season with great enthusiasm,” said Braves chairman Terry McGuirk.

The front office has proven themselves to be horrible personnel decision makers and are glad they get a chance to change the players on the roster in the off season due to their inability to put together a good team.

Hello, C.C. Sabathia or Ben Sheets?

Goodbye money and common sense? Ben Sheets is an injury machine and will want too much money. I say no, which means they will say yes.

No more plugging holes with slight irregulars or Corky Millers.

Now they can plug one of the eight holes they have with a player who costs $20 million per year. This makes perfectly no sense.

Also, nobody forced them to play Corky Miller or even sign Corky Miller and they did it anyway. What makes you think they are going to not overpay for someone who is even shittier?

When asked if that meant the Braves were free to balloon the payroll to $200 million, McGuirk said: “I have some sense of what would be the right thing to do. I’m not going to do something stupid.”

Quick summation:

Signing a 34 year old coming off back surgery is smart.

Signing a 41 year old pitcher for $8 million is smart.

Counting on a 40 year old pitcher with an injury history is smart.

Having Corky Miller be your back up catcher is smart.

Signing Ben Sheets who has never had 30 starts in a year is smart.

Ballooning the payroll is stupid.

I would agree, but I am not sure we can all agree they are not going to do something stupid with all of this money they have. This from the same team that once traded for J.D. Drew intentionally.

I think everyone who even cares a little about the Braves should worry a little bit. Except Jeff Schultz, he is positive they know what they are doing, even though there is no track history to support this over the past 5 years.

So began the slashing. A perfect storm of broken down bodies and expiring contracts has killed the season but plowed the field.

It is actually good news the whole team is injured and horrible this year, it means we don't have the same players next year! Awesome!

McGuirk calls it “the first time we’ve really had the chance to have a rebuilding effort.”

Remember when the Braves trotted out Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz on consecutive days? That sucked, now the Braves get to start over, that is way more exciting! So what if your house burnt down? Now you get to build a whole new house!

Tons of money to spend on free agency is not the solution to a broken team, smart personnel decisions is the key. That has not happened in Atlanta in five years.

What flavor Bobby Cox brand Kool Aid is Terence Moore drinking?

Terence Moore is just happy there is still hustle in the team. Which is pathetic, if I do say so myself. You can tell a team is really bad when someone writes the obligatory, "at least they are still playing hard" column. That is rock bottom.

The Braves haven’t stopped losing, but you know what? They also haven’t stopped hustling.

Unfortunately the entire point of the game of baseball is to win and not lose. Hey, hustling is great though, just combine that with winning, and it sounds really good...which the Braves have not done.

Then Glavine added, “To be honest with you, they should be playing hard.”

They should also attempt to win a ball game. You don't get runs in a game for just playing really, really hard.

Yeah, but it’s like this: Sometimes, with 162 baseball games stretching forever, the hustling vanishes. The Philadelphia Phillies are winning, and it happened to them, when reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins was benched for failing to sprint to first base on a dropped pop fly.

What an asshole! So the Braves should feel lucky the team is still playing hard, even though it is not reflected in the team's record, while the Phillies should drink cyanide because one player failed to run out a pop fly, but they are winning. I would rather have a team full of base clogging fat ass players who never hustle but are .5 games out of the wild card spot, than a team far below .500 that runs around the bases on pop flies like they are being chased by the cops.

Call me crazy on this but it is just how I feel. I enjoy winning, no matter how the team looks doing it. If winning was heroin, I would always have an open vein for it.

The Tampa Bay Rays are winning, and it happened to them. The gifted B.J. Upton was benched for loafing on a double-play grounder.

What a lazy piece of shit. Now I am embarrassed for the Rays and I bet they are embarrassed as well. I called the Rays and B.J. Upton to see how they felt about this, but was told by a secretary with a husky voice named Claire they have the best record in baseball and hustle doesn't matter much if you are winning baseball games. Claire was such a bitch.

Such issues haven’t happened to the otherwise imploding Braves, owners of one winning month this season.

Thank God the only issue the Braves have had this year is their ability to win baseball games and put a winning team on the field. I am sure the fans feel really great knowing all the players are running out the weak pop flies they hit and are trying to break up all the double plays they are hitting into.

Since when was mediocrity accepted and encouraged by a major league team? Have some pride.

They’ve had other issues, though.

You must mean the hitting, pitching, and bullpen issues that has prevented them from winning games? The manager's inability to make effective changes to the lineup that resulted in Greg Norton hitting cleanup? You could also be speaking of the front office's inability to identify and draft young players so the team is forced to trade current prospects for expensive free agents to be that has not only depleted the farm system but also caused Casey Kotchman to be a centerpiece of a major trade.

(Kotchman is on bereavement leave right now. There is no word if it is a family member or his baseball career that has died.)

The issues could also be the Braves consistently count on Mike Hampton to pitch well and had not taken any steps to work on Jeff Franceour's swing until it became a major problem.

After left fielder Omar Infante caught a line drive on Monday in the first inning, he trotted toward the Braves’ dugout. It was the second out of the inning, not the third, which is why the Giants’ Dave Roberts tagged up from third base and scored without a throw.

I guess the issue he is talking about is the basic inability for the players on the team to understand the rules of baseball and stay focused on the field. I am sure Infante hustled to the dugout though, so all is forgiven! Take a couple laps Omar---wait, you love to hustle so you would love to do that. Your punishment is you have to help your team win a game or two. That will show you.

Regardless of whether the team loses constantly, don't know the rules of baseball, nor can they make any good personnel decisions, regardless of all that, Terence Moore is just happy the team is hustling.

Infante’s gaffe was more a lack of focus than of effort.

Both leading to the same result...the team loses, so there is no difference if it was a lack of effort, focus or poor bladder control that caused him to have to leave the field at that moment. Either way, Dave Roberts scored a run and here is the doesn't fucking matter why or how he scored, but the fact is he scored a run. Let's get back to basics here. Hustling, dancing, and doing somersaults in the outfield do not matter if you and your team stinks. Quit drinking the Bobby Cox Kool Aid and get into the real world.

The ongoing show for the Braves is wretched. As a result, much less than the announced crowd of 18,113 came to Monday’s finale against the Giants,

Attendance is going down and the team stinks? Sounds like you need to up that payroll as soon as possible because it makes perfect "business sense." Mr. Moore go to the cubicle next door and speak with Mr. Schultz, you may want to speak to each other about how when revenues are going down, it does not make sense to spend more money.

Of course then you would have to think for yourself and that is not quite as much fun as just quoting someone in the front office about how things are going to get better.

but that’s more folks than the Braves of the late 1980s often attracted at home during an entire week. Glavine remembers, because he was there, when the Braves were destined to lose 100 games before the first pitch of each of those seasons.

Explain to me, Terence with one "R" Moore, how the hell this is a good thing to compare the present situation to the most losingest point in the history of the franchise.

(Patient) "Three of my four arteries are clogged aren't they doc? Will I ever get the movement back in my left arm?"

(Doctor) "Probably not, but remember in 1990 when you had quadruple bypass surgery? Wow! You were really clogged then, this time it is only three arteries, so this should not be bad at all to fix."

(Patient) "What about my left arm paralysis?"

(Doctor leaves room walking backwards saying words of encouragement about the patient only having three arteries clogged)

Any comparison between the Braves of then and now? “No, because with those teams, we were so bad that there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” Glavine said. “I think with this team, you look and go, ‘Oh, man.’

"Oh man, this team is bad and I am glad I am not going to be here next year to suffer through all of this misery?"

You get a couple of guys here and there healthy, and they’re back next year. And if you make a splash or two with a free agent or even a trade — I mean, this team has a chance of being right back in the thick of things next year.”

The problem is this. What if these new guys don't hustle? Then the Braves would just be a team that won ball games and what good is that really?

First, the Braves have to get through this year, and that’s the problem.

They are still hustling though! The problem is not getting through this year, the problem is a lack of good baseball players chosen to be on the team, and whether they hustle or not, new ball players are not guaranteed to be any better.

3 comments Fuck you Michael Phelps

Seems to be the "in" thing after these Olympics, to downplay what Michael Phelps has done. Some people have mentioned that a track athelete would have to win like, the long jump as well as every possible racing thing to equal eight medals. That the eight medals is as much about opportunity as anything, that Phelps has done something very similar each time. I have some time for these stories, but much of it seems to be unnecessarily contrarian and just raining on the world's parade.

Some have taken the form of comparison, especally with uber-sprinter Usain Bolt, who was pretty amazing, I never ever thought I'd see Michael Johnson's record beaten, truly. I'm more or less fine with this, albeit riddled with the absurdities of comparing sprinting to swimming. After all, both are amazing, both beat world records, both are, statistically speaking, undoubtedly the best at what they do. We're lucky.

I don't have an easy segueway to this, by Mike Freeman. It's just the definition of wrong.

Redeemers Better Story than Phelps

The basketball gold medal game was stunning, the officials absolutely awful but in the end the Redeem Team lived up to its name.

It wasn't their best night. The Americans at times played defense with the intensity of a Sunday afternoon jogger.

fine, although for all their lauded expertise, it's amazing how lazy and boring sports writers metaphors are. You'd think for all the practice they get they'd be as proficient at them as a bug is in winter.

That's why I am humble blogger.

Maybe not so humble.

...overall in these Olympics the Americans were spectacular, particularly Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

fuck you Dwayne Wade (27 points, 4 steals in the gold medal game). Seriously, Wade led the team in scoring throughout, I think he ended up in the low twenties despite coming off the bench, including many spectacular plays. If you are going to single anyone out (and I kind of think the whole point of this has been not to do that Mike), he would without question be the story - Wade is back!

They enabled you to root for USA basketball again, they rebuilt our image, and they mostly handled themselves with class and dignity. If you can't be proud of what they did -- and the women as well -- then you're more cynical than I am. Which is impossible.

how dare you even hypothetically suggest it! Fuckers.

While these Olympics will be remembered for Michael Phelps what the basketball team did was far more impressive. Yes. Far more.

it's just not at all. The American basketball team clearly has the greatest pool of players to draw on, the best coaching, facilities, largest population of the major contenders, so on and so forth. Phelps enjoyed some of these advantages too, but he was competing against other Americans, and he was in an individual sport. Ugh, first Tiger Woods not retiring because of Brett Favre and now US basketballers eclipsing US swimmers. At the end of the day, Phelps swam in seventeen races in like eight days, broke six world records, I don't really think if I flew to the moon in a box with "SPACESHIP" written on the side and touched back down safely, with evidece of extra-terrestrial life, it would be more impressive. Let alone far more. No, that emphasis wasn't arbitary, he meant it.

The reason why is pressure. If Phelps had earned five gold medals instead of eight he wouldn't have been called a failure.

that's opportunity not pressure. I admit he's in more events, so it's harder for him to fail as abjectly as the basketball team could have, but to suggest Phelps was under less pressure is totally unfair. As much as I trust your "pressure meter", I think Phelps being the great hope for the US medal charge (he one one in every eight gold the states won) comes along with a ton of pressure. *sigh* Can't we just say being an Olympic athelete is very impressive? Do we have to downplay the achievements of these men and women? Do we have to be douches about it? According to Mike Freeman, yes we do.

If the United States won a silver or bronze the players would've been treated like total losers. They'd be called embarrassing. Media and fans would be screaming for massive changes.

their lives would be totally over you guys! OMG they'd be so devastated, they'd never be able to show their faces around the cafeteria again. They'd be pelted with tomatoes. Put in the stocks. Be despised, outlaws, chased from county to county with pitchforks.

Give me a fucking break. It'd be a dissapointment, just like Phelps losing, and he had eight opportunities to fail, don't forget.

The world and many people in this country waited for the Redeemers to fail so everyone could wag their fingers and portray the Americans as street ballers incapable of playing the precision International game.
no one was saying that that I heard. Some, maybe even many, were hoping the US would fail because it's way more interesting if they look human, and it's generally more fun and a better story (that's right, this was supposed to be the best story) if the underdog wins. Redemption, yes, but they were still massive favourites.

You don't think the Americans knew this? You don't think they felt this pressure and it didn't weight on their chests like Shaquille O'Neal's backside?


Phelps had only Mark Spitz to worry about.

...b-but what about the athetes that were trying to beat him? There were like a hundred. And seven others each time. Are we going to disrespect them too? Why not huh? It's not like winning swimming medals is hard or anything right?

The basketball team was fighting the failures of the recent past as well as our cynicism.It's late on the East Coast and the game just ended. My eyes are barely open but I'm nevertheless giddy. Actually, I'll say it, as corny as it sounds, I'm proud as hell.

it's not corny, it's fine, it's one of the things the Olympics are for. I have no problem with your being corny, I have a problem with you disrespecting one of the greatest athletes of our time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

4 comments Non Favre Conference Preview

Before you check this out, check out Ben's awesome AFC peek.

I have to say this before I begin, I want it on record - Oakland, 11-5 this year, they are my super sleeper. I don't really have one here so I need that out there for bragging rights. It'll be all mysterious and shit now as to why because I have NFC stuff to talk about.

OK, so I haven't gone to the trouble of measuring these predicted records out, as we know I will be wrong in 90% of cases and it's just a ballpark figure. A barometer if you will, of how these teams will perform.

NFC EAST (vs AFC North, vs NFC West)

Dallas Cowboys

Last year: 13-3, general feeling of warm and fuzzy Romo-ness before being flummoxed by a pedestrian Giants secondary in a generally unacceptable performance. Dallas also choked to the tune of 11 stupid penalties. It was their sixth straight postseason loss. It was the first time an NFC #1 seed had lost its first game since 1990 and completed a 1-3 record in the teams final four games, a span where they averaged 12.3ppg. However, sports is littered with teams who performed the "year after the year" and the Cowboys have retooled and look, on paper, even more dominant in the NFC.

Changes: RB Julius Jones has been banished to Seattle after RB Marion Barber finished with team leading rushing yards in seven of the teams last eight games (including a season high 129 yards in the lone playoff appearance) and it's hard to see that making much of a difference in the running game. Barber is a beast with relatively fresh legs running behind a monster sized offensive line. The Dallas offense is likely to be more lateral this year and maybe more creative too - Barber is far more versatile than Jones and getting him more touches can only be positive. After all, Romo is as unsackable and mobile as they come, although Dallas' receiving talent is not as deep as previous seasons - the last eight games of last year, WR Terrell Owens and TE Jason Witten grabbed 61% of passes thrown by Romo.

Elsewhere, the defense has been bulked up by the savvy, veteran presence of MLB Zach Thomas and the not savvy, idiot presence of CB Pacman Jones. It gives the team an amazing defense on paper that is probably the most talented in the entire NFL. Last year the unit underachieved and never got settled, particulary in the secondary with nagging injuries to star CB Terence Newman making him only an occasional starter. It's a secondary no one will enjoy throwing into, and will allow SS Roy Williams to play nice and close to the line and OLB DeMarcus Ware full license to be the total maniac he is rushing at QB's (#2 in the NFC last season). This team probably overachieved in offense last year, and regressed rather dramatically at just the wrong time, but the defense has the ability to be overwhelming, especially against the pass.

Schedule: This is not an easy schedule, as one would predict from a first place finishing team, but it does finish well, with four of the last six at home, only two divisional games and what should be walk up wins against San Fran, Baltimore and possibly even Seattle, all at home. The relatively tough first half also has a three game window which throws Cincy and road games against Arizona and St.Louis. All seems eminantly winnable.

Prediction: 12-4, it does seem to be a high mark, this doesn't look to be a thirteen or fourteen win team. Dallas has alternated between being laughably overrated and almost weirdly taken for granted (last year...reminded me of how Indy are perceived most seasons, as yawn inducingly predictable). Wade Phillips' "aw schucks, I'm not a fancy big city lawyer" demeanour does worry me a little bit, as does the prospect of Pacman being suspended, out of shape or totally fucking insane, and Newman being useless after the injury, but at the end of the day there is a lot, a lot of talent on this team, they should be the best in the NFC once more.

Washington Redskins

Last year: The ethnic slurs went 9-7 last year, and Sean Taylor incidents notwithstanding, had to consider the season a pleasant surprise. QB Jason Campbell was solid in all aspects and posted 300+ yard games in Dallas and Tampa in a very impressive display before his season ending injury. Washington were close to dominating at the end of last season, beating playoff hopefuls Minnesota and the Giants and Dallas all by eleven points or more, all without Campbell and twice on the road. RB Clinton Portis struggled visibly behind an injury riddled line and posted his worst YPC since 2004, something mirrored in alternate back RB Ladell Betts' numbers. Throwing in the tragedy of Sean Taylor and it is easy to see things going a lot better in 2008.

Changes: Eddy Curry hopeful WR Brandon Lloyd was given his walking papers, and DE Jason Taylor and OG Pete Kendall come in to beef up both lines substantially. The offensive line in general has a lot more depth this year with OT Jason Fabini coming in and with OG Samuels and run blocking specialist OT Jansen healthy, roaring and ready to fire, the running game, which needs to be the staple of the offense, should return to form. I believe in Jason Campbell, he seems very well rounded, plays within himself and is a good decision maker for the experience he has, his style of play should suit this team perfectly. The addition of Taylor strengthens an improved pass rushing team. Washington were dead last in sacks two years ago and improved to 16th last year. Taylor may be old, but he can only help. A good pass rush, and another year in the offense for do-it-all MLB London Baker-Fletcher and SS LaRon Landry should make this defense on the brink of elite. A good running game and game changing defense can take you far in the NFC.

Schedule: If they can survive through October 5 at say, 3-2 or even 2-3, the team should be very well placed to make a playoff run. After that time, their road dates are at Detroit, Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco, teams that went 34-45 last season, all but Seattle seem very much there for the taking. If they can survive the opening five game gauntlet at 2-3, they have games at home against St.Louis and Cleveland to recover before they go to the bye and have a chance to catch their breath. If they can enter the bye at 6-6, this team is going to the playoffs.

Prediction: 10-6. It was a minor miracle the 'Skins won 9 games last year, considering three of the four conference finalists were on their schedule as well as Tampa and Arizona, two of the significant improvers last year, literally all of their wideouts decided they didn't care (Jesus, how many WR busts can one team go through?) - WR Shaun McDonald had 150 more receiving yards than WR Santana Moss, and he started as Detroit's fourth option and yeah, their best player was fucking killed. By the way, Santana Moss had three, count them, three, touchdowns last year, and he just is a way better player than that. Jason Campbell will be better, Clinton Portis, completely free of injury this time also - better. Schedule is easier, O-Line is deeper and healthier, division is weaker. Did you know, aside from the Patriot's game, Washington did not lose by more than eight points all season? Did you know they were 4-4 on the road despite playing four division winners and the Superbowl champs away from Washington? Did you know they were awesome? Well now you do.

New York Giants

Last year: The very definition of aberration, the G-Men took out the Superbowl, if you didn't notice. Going 10-6 into the playoffs, New York knocked off Tampa, Dallas, Green Bay and New England by a combined twenty points saving the sporting world from the unholy trinity of the Celts, Pats and Sox that would have nasal accents to roar so loudly, they would burst the eardrums of all humanity. New York did it with the greatest collection of smoke, mirrors, duct tape and band aids ever seen, with starting CB's of a combined 65 years, a QB who was harrassed and abused to the point of complete paralysis, a #1 wide receiver with a broken ankle, the worst TD year from their All-Pro TE in four years and a collection of three RB, castoffs them all. I think RB Brandon Jacobs centre of gravity is just below his chin actually. Anyway, the win had Giants fans disingenuously claiming "well, the Pats may have been a chance if they had Justin Tuck". Mmm...quite.

Changes: No DE Michael Strahan chewing with his mouth open and both disgusting and intimidating reporters. Oh yes, this is a face for television. Kind of a big deal for a team who's only significant player in the back seven is MLB Antonio Pierce. It's a miracle the Giants won the Superbowl on the strength of a pure pass rush, and nothing more. The Giants were actually in the bottom half (#17) of the NFL in scoring defense and despite the rush only 11th in passing defense. In fact, if you take it by YPA, they dropped to 18th. For all the talk of how strong New York was in the "engine room", they were 25th in the NFL in the often worshipped stat of give/takeaways with a hideous -9. They could neither protect their QB from bad decisions, nor force nearly as many from opponents as one might have thought. Frankly, the Giants were lucky to be even in the playoffs, due to a chokarama from Minny losing their last two games when the spot seemed all but theirs. Minus a pass rusher, the only surefire aspect of their entire team, and with SS Sammy Knight their only "significant" addition (making their secondary, already bad, just a bunch of cranky old men), it is hard to see the Giants getting better.

Oh, and they lost arguably the best receiving TE not in San Diego.

Schedule: The first three games are big, Washington and the Bengals and a game in the dome at St.Louis, all seem winnable. The Washington opener (and also an NFL season opener) holds disproportionate importance (try saying that five times fast). An early November burst sees them visiting Pennsylvania twice and Dallas on their home field, which will be tough, but this is a very workable schedule, but they do play the final thirteen games in a row. There will be no excuses here.

Prediction: 7-9 and could be worse. There is essentially no room for improvement and you can just see the articles if New York comes out 1-2 in the easiest section of their schedule, QB Eli Manning's masculinity will again be called into question, Michael Strahan and Tiki Barber will be experiencing a level of schadenfraude most of us can only fantasise about one day experiencing and WR Plaxico Burress will just collapse from sheer exhaustion. A word on Burress - that was an amazing display last year, playing on an essentially broken ankle and fighting through was gusty as fuck. I saw him make so many huge catches last year. It's total anecdotalness that we normally make fun of here, but I thought he was the MVP of the NFC last year, he was truly amazing, without him, they were a 6 win team, no fooling. Anyway, I can't see him lasting this year, I can't see the names of Jacobs, Ward and Droughns scaring anyone, I can't see that secondary performing and considering the exceptional secondaries Eli will be throwing to in the NFC East I just seem a post coital slump happening here and truly feel the record could be much worse than this.

Philadelphia Eagles

Last year: It was almost depressing to see Philadelphia just accept their fate of being mediocre so readily last year. They could barely muster the energy to give a traditional McNabb boo the poor little tykes. The 8-8 record was flattering, the team winning a meaningless final brace of three games (albeit against Dallas, New Orleans and Buffalo, two on the road). Philly scored in excess of 17 just six times last season and beat only Buffalo, Miami and Detroit at home. Despite finishing 6th in total offense, the Eagles were 17th in scoring offense. In fact, without a 56 point, 536 yard binge against Detroit, the Eagles might have been one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL last year and it was this area that held them back as their run defense, purely Denver Broncosesque awful in 2006-2007 rebounded with the addition of OLB Takeo Spikes (8th in YPC) improved markedly, up twenty spots. This all despite RB Brian Westbrook turning heads, especially in the first half of the season, and carrying the team for large stretches (he was first in the NFL in yards from scrimmage). Scathing attention was given to the poor play of the WR corps and pedestrian performance of an offensive line that once allowed DE Osi Umenyiora to have seven sacks. You have to have some pride...the kid never had a chance! *holding a dead McNabb's head in his lap, crying*

Changes: I think it's over for QB Donovan McNabb kids. The Philly fans have smelled blood and are lethargically going in for the kill. I find it hard to believe, watching the Eagles last year, anyone has any faith in that offense or Brian Westbrook's ability to play through another season without coming out of it with his bones turned to sawdust. More importantly, Philly did nothing to upgrade an offensive line simply incapable of protecting it's QB. Only the Jets, Detroit, Kansas City and San Francisco conceded more sacks than Philadelphia. The combined record of those teams was 20-44. Makes you think.

Or does it?

Accoding to Eagles management, the best way to solve a QB protection issue and consolidate a still iffy run defense for a team that blitzes approximately 126% of downs, is to add a CB. Naturally! CB Asante Samuel's presence means CB Lito Sheppard might not be on the field for a significant number of downs. Sheppard might be the best pure ballhawk in the NFL, and when teams realise they only need two receivers and they can run on a defense without both DE Jevon Kearse (who's career has essentially been ended by a horrific injury) and run stopper Spikes (admittedly well into the latter half of his career), it's hard to see how Philadelphia will be getting bang for it's buck with FS Brian Dawkins, CB Sheldon Brown and Samuel being dimensions ahead of the offense. I mean Christ, if you're not going to protect the guy, at least get him a decent fucking receiver, he can't throw to Westbrook EVERY down and seeing as the playbook doesn't actually contain running plays, this is a problem. Sometimes it's like the Eagles, on both offense and defense, don't actually recognise you can run the ball. All this and OG Winston Justice gets to walk freely despite essentially being an accomplice to Umenyiora for attempted murder. What a world.

Schedule: Starts hard, ends hard, with a rich, nougat centre. There is a stretch of two months, including a bye, where they only play three games against teams over .500, and two of those are at home. They also draw Atlanta by virtue of their position last year, a team who will be by far the worst team in the NFC without question and maybe the worst in the NFL, an automatic win. Their final four games scream 1-3, @Giants, Cleveland, @Washington, Dallas and they open at Dallas and at home against Pittsburgh, a game where much of their home field advantage will be lost. Their home schedule reads tougher than their road schedule, and they just can't expect to repeat 5-3 on the road again.

Prediction: Dire. 6-10. They are just a very bad offensive team. They were terrible in the red zone last year and little figures to change. Defensively, there is nothing on paper to suggest they will be able to stop the run at all, and while their secondary might be the best in the league, exactly how much will it be able to help them when their offense cannot keep them on the field? I truly cannot see them beating Washington or Dallas this year and I put the chances of a McNabb season ending injury at about 75%, if he and Westbrook go down, the Eagles may not ever see a first down.

NFC NORTH (vs AFC South, vs NFC South)

Minnesota Vikings

Last year: Extra-terrestrial RB Adrian Peterson just destroyed this league, making the most amazing debut in any sport since LeBron James. He ran for 296 yards against San Diego. Two hundred and ninety-six yards. Two hundred and ninety-six yards. Two hundred and ninety six yards. He was arguably more impressive a few weeks earlier racking up 224 against a still good (see below) Chicago defense. He rushed for 124 yards in the Pro Bowl, and finished second in the NFL in rushing despite splitting time with RB Chester Taylor and missing two games. The team in general turned around a 3-6 start to finish a whisker out of the playoffs at 8-8, losing two games in OT during the season. Even oft criticised QB Tavaris Jackson who has the enviable talent of being fast and throwing the ball a long way, the only categories scouts seem to follow (instead of throwing know, actual receivers) got in on the action. Jackson came in after a fresh fellating from scouts, but had lost his job to QB Brooks Bollinger (career 8TDs, 46 sacks...a sack for every 4.5 completions) and 35 year old QB Kelly Holcomb (best season of 10TDs and ten games). In the final five games, Tavaris suddenly looked confident, posting his first three 200+ yardage games and actually demonstrating competance. - the top six ratings from last year were all in the second half.

The Vikings oozed potential for this year with a ridiculous run defense. Carrying on the legacy of 2006, the NFL's best DT tandem held opponents to 74.1 yards rushing, 3.1 per carry, well ahead of the rest of the league. It marked the second year in a row they held the crown. Unfortunately the legacy continued with the pass, finishing equal last in passing D and 25th in sacks, although only twelfth in YPA and weirdly, 4th in passing TDs and 4th in passer rating against. Maybe only a slight tweak was necessary for the team to take off...

Changes: No one had more sacks in the NFL last year than DE Jared Allen, despite missing two games, and led all DE with passes deflected (10). Minnesota got him and it makes their defensive line just fucking insane. SS Darren Sharper may be old and CB Antoine Winfield small, but the Vikes also added underrated FS Michael Boulware, to bolster their pass defense which may not have been nearly as bad as advertised anyway. It goes without saying that All Day will get more touches this year and although he is an injury waiting to happen, he remains behind a left side of the line that is just as ridiculous as their defensive front four.

The much maligned pass offense also doesn't look quite so bad. WR Sidney Rice has pure speed very few defensive backs can keep up with, and WR Bobby Wade is a solid slot option. That leaves Chicago recruit WR Bernard Berrian, with his electrifying speed and ability to get open downfield, on the other side. Berrian has eleven TD in his last two seasons in an offense which could only dream of a back like Peterson. The last two years, the entire Minnesota team had 25.

Schedule: Playing the AFC South was never going to be fun and to make matters worse, Minny go through five game stretch from the middle of November to Christmas where they play only once at home. Their opening three games, despite two being at home, offer little respite, with a trip to Lambeau along with Indy on the fast turf, which suits Peyton and the boys much moreso than the team of purple headed warriors (clever huh? I thought it was clever anyway...:( ). It places a lot of pressure on a team who wears the dreaded monikor passed on from San Francisco last year and Arizona a year before that - the universal sleeper. Minnesota has one bright spot on the schedule, through October and early November, they play Detroit, Houston and Green Bay in the Dome and Chicago at Soldier Field. The brace is split by the bye. They must go 4-0 here to be in a position to make the playoffs.

Prediction: 11-5. Mark me up, I'm buying. The schedule is a horror show and they will have to deal with a great deal of expectation, but despite the stars being kids, they have plenty of veteran leadership and are in a very flawed conference. If they can go 5-1 in division and school the iffy NFC South, both of which seem doable, there is no reason this team cannot win ten or even eleven games. I love the offseason, they lost no one of note, while the only other major addition in the division was the Lions adding CB Leigh Bodden, only the Saints made more of a splash. I'm putting my neck out that the best possible scenario happens and the Vikings make headlines for the right reasons.

Green Bay Packers

Last year: Contrary to what the sports media would have you believe, the story of their shock 13-3 season was not Favre, but everyone else. DE Aaron Kampman became perhaps the most complete DE in the league. I must have read three columns on CB Al Harris a being underapprieciated next to CB Charles Woodson. MLB Nick Barnett became this years FS Kerry Rhodes. And it all combined to see the team finish sixth in scoring defense and third in third down defense. In truth, Green Bay was untouchable for much of last year, having the best points differential in the NFC, starting 10-1, beating Oakland by 21, Detroit by 11 and 21, the Rams by 19, Carolina by 14, the Vikings by 34, Kansas City by 11 and the Giants by 21. However their second meeting with the G-Men was their downfall. Ultimately it was their reliance on the pass that proved their undoing, with Favre going 19/35 with two turnovers, including the decisive play, and mid-season phenom RB Ryan Grant struggling with just 29 yards on the ground. Green Bay were sixth in pass attempts and sixth last in rushing attempts, the Giants with their pass rush, were a terrible matchup.

Changes: Doesn't exactly sound like the kind of team that would be welcoming losing a TE, WR and of course, Favre. But that's exactly what happened. "Fun loving" WR Koren Robinson has moved on, as has has-been-never-was TE Bubba Franks, but both take away targets from a team built around the pass (even the offensive line) and without anything close to a proven running back. Hell, even teams with established running backs like Cadillac Williams, Shaun Alexander, Thomas Jones et al are not sure of themselves. It's with a strong streak of cynicism that I believe the running game, mediocre at best last year, will be even better. Without the threat of Favre, it could actually be worse. WR Donald Driver will also be 34 by the end of the season and despite 14 TDs in 15 games, WR Greg Jennings finished 30th in receiving yards and has not proven he can run those "out" routes that a young QB is likely to need.

And about that quarterback, QB Aaron Rodgers is already a fucking champ in my book for what he had to put up with, but this is going to be tough. People are retarded, especially in Wisconsin, not known for it's literary giants or dignified culture. More for putting foam cheese on their heads. He will receive hostility. He does have big shoes to fill. He does not have a decent running back (not sold at all on Grant) and he does have a 13-3 record to follow up on. Disaster might be a bit over the top, but it does smell of concern.

Schedule: The opening half of the schedule is brutal, so Rodgers better be ready. Check this out, on the road to two division winners in Tampa and Seattle, Dallas and Indy at home with consecutive roadies to Tennessee and Minnesota. They need at least three wins here to be in the hunt (yes, even in the NFC), and only Atlanta, at home on October 5, seems like a lock. If they, and by they I really mean Rodgers and the pounding he'll take from the press, can get three wings they are a chance to finish with a bang and eve make noise in the playoffs. Of their final seven games, only @New Orleans and @Jacksonville seem out of reach. Frankly, 8-8 would give them a shot at a wildcard.

Prediction: But it's not gonna happen. 7-9. Look, I can't say whether if Favre had not been a douche (it's like asking Michaelangelo not to paint, isn't it?) this offseason, if I'd think more of Green Bay's chances. I just don't know. But I do know that too much shit has gone down here, the fans aren't behind the team, and they are young, youngest in the league in fact, and that opening schedule just dooms any hope they had of burying this. At BEST they will be 4-5 (the next easiest game after that Atlanta contest is probably @Tampa Bay...not kidding), and ESPN will have no time for your "strength of schedules" or "adjustment periods". They only have eyes for Favre, and God help Rodgers if the Jets (predicted sleeper by some) have a hot start. God help us all.

Chicago Bears

Last year: There's just literally nothing positive to write here. Well, maybe that they finished 7-9, because it felt like they went like 4-12 they were that bad. Watching them play was the football equivalent of a Cleveland Steamer, and every moment KR Devin Hester did not have the ball was like getting your eyes gouged out with a hot poker...laced with vinegar...made by Satan...and the poker was actually a penis. If you are squeamish, look away now. Chicago were 27th in total offense, 28th in INTs, 24th in sacks, 27th in QB rating, last in YPC, 29th in third down offense. It just goes on and on. In fact, were it not for San Francisco emulating Oakland the year before, Chicago would have been easily the worst offensive team in football. And as Baltimore, Oakland, and so many others have shown, you have to move the chains before you even get to defense or special teams. Indy two years ago demonstrated that for us in another way.

The disgusting offensive display made the road weary defense look much worse than it was. It was a tired habit last year, me watching Sportscenter and seeing the Chicago defense dragged through the mud as though like, nine defensive superstars suddenly got terrible. My mouth hung open on a lot of NFL shows. It was clearly that they were too tired and on the field too much. The men are there, OLB Lance Briggs, MLB Brian Urlacher (who remains the best pass defending linebacker in the game, DT Tommie Harris, CB Nathan Vasher, SS Mike Brown and so on. In fact, in comparison with 2006, these guys were pretty healthy, the defense had better personell, there was just only so much they could do. Chicago's defensive numbers look bad until you realise nearly every offensive stat is based on how many plays the offense gets. If you look at counting number defensive stats, you see what I mean. Chicago were sixth in sacks, second in third down defense and only 1.3 worse than pass D darlings New York Giants in opponent QB rating. This defense can still play.

Changes: They lost like six fucking starters, I'm not even kidding. Gone are DT Darwin Walker, WR Muhsin Muhammad, WR Bernard Berrian, OG Ruben Brown, SS Adam Archuleta, RB Cedric Benson. Now I get it, pretty much all of these guys were terrible (not buying the Ruben Brown thing though, like the defense, that offensive line is fine, in this case it IS the skill players, we always knew Rex was terrible, and Benson is just worthless), but they've been replaced with nothng. WR Brandon Lloyd is the only major recruit and despite being the owner of this, rather hilarious website, has these stats last season; 2 receptions, 14 yards. In fact he has 25 receptions in the last two years. Bodes well.

Then there's the QB position, and the combustable, filthy, piece of shit QB Rex Grossman (never, ever, ever, ever bet on Rex Grossman) or QB Kyle Orton, who would probably laugh and agree with you if you said "you inspire absolutely no faith in anyone". The words "done before we even start" must have never sounded truer for poor Lovie Smith.

Schedule: This might be the easiest schedule of all NFC North teams. They do suffer a tough three game stretch on the road (@Green Bay, @St.Louis, @Minnesota, certainly should sneak one at least), but their road schedule in general is very, very workable. Their road games are Carolina (ask Ben about this, they are worse than a .500 team at home in their history), Detroit, Atlanta, Green Bay, St.Louis, Minnesota and Houston. That Houston game comes after three straight home games (something which happens twice this year) to close the season. If you can't make the playoffs with that schedule, there's something wrong with you.

Prediction: There's something wrong with the Bears. It's a dick and rhymes with Tex Postman. Who the fuck names their kid "Rex" anyway? Buy a goddamn dog. I feel ridiculous just writing it. Anyway, 7-9, and that's only due to the easy schedule and Superman back their fielding punts and changing games. It's pretty sad that Hester is their best chance of scoring. They can still create turnovers and there are enough inexperienced quarterbacks on their schedule for them to get them, they will win more than I think their roster dictates they should, there's just no one on this team you trust with the ball in their hands, it's just downright sad, at least Atlanta have Michael Turner.

Detroit Lions

Last year: In the wake of QB Jon Kitna's and WR Roy Williams insane and delusional predictions of thirteen wins, the Lions actually looked like they'd shock the world. Opening 6-2, I remember I actually put down some money on them in the last of their wins, against Denver, a 44-7 spanking. I did that mainly due to them finding some semblance of a running game. It still wasn't good, but RB Kevin Jones put up three of their top four rushing performances to that point. However, after that when the going got rough, the Lions went like pussycats, going a ridiculous 1-7 down the stretch. It kicked off with a quintessentially hopeless -18 yards rushing ahgainst Arizona - the worst in a single game since 1947.

Rushing was a familiar problem for the Lions. They were second last in the NFL in rushing, and despite how infrequently they gave the ball to their running back of choice that day, they tied the NFL lead with 31 fumbles. They were also dead last in total defense. Even during their 6-2 run they were only +15 in points. They finished -108.

Changes: No Mike Martz running the offense any more. Frankly I feel this may be a good thing, as the run game just withered on the vine, under the watchful eye of Detroit supervillan Matt Millen. No effort was made to improve the running back position or the offensive line. WR Mike Williams was drafted in 2005 in preference to OT Jamaal Brown and OG Logan Mankins. In 2003 the took WR Charles Rogers to RB Willis McGahee and RB Larry Johnson. Anyway, the passing game is fine, in almost anyone's hands. Blind Freddy could throw to WR Calvin Johnson and WR Roy Williams successfully. No, the changes necessary lie in another area. An area I call "everything else". And to make matters worse, they traded away one of the best pass rushing DT's in the game in Shaun Rogers. Thankfully he has been replaced by CB Leigh Bodden of the 24th ranked pass defense Cleveland, so - problem solved. Pass protection you say? When the Lions weren't running for -18 yards, they were getting sacked, fifty four times, second worst in the league. But it's ok because their QB is 36 years old and they lost their backup. This is just depressing.

Schedule: Let's see, they can beat Atlanta, although that game is away, so it's not a given, as bad as the Falcons are. The whole AFC South is full of great pass defenses; DE Mario Williams is waiting in Houston, Jacksonville's strentgh is on the defensive line (DE Paul Spicer was one of the most improved players in the NFL last year IMO) and a great secondary, Tennessee also makes their living harrassing quarterbacks (tenth on pass defense despite no one running on them at all) and Indianapolis has one of the best coached secondaries in the league despite the lack of names (FS Antoine Bethea may have given Spicer some competition) and even a downgraded DE Dwight Freeney means problems. I give them none of those games, particulary with the Houston game on the road. I see maybe 1-5 in the division, Green Bay is a bad matchup for them with their exceptional secondary and they may split the games with Chicago. I think San Francisco will be improved, and particulary travelling, I don't think so. There's no way Washington loses to them. I'll give them 2-2 against the NFC South. Does it matter how the games are structured? They are terrible.

Prediction: As mentioned, 3-13. This is a bad team that got slightly worse in the offseason. I believe their second half is far more indicative of their performance than the first half and their -105 point differential tells us basement dwelling, nerdy, stat geeks, that this team is way worse than 7-9. I choose to see that glass as half empty, they do look unfixable right now.

NFC SOUTH (vs AFC West, vs NFC North)

New Orleans Saints

Last year: The very definition of inexplicable and truly inconsistent (I know, that word is overused in sports, but in this case it really does fit). The team opened 0-4, which seems understandable in hindsight, playing Indy and Tampa on the road, Tennessee and then a division game against Carolina (actually an awesome road team). They then reeled off four straight, the offense that couldn't clear fourteen streaked away to 121 points in those games (including 41 against an exceptional Jags defense. 445 yards passing in that one). Unforgivably losing, and losing badly to Houston and St.Louis and their season was all but over. They finished 7-9. The second half of the season from QB Drew Brees was back to his best, but injuries to RB Reggie Bush and RB Deuce McAlister essentially put paid to their playoff dreams, it was too steep a hill to climb.

Bush, media darling and defended by the world's sportswriter's on that fateful draft night, was brought into question, especially for his toughness and ability to run between the tackles. In fact, I remember watching PTI and hearing Wilbon say "no one thought he'd be an every down back." Exqueeze me? Baking powder? Didn't I hear "next Gail Sayers"? Didn't I hear everyone who had a keyboard and some semblance of computer wiring tell me how retarded the Texans were not taking this "sure thing" prospect? There's some serious disingenuity coming out of the media regarding Bush, as they are wrong both in labelling him a bust prematurely and pussying out of their previous calls. Anyway, it wasn't Bush's fault at all really, the injuries, the leagues third worst passing defense (worst on YPA) crippled this teams late playoff run after the incredibly tough opening schedule.

Changes: About that pass defense. Coolest and most humiliating stat of 2007 can be found here. Oh yes, you read that right, and I quote;

Worst Yards per Pass
Jason David, NO: 14.5
Hole in Zone, 11.9

Yes, Jason David is worse than throwing at a hole in the zone.

Changes clearly need to be made and they began here, importing New England (and thus blessed with the anointed "toughness, grit and "Superbowl rings") CB Randall Gay. He's not spectacular, but he can play, and should be a significant starter. You have to think having CB Jason David on the field literally was worth one win alone - seriously, read the analysis, he was unfathomably awful. CB Aaron Glenn is also useful in the nickel and that same report lets CB Mike McKenzie off the hook, he was alright. This secondary might be below average still, but it won't totally kill them, that's all the Saitns are looking for. Continuing the inexplicably bad run, DE Charles Grant went from six sacks and three forced fumbles in 2006 to 2.5 and none in 2007. DE Will Smith went from 10.5 and 3 to 7 and 2. That's a lot less pressure on opposing QB's and seeing as it was the worst season from each, in their careers, it seems reasonable to assume they will rebound. Even if they don't, superb DE Bobby McCray was brought in from Tennessee to spell them. This pass defense should at least be OK.

But there were bigger names than Gay and Glenn. MLB Jonathan Vilma (290 tackles in his last two healthy seasons) and MLB Dan Morgan (probably done, but still a good mind to have out there in what is a really young defensive unit) both ae folded into the mix and should help what was already an exceptional run D. It should be almost impossible to run on the Saints this season. And then there is TE Jeremy Shockey, he of the metaphysically omnipotent ego. Brees was good last year, there's a reason Bush was rated so highly, the running back position is deep, the targets are plentiful, the defense has the tools and motivation to be elite. Let the games begin!

Schedule: Much easier than last year, worth a couple of wins by itself. They might have the easiest set of away games in the NFL; Washington, Denver, Carolina (2-6 at home last season), Atlanta, Kansas City, Tampa, Chicago, Detroit. The opening three games, a divisional battle with Tampa and road dates at Washington and Denver, are by far the toughest. From that point it's hard to see a place they could slip up. San Francisco, Minnesota, Oakland at home along with the Panthers on the road seems a 4-0 stint. Their run home is the definition of powder puff, Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit on the road, and finishing against Carolina.

Prediction: 13-3, it's a high bar to jump over but the talent on this team is immense. I am a huge fan of WR Devery Henderson down the field (23.3ypc in 2006, 20.5 in 2007) and covering Shockey, Bush, maybe McAlister at the same time along with scarily improving WR Marques Colston, they should be unstoppable offensively. The defense should be at least solid, the secondary just has to improve (even utilising holes in zone) and the schedule gets easier. Basically, this is the year after the year for these guys.

Carolina Panthers

Last year: Another dissapointment from the ever looming Panthers. Despite possibly having the best offensive (WR Steve Smith) and defensive (DE Julius Peppers) players on paper in the league, the Panthers looked absolutely, totally, comprehensively average last year. They did suck at the pass (29th), but that was to be expected when QB Jake Delhomme went down, finally ending the debate whether QB David Carr was a victim of his offensive line in Houston or not - he wasn't. Carolina were 14th on the rush, 16th in total defense, and generally below average at stuff like 3rd down, kick/punt returns zzzzzz. There was just very little of note here. The Panthers surprised no one by losing games they shouldn't (home to Atlanta, home to Houston) and in another total non-shock, RB D'Angelo Williams took over the back position, leading the team in rushing for three of the last four weeks. Carolina finished last year 7-9.

Changes: Due to that, RB DeShaun Foster was ushered out of town. As was veteran, concussed out-of-his-fucking-skull MLB Dan Morgan. The aforementioned Carr is on his way gradually out of the league and DE Mike Rucker called it a day. The main addition to the team was the wide receiving corps, WR Muhsin Muhammad is back for another shot, WR DJ Hackett comes in too, and he had a great season for a dude that missed ten games. On the downside he did miss ten games. And that lack of awareness of injuries seems to be the frustrating problem with the offseason of the Panthers. You can get all the wide receivers you want, unless Delhomme is healthy it's not going to matter, and it is my understanding that the recovery from Tommy John surgery for QB's is sketchy at best. It also probably doesn't help mysteriously shedding career long productive O-Lineman like C Justin Hartwig and OG Mike Wahle. Chalk it up to more weird fucking shit. Carr was no prize pig, but there is no proven backup behind Delhomme either, and it's on that busted elbow that any hope of the playoffs rest. However, central to the comeback of the Panthers as a sleeper threat is uber-athelete Peppers getting back to his best. 34.5 sacks in his previous three seasons, fucking 2.5 last year. You tell me.

Schedule: They have to do something about the home record, it's 14-18 over the last four seasons and it's going to have to be 6 or more wins this year, something they haven't done since 2003 for them to make noise. This year they play on the road to Minny, San Diego, Tampa, New Orleans and the Giants and Packers (if you're of the opinion both will be good). Five of their first eight games are at home, along with the bye and you feel that capitalising here would go a long way to ensuring a playoff birth. There doesn't seem to be a pronounced difficult stretch, but they would want their nine wins going into the final two weeks - they are at the Meadowlands and then the Superdome.

Prediction: 8-8. The schedule is kind to them and even without Smith, I see both this division and the NFC North as predominantly worse than the Panthers. This number is based on Delhomme playing in at least 13-14 games, the receiving corps is deep and I think Williams is ready to be a feature back. Perhaps most importantly, John Fox is a good coach, I still believe that deep in my heart, and the Panthers just have to find a way, Peppers' movement back to his average alone should get them one more win. I do not, however, see a playoff appearance in my crystal ball.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last year: Well how the fuck did they pull that off? They lead the league in pass defense despite their best pass rusher being some guy named DT Greg White, who doesn't even have a position according to ESPN. He was 24th in the NFL with eight sacks. Some other faceless character named SS Jermaine Phillip was their interception leader with 4, 41st in the league. Equal 41st. The secret, apparently, was holding on to the ball - who knew? Tampa had just 20 turnovers last season, behind only Indy and New England, and had 35 takeaways, all of them from nobodies, behind only Indy and the ridiculously flukey season from San Diego (an inhuman 48, this, combined with their special teams was an illusion, mark my words, MARK THEM I SAY!). They lost their marquee RB Cadillac Williams, HIS backup RB Michael Pittman and still won the division.

Changes: Did I mention they won it with 9 games? Losing to Houston, San Francisco and Carolina down the stretch? Seems a little more believable now huh? Look, there's just no way this team gets better this year, they are fucking ancient. WR Joey Galloway - 37. QB Jeff Garcia - 38. OLB Derrick Brooks - 35. CB Ronde Barber - 33. Yes, yes, I know these are just the names, and there are some young guys too, TE Alex Smith, MLB Barrett Ruud et al. But it's not like any of these guys had some amazing season everyone just decided to ignore, yes the system is good and Gruden is a fine, if eccentric, coach, but at some point you've got to have the players, especially offensively. Tampa Bay stayed pretty much put this season, letting their core just grow older, only two years removed from a horrendous 4-12 campaign and with their running game reliant on RB Earnest Graham and RB Warwick Dunn - 33. There's just no reason to believe everything will go their way again, and may I remind you, even when it did, they won only 9 games.

Schedule: This is, unsurprisingly (they finished first after all), the hardest schedule of any team in the NFC South. There is a four game brace (admittedly around the bye) where they play Seattle, @Dallas, @Kansas City (still a tough place to play, even when they are bad) and Minnesota. The rest of the schedule is more or less meh, neither terrible nor a cakewalk, although the start includes dates at Chicago, New Orleans and Denver, as well as the Packers at home, it could provide a few bumps.

Prediction: 6-10. The schedule is toughish, but it's more the fact there's just no reason whatsoever to expect improvement from this team. It's like a less impressive version of the Detroit Pistons the last three years. Everyone praises Joe Dumars but he's just watched his team get slightly worse every year, and people act surprised at this. I said last year that the Pistons were probably less likely to win the title than the fucking Nuggets, WHY would they be better? Why? What possible reason? You can say the same thing about the Bucs, they were lucky last year, had a last placed schedule, in a terrible division and still won only nine games. The Saints beefed up, they have a first place schedule, and their really old roster just got really old +1, oh, and they're biggest offensive threat is probably done for the year already? No way they threaten this division. I didn't love the Panthers at all, I just hate the Bucs this year.

Atlanta Falcons

Last year: 4-12. *raises fist like Kirk in Wrath of Khan, shaking*


Changes: QB Blah blah blah blah replaces QB dum de dum de dum. Atlanta did one of the most blatent wholesale culls in recent NFL history. They got rid of RB Warwick Dunn, all around back, winner of the sportsmenship trophy and saint-in-waiting. Once that happened you knew all bets were off, they were just going to tank this thing as obviously as possible, anyone could go, and go they did. WR Joe Horn will have to do his little retirement tour somewhere else thank you very much, even TE Alge Crumpler, the one person Vick could hit with some regularity, went. Oh yes, we're at the point to make a very difficult decision with the Falcons. Oh yes, the NFL can keep them alive, but any recognisable aspect of a football team, well it just won't be there. It's at the point of pulling the plug basically, me just writing "they're bad" and be done with it. In keeping with losing everyone who was good on the team, they also traded CB D'Angelo Hall. So it's now MLB Keith Brooking and cutout silhouettes of actual football players. Their second best player is offseason pickup K Jason Elam. Seriously, he's probably their most well known player. The only question is, why the fuck did they bother signing RB Michael Turner?

Schedule: A whole bunch of teams better than them. Their easiest stretch is undoubtedly the start of the year, Lions, @Bucs, Chiefs. If they don't win one of those, this could be the first 0-16 season. Get ready for history Atlanta!

Prediction: 2-14. I'm not even mailing it in. What do you want me to say? I don't know nearly anyone on this team and Atlanta has made every possible effort to stop you caring about them. It sticks the middle finger up at any possible analysis. How long are they gonna milk the "boo hoo, feel sorry for us. No Vick, no chance." Seriously, grow a pair. They are like a pathetic dumpee, it's OVER Atlanta, try and win, make some semblance of an effort, it's a terrible division. Fine, mope, see if I care.

NFC WEST (vs AFC East, vs NFC East)

Seattle Seahawks

Last year: Well it's theirs by default until the division gets some level of competence isn't it? They haven't lost the division since 2003, and have demonstrated remarkable flexibility, winning in a variety of ways. 2007 might have been Holmgren's finest effort with this team, surviving RB Shaun Alexander's alarming career implosion halfway through the season. Really, that should have been all she wrote for the Seahawks, but they scrambled to ten wins and the division crown. Alexander was shut down after the bye week and won six of their next nine, their three losses by a combined nine points, and none at home. In fact, Seattle consolidated their remarkable home field advantage by winning their last six straight at Qwest. This was a good, solid, vindicating season.

It was powered by the defense, which was superb in every respect. Seattle were 10th in YPA against and tied for fourth in INTs. The pass rush was particulary intimidating, finishing fourth in sacks as new buy DE Patrick Kerney finished tops in the NFC with 14.5. OLB Julian Peterson was also dominating with 9.5 of his own and MLB Lofa Tatupu was his typically excellent self. Meanwhile, QB Matt Hasselbeck responded to the pressure of Holmgren's announcement that they would throw, throw and throw some more, wonderfully. It was the ultimate bounce back season, after a 2006 where he had a rating of just 76.0, Hasselbeck threw 28TDs and only 12 picks, with a rating of 91.4. Down the stretch he threw 13TDs and 4INTs, making him as good as any QB outside of Foxborough.

Changes: Seattle had an active offseason, primarily looking to upgrade their running game, a necessary move, and generally can be said to have done a reasonable job. They added not only out-of-favour RB Julius Jones, a proven if unspectacular runner (exactly what Seattle were looking for), but also OG Mike Wahle who brings an excellent reputation as a specialist run blocker. After a terrible 2006, the offensive line rebounded well last year and looks to continue to improve. The three losses can all be rationalised away. TE Jerramy Stevens was a talent and a promising player, but he was not worth the incredible amount of trouble and baggage he brough with him. SS Michael Boulware went to Minnesota, a good player but not irreplacable, and the secondary still looks above average, SS Deon Grant and CB Marcus Trufant (who himself had a bounce back year, after nearly losing his starting job, he picked 7 passes in 2007) remain the standouts. Big footed K Josh Brown has also left town, and he was as valuable a kicker as any in the NFL last year (save K Rob Bironas maybe), but let's face it, kickers are kickers - look at K Adam Viniteiri against San Diego last season. Team still looks in good shape, probably slightly better this year and not having to invent a running game on the fly.

Schedule: The Seahawks have two three game runs that look prime for 6-0 and they come at different parts of the season so they can build momentum for something special. The first is the start of the year, @Buffalo, San Francisco, St.Louis, unfortunately this is followed by the bye and then 13 straight games. The games @Miami, Arizona and Washington also looks quite easy. Yes, they draw New England and Dallas, but this is probably the easiest schedule of last years four division winners in the NFC.

Prediction: I like Seattle this year, they are always under the radar due to their division and their expected solid performance. I think this year edition is probably as good as their Superbowl team, and defensively, only Dallas and Minnesota look their equals in the NFC. I see an 11-5 run, but a 12 win season would not surprise me. They will not have to deal with their best player having some crisis this time. Furthermore, I think they will go deep in the playoffs, NFC title game.

St.Louis Rams

Last year: An unmitagated disaster at 3-13. The Rams were probably the most injury plagued team in the league, and not the iddy-biddy RB Ryan Moats style injuries, serious, relevant injuries. A dozen starters finished on IR, and three starters on the O-Line, including OT Orlando Pace, one of the best in the history of the game, missed basically the whole season. QB Marc Bulger was the victim of that poor offensive line play, sacked a remarkable 37 times in just twelve games, posting a 70.3 QB rating, compared to 88.1 for his career. RB Steven Jackson, God to fantasy football players everywhere with his multi-dimensional talents, played only twelve himself, scoring just five times. This once great offense fell on very hard times.

Defensively, you could almost say the Rams improved, particulary their run defense, so often the cause of an inability to stop the chains. 31st against the run in 2006 and 28th in 2005, the Rams were a more respectable 20th, as DT Adam Carriker came in and made an immediate impact. They were 21st in the pass - not great obviously, but as good as the Rams have been in quite a while, if the offense could stay healthy, this team could have make noise. The offense last year posted five games of ten points or less, at one point in the first half, four of five games they played totalled 19 points. It wasn't pretty.

Changes: Al Saunders comes into the fold as OC, and while I generally think people getting all in a fever over new co-ordinators is a kind of geeky I just can't get jiggy with, it can only help. That said, it may not help early on, being that the playbook gives Tolstoy a run for his money, nor, at least on the face of it will be the fact that the Rams added only K Josh Brown in the offseason, not exactly the kind of radical changes fans may have been demanding, especially when they lost veteran WR Isaac Bruce (who was done anyway). However, think of this, if the Rams simply have even league average injury hassles, it should improve their record by three games on that alone. And despite my lack of interest in college sports, I am led to believe DE Chris Long is, you know, good, and next to DE Leonard Little, DT La'Roi Glover and Carriker, hell, this is a pretty good, atheltic defensive line.

The other line is, on paper solid too, and all are back this year, if he can keep penalties under control, OG Richie Incognito can make spectacular (at least by linemen standards) plays, and the tackle combo of Pace and OT Alex Barron is very strong on paper. Jackson has ended his holdout, making the skill players above average also, especially if Bulger bounces back (a genuine fifty/fifty call). I must admit that Bulger's career is beginning to take a very QB Trent Green look to it. Thankfully the backup is...Trent Green. Look, I can't see KR Dante Hall having such a horrible streak of injuries last year, and their special teams, with Brown, looks fantastic.

Schedule: I admit, I am drawing quite a bow here, and the opening schedule is fucking terrible. They go to Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington and New England and host Dallas and the Giants. If they open 3-4, you'll know they are finishing downhill. Check this out, Arizona, @Jets, @San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, @Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, @Atlanta. I'm putting it down on them winning seven of those games, yes seven.

Fuck with me!

Prediction: Look, I'll level with you. I made a horrific discovery about halfway through this preview - someone from the NFC West, other than Seattle, was going to the playoffs if I had my way. That set in motion a chain of thoughts, and much whiskey drinking to work out who I was going to put my balls on the chopping block for. I seriously considered both other lame squads but in the end, I'm doubling down on St.Louis. Last year they were my "sleeper" and that turned out so well I'm trying again. The offensive line CAN be good, I swear, Stephen Jackson IS awesome, Marc Bulger CAN be at least an adequate QB, WR Torry Holt IS one of the best all-purpose receivers in the game, TE Randy McMichael CAN catch balls, the D-Line IS underrated and the schedule, taken as a whole, IS workable. The glass is half full, and I can barely watch as I type this; 9-7.

Arizona Cardinals

Last year: One of America's most beige teams saw pretty boy extraordinaire QB Matt Leinart suffer an injury and was not heard of again. Besides, there were...what's louder than whispers? Roars, that's right, roars, that QB Kurt Warner might be better anyway, and the Cards enter the year with muchos confusion under centre, which is a pretty awful place to be when neither player is especially good. That said, the team did have a wonderful passing year, WR Larry Fitzgerald doing his do, finishing fourth in receiving yards and the team was fifth overall. Of course they were 10th in 2006 and fucking first in 2005 and it didn't help them much. WR Anquain Boldin is seeking a trade and frankly, the team looks to be in a bad place entering the 2008 season. The Cardinals were involved in some crazy ones last year, beating the Rams 34-31, the Bengals 35-27, losing to San Francisco 31-37 and Seattle 21-42, New Orleans 24-31 knocking over Atlanta 30-27 and beating St.Louis the second time 48-19.

Think pass D might be an issue?

Changes: Watch this space on the Boldin issue, he seems quite serious and the situation has deteriorated rapidly since the end of last season. Otherwise, the team remains largely unchanged. The O-Line was actually pretty good last season, finishing 8th in sacks allowed despite all the throwing, and RB Edgerrin James was also competant, finishing 7th in rushing in the league. But at 30, and a very old 30, it's hard not to be sceptical. The offense, it could be argued, did not need tampering with, even if James is on his last legs, kinda literally. DT Darnell Dockett had a career year with 9.0 sacks (only six in the three previous years), but to counter, DE Bertrand Berry showed his age, and that was when he was on the field, he has missed 21 games the last three years. Other "meh" years were MLB Karlos Dansby and yes, even Mr. "He's so underrated and I know so much about football because I talk about him at length" SS Adrian Wilson, who suffered through an injury plagued season. CB Roderick Hood, over from Philadelphia, came out of the shadows of his Philly secondary stars to post an impressive season, five INT's with two returned all the way to the house. If it doesn't sound like I'm mentioning changes, it's because there effectively were none of importance, apparently, Arizona is happy with how it looks, very secure team...even if we all think it looks don't know them, you don't know them...sit yo ass down.

Schedule: This is probably the most balanced schedule of all the NFC West teams. They manage to avoid blocking up Dallas, New England and Washington together, their bye is snuggled neatly into Week 7, and they have no outstanding blocks full of home or road dates. Yawn inducing, in other words.

Prediction: 8-8. I don't really know what to make of a team that has some good young players, maybe primarily on the defensive side of the ball but looks kind of like a fantasy team. I hate to resort to "I can't quite put my finger on it" rationales, but there's nothing TEAM like here. There's no drive I can see, I see Fitzgerald's fantasy numbers, I see perpetual dissapointment in Leinart, fumbles from Warner, poor coverage from the secondary (I just don't think Adrian Wilson is that good at coverage, I'm sorry, I'm not a philistine, I know he's an awesome tackler, but everyone hates SS Roy Williams...I don't get it!) and generally fun games to watch with very, very little satisfaction after it's all over. They have nothing that makes them dangerous, we know what they are, and they seem comfortable with that. Their coach is one of the more anonymous in the game. I guess it comes down to this, if I have to put my cheese out in the wind there for someone, I would prefer the upside of the Rams than the dull, unsatisfying, empty, 350 yard passing days of Arizona. That's just me.

San Francisco 49ers

Last year: San Francisco had 237.3 yards per game. The next worst, KC, had 276.8. 39.5 yards. If you added 39.5 yards to Kansas City, they'd have had San Diego's offense - who went to the AFC Championship game. Oh, and QB Alex Smith? Former first rounder who was supposed to develop so well under that great quarterback coaching? He took his career totals to 19TDs and 31INTs. Basically, he's a bust already, the Jason David of QB's, a hole in the pocket probably would have been better. He had a 57.1QB rating. They converted 31.4% of their third downs, obviously last. Equal fourth worst with 34 turnovers, despite never having the ball. 5.23YPA, 0.6 worse than second worst - Carolina. Fifty-five sacks. Worst in the game. Between September 16 and November 25, the 49ers NEVER reached the rarified air of 20 points. 5-11 seems generous right?

Changes: Needless to say a makeover was needed, and San Francisco went headlong into the mania of Mike Martz. I'll let the idea of Smith dropping back nine steps and hanging around while the talents of WR Bryant Johnson (who has never caught 50 balls and his longest catch in five seasons isn't even 60 yards) and 97 year old WR Isaac Bruce slowly slog their way downfield, sink in. You there? It's going to be ugly. Their line remains as faceless as ever, and frankly, their best deep threat is probably underachieving TE Vernon Davis. This certainly seems like the kind of team that could afford to lose a speedy receiver like WR Darrell Jackson. RB Frank Gore is still there, and he played quite well last year considering he probably saw some 11 men in the box defenses last year, if Mike Martz even acknowledges the existence of running backs.

CB Nate Clements did earn his money last year, I watched him repeatedly and was impressed and CB Walt Harris (4.5 sacks, not bad!) was also solid. MLB Patrick Willis led the league in tackles (well someone had to have the ball in those 'niners games). DE Bryant Young also had a revival of sorts with 6.5 sacks but he's like...gone now. Oh. Adding just Bruce to this team is pretty insulting to the 49ers fans.

Schedule: Like St.Louis, the Niners have a horrific start to their schedule, that looks to have the hardest stretch in football to me - @Seattle, Detroit, @New Orleans, New England, Philadelphia, @Giants, Seattle. This is followed by the bye and they will need it, with five of their next seven games on the road, talk about tough.

Prediction: 6-10. While winning five games with that offense was remarkable, it's practically impossible for it to be that bad again, particulary with Martz in charge. For all his flaws, Martz does have a way of getting production from his players. I got so desperate I even flirted with San Francisco as a super sleeper, but no...the offense just has so much improvement to do, it makes Chicago look like the '99 Rams. Only so much improvement can possibly happen in one season, and I expect most of it to be in relatively meaningless games towards the end of the year. I do, however, see a breakout year for Davis and someone, anyone, else, to be under centre by the time all is said and done.