Saturday, January 27, 2007

No More Nate

Lost in the controversy of last year's dunk contest was the fact that by virtue of winning, Nate Robinson would automatically be invited back to defend his crown. And sure enough, it was announced that he would be in the dunk contest in Vegas on All-Star weekend. Terrific.

It is hard to believe I feel so negatively toward the former Washington Huskies little man, but he has gone from a player that appeared to have endless stamina and tons of heart to one of the most annoying characters in the league in just a few years time. His repeated attempts to perform that criss-cross dunk last year was borderline sociopathic behavior and I still contend that he was the worst actor in the recent Nuggets-Knicks brawl that cost Melo all those games. Not only that, but he has one of the worst assist rates in the league ... even though he is a backup point guard and stands 5'9".

Now we have to watch him try the same dunk 50 times again.

Let's just hope that they've either changed the scoring rules or that the judges aren't idiots this year.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Eastern Conference All-Star Picks

You can find the picks for the West in the next post down.

Starters (as voted):

G Gilbert Arenas
G Dwyane Wade
C Shaquille O'Neal
F LeBron James
F Chris Bosh

The big stories here are Arenas passing Vince Carter for a spot and Chris Bosh vaulting past Jermaine O'Neal to reach his first All-Star game. Of course, this just makes some of the choices for reserves tougher, because Arenas and Bosh were automatic. Carter and O'Neal? Still compelling, but they aren't no-brainers. Shaq making it is obviously a joke, but whatever. It wouldn't be an All-Star game without Shaq doing a pregame dance and trying to play point guard at some point.

Here are my picks for the reserves:

G Jason Kidd. I'm not a huge J-Kidd fan, but he has been at his best lately. 15 and 9 is impressive enough, but he's also hauling in 8.3 boards per game. As a point guard! That is Oscar, Magic, Fat Lever territory.
G Chauncey Billups. Vince has better numbers, but Billups is my choice as the second guard in the East. He is still draining big shots and keeping the Pistons in the thick of things despite so many of his teammates sucking (Rip Hamilton excepted).
C Dwight Howard. I'm afraid that no matter how well Emeka Okafor plays, he will never be as good as the man taken ahead of him in the 2004 NBA Draft. Okafor is blocking more shots, but Howard has him in pretty much every other category. Plus, his team is winning.
F Caron Butler. The Wizards are winning and it is in large part due to the play of Butler. He is the only player in the NBA averaging 20 points, 8 boards, and 2 steals a game. Plus, he has terrific shooting percentages and dishes our four assists per.
F Jermaine O'Neal. His huge block totals and double-double averages fend off a bad FG% and the fact that the Pacers suck.
G Joe Johnson. Johnson has cooled off and his assists are down, but the injury to Redd and my inability to put two Nets guards on the team gets him in the door.
C Emeka Okafor. It comes down to Emeka and Vince, and for me, Okafor is the most worthy. But it's a close call.

Apologies to: Redd and Carter.

Western Conference All-Star Picks

Now that the results of the fan voting have been announced and the starters are set, I can make my All-Star picks.

Here are the starters:

G Tracy McGrady
G Kobe Bryant
C Yao Ming
F Kevin Garnett
F Tim Duncan

Obviously, Steve Nash should be a starting guard and Dirk should be starting over Duncan, but this is largely a solid group. Even Yao is okay despite his missed games. He was playing great.

Here would be my backups, with a quick note about each player:

G Steve Nash. Duh. It has taken a long time, but I now convinced that he's the best basketball player on earth.
G Allen Iverson. I know that he's only been in the West for a short period of time and that his inclusion will result in a deserving player like Deron Williams staying home, but those are the breaks.
C Amare Stoudemire. Okur has been underrated and Camby is having a really good year defensively, but Amare's impact on the Suns can't be measured by his 19 and 9. He's looked awesome lately.
F Dirk Nowitzki. He just keeps getting better and better. Before we know it, he's going to rank among the best forwards of all time.
F Shawn Marion. It is hard to put three guys from same team on the All-Star squad, but there is simply no way to leave Marion off the list. I still have my doubts about his ability to come through in the playoffs, but this isn't the playoffs.
F Carlos Boozer. The Jazz have been terrific and while Deron Williams looks like the leader of the team, Boozer has been the go-to guy. 22 and 12 gives him the nod over Josh Howard.
F Carmelo Anthony. The brawl and missed games may keep him out and if Howard makes it, I am fine with that, but Melo is going for 31.6 a night. Hard to ignore that.

Special apologies to:

Deron Williams. Ray Allen has great numbers, but Williams would be my next choice at guard.
Josh Howard. Zach Randolph and Elton Brand are tough leaves, but it is really hard to leave Howard off the squad.
Marcus Camby. Can't have three centers or three Nuggets, so Camby gets the boot.

Race for #1

I can't recall a conference race in the NBA ever being really, really exciting, the way a pennant race is in baseball (or at least, used to be before the advent of the Wild Card system). But we have a truly special showdown looming between the Suns and the Mavericks. Both teams playing insane basketball (Phoenix is 31-2 over their last 33 and Dallas is 35-5 since their 0-4 start) and right now, the Suns have a one game advantage in the all-important loss column. Throw out their 1-5 and 0-4 starts and the Suns and Mavs are winning at clips of 92% and 88%, respectively. Over a full season, those winning percentages would give them both the NBA record for wins in a season. That is pretty impressive. Each squad feels like the time to win it all is now, with Dallas coming so close last year and the Suns facing some salary cap issues in the coming offseason. The urgency is evident in the fabulous play of each team.

However, the race between these two teams is more important than the number of wins they rack up. Because as always, the West is loaded. Phoenix and Dallas may be the class of the NBA, but that doesn't mean they are automatically going to meet in the Western Conference Finals, with the winner taking home the NBA title. There are dangerous teams aplenty in the West, from the Phil and Kobe Lakers to the new-look Nuggets, to the sleeper special Houston Rockets. Not to mention the Spurs, who have great coaching, quality players, and the best refs in the league. (Oh wait, those aren't San Antonio's own referees?)

No matter what seed you have out West, the road will be difficult. But it is shaping up to be a much tougher trip for the #2 seed.

Consider the way things would break down if the season ended today (these days, it seems like all I do on this blog is post the Western Conference playoff seeds):

1) Phoenix
2) Dallas
3) San Antonio
4) Utah
5) LA Lakers
6) Houston
7) Denver
8) LA Clippers

First of all, did anyone even notice that the Clips moved into the playoff hunt? I didn't. Poor KG.

But getting back to the point, look at how well that would line up for the Suns. They would get the Clippers (who they now own) or T-Wolves in round one, thus avoiding truly dangerous teams in Houston or Denver. In round two they would get the winner of Utah (inferior team) or the Lakers (probably can't run with Phoenix this year). And they wouldn't have to play Dallas until the conference finals.

As for the Mavs, they would have to defeat a loaded Denver team that may very well be meshing at that time. Then they would get the winner of the Rockets-Spurs, which suggests a bloodbath either way. And if they were to survive all that, they would have to try to keep up with the Suns, on the road.

While I do think the Lakers are a wild card in the playoffs this year because of Phil's coaching and Kobe's singular greatness (and newfound leadership ability), I would still rate Houston and Denver as more frightening opponents for a single series. That means that if the season ended today, four of the five most dangerous teams would all be on the same side of the bracket:

3) San Antonio
6) Houston

7) Denver
2) Dallas

That, my friends, is a gauntlet.

Which means that the Suns' 15-game winning streak isn't just a nice story. It is a necessity.

And it should make for a fantastic second half as these two dynamos try to keep pace with each other.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

NFC Playoff Thoughts

Over in the NFC, things were awfully exciting as both games ended with a score of 27-24. Anytime you get close contests with lots of points on the board, you can’t really complain. Here are some thoughts on the divisional games as well as a prediction for Sunday.

Chicago 27 Seattle 24 (OT). Even though I am living in Chicago right now, I was pulling for Seattle to win this game. I felt bad for the Seahawks all year, as they were constantly decimated by injuries yet never could seem to catch a break from anyone. People acted like they somehow choked this year or something, when in reality they suffered injuries to their starting quarterback, running back, receiver, and almost the entire offensive line and entire secondary.

Yet they still made the playoffs and found a way to advance in the Wild Card round, which, to me, was pretty impressive. And they absolutely outplayed the Bears on Sunday, only to come up a little short.

If I had to fault Seattle for one thing, it would be that stupid angled running play they employ in short yardage situations. I don’t know if it is supposed to be a trap or something, but it never works. By running at a sharp angle, they are giving up leverage and allowing blitzing linebackers to come through and annihilate the running back. They did it against Dallas and lost eight yards one a first-and-goal from the one yard line and then they did it four more times against Chicago and lost yardage every time. If you are going to run, slam it up the middle or toss it outside. Don’t go halfway between the two.

New Orleans 27 Philadelphia 24. Once again, the first thing that comes to mind is play-calling on the part of the losing team. In every game, the loser was victimized by poor playcalling. The Ravens didn’t run the ball nearly enough, the Chargers got too tight late in the game and forgot about LT (especially in the passing game), and the Seahawks insisted on repeatedly trying a terrible running play … that had been a disaster the week before. As for the Eagles, they failed to treat their last possession like it was all “four down territory.” They threw the ball down the field on third-and-ten rather than shave up some yards to make fourth down more manageable. Then, to make matters worse, they actually punted the ball away. Why did Andy Reid do that? Your whole season is on the line, you are trailing, and you know that the opposition (who has run for almost 200 yards at the point) needs only one first down to end the game. Yet out comes the punting team. Just an amazing decision.

On the plus side, we got to see some vintage Reggie Bush. No, not the fumble that almost cost the Saints the game, I’m talking about everything else before that. He took a viscous hit right at the outset, but managed to shake it off and have a really nice game. He had a breathtaking 20-yard run early, a powerful draw play a few moments later, and then the ridiculous touchdown run.

Of course, Bush was only the second best Saints running back in the game. The honor of best goes to Deuce McAllister, who ran all over the Eagles for 143 yards and scored two touchdowns.

The only thing I didn’t like about this game from the Saints standpoint is that they were just a little too excited when they won, like that was their Super Bowl. Of course, the Bears managed to top them on that front, so I guess nobody is at a “just happy to be here” disadvantage.

Saints at Bears. I would like nothing better than to see the Saints go to the Super Bowl and then win it by upsetting either the Patriots or the Colts. And since I picked them to win it all, you would think I could stay the course. However, I had them beating Dallas and the Ravens, because I liked the matchups. I like these matchups less. The Bears feel due for some big plays on defense and I think Urlacher will leave his imprint in the running game. On offense, I think Grossman now has confidence after narrowly avoiding that early interception (when Jordan Babineaux inexplicably missed the ball) and then going over the top to Berrian for a long touchdown.

Deep down I think the Bears will probably win, but I will stick with my original pick out of loyalty.

The Pick: Saints 24 Bears 21.

AFC Playoff Thoughts

I've been meaning to post some thoughts on the divisional round of the playoffs as well as my predictions for the title round, but have been hypnotized by Bravo's Top Chef. So you have my apologies.

Indianapolis 15 Baltimore 6. Even though this game was the least exciting and had by far the fewest points tallied of any of the divisional round games, it might have had the most interesting subplots. The Colts bailed out on the city of Baltimore back in the early 80's, only to be replaced by the Browns-turned-Ravens, who - led by Art Model - snuck out of Cleveland under the cloak of darkness nearly a decade ago. In addition to this intriguing bit of history there was the unstoppable force of Indy's offense going up against the immovable object of B-More's defense.

Then the game started, the Ravens defense prevailed (Manning had yet another terrible playoff game), and yet Baltimore still lost the game. How?

- For starters, Steve McNair came through with a classic Veteran Mistake when he threw a horrific interception at the Colts' goal line, which took points off the board and halted Baltimore's momentum when they finally had something going. Not only that, but then the vaunted defense failed to pin Indy deep, instead allowing the Colts to go marching back down the field.

- The Ravens were also victimized by bad luck, when two interceptions were tipped away by Ray Lewis.

- They got hosed by the officials, who blew the play dead when they incorrectly thought Ed Reed (who was by far the best player on the field) went out of bounds before lateraling the ball to Chris McAllister. The officials also made a terrible holding call on Jonathan Ogden and missed a blatant unnecessary roughing call on Cato June.

- Baltimore really missed B.J. Sams' return abilities on special teams.

- But mainly, they shot themselves in the foot with bad playcalling. Despite facing a run defense that many have called one of the worst in NFL history, the Ravens only ran the ball five times out of 22 second half plays. It wasn't until the 3:15 mark of the third quarter that Jamal Lewis got his first carry of the second half (after nine passing plays and a fullback dive) and for the game he got just 13 totes. How is this possible? Not only did Lewis look better than he has at any time since he had his soul taken in prison, but the Colts are porous against the run! Here is the problem with exploiting a bad run defense: it only works if you actually run the ball.

Give the Colts credit for being able to move the ball on the ground when they had to – especially on the last drive with Rhodes - and for getting the job done on defense, but don't mistake this victory for any kind of dominance. In fact, that is the irony here. The Colts are now playing at home in the AFC title game and will probably win the Super Bowl, but they are only this far because the first two teams they played just absolutely gagged. The Chiefs should have given them a run for their money and Baltimore absolutely should have won the game. Amazing.

New England 24 San Diego 21. In my playoff "guesses" I forecasted matchup and result, because I just couldn't picture the Chargers beating the Patriots. It turned out that was correct, but for the life of me, I still don't know how this happened. My dad suspects that Belichek has some sort of voodoo doll that he employs on the sidelines. I keep flashing back to the movie The Last Boyscout and wondering about a point shaving scandal. I mean seriously, how in the hell did this happen? The Chargers were bigger, faster, stronger, and better all game long. They had the unstoppable Tomlinson, Rivers was handling the situation well, and Brady was taking a giant dump on the field. But then the dust cleared and the Pats were doing the Merriman Lights Out dance and celebrating yet another huge postseason win.

I'm still in shock, as you can probably tell from this scattered recap. The hardest thing here is to assign blame. I guess you can blame Marty since he has a track record and a few key mistakes can be traced back to him. Eric Parker fumbling that punt should never have happened, because once he dropped three passes and showed that he was the leader in the clubhouse for the Worst Hands Award, he never should have been back there. Florence getting the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on fourth down has to go back to the coach, at least on some level. The conservative playcalling after the game was tied, that definitely falls on Marty. But a guy intercepts a fourth down pass and then fumbles it? How can you anticipate or prevent something like that?

I couldn't feel any worse for the Chargers at this point, I don't think.

Patriots at Colts

I personally don't think either team deserves to be in this game. The Colts have had two opponents just roll over and give them the path to the Super Bowl, while the Patriots' victory called to mind the putt at the end of Happy Gilmore. And I don't know about anyone else, but I am sick and tired of the Colts and Pats. It is worse than Sox-Yanks, I think. Blah.

That said, I think this is now the Colts year. They've absorbed two more classic Manning playoff games in which he has thrown five picks and played with the world's tightest sphincter. Now they get a home game to win the AFC and go to the Super Bowl as at least a seven-point favorite. Unless the Patriots can find a fountain of youth for Corey Dillon and/or get Laurence Maroney to run like he did before be bruised his ribs (or somehow acquire Maurice Jones-Drew and disguise him as Kevin Faulk), they won't be able to exploit this run defense. And they certainly don't have the receivers on offense or the corners on defense to win a shootout. Unless, of course, Manning actually poops his pants on the field. Then all bets are off.

The pick: Indy 27 New England 17.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rockets-Lakers Not Going to Happen

I keep reading about how the Rockets and Lakers are headed for an epic first round clash in the NBA Playoffs. Umm ... what? Yes, they are currently the #4 and #5 teams in the Western Conference Standings and yes, it seems unlikely that they will catch the Suns/Mavs/Spurs trio for a higher seed.

However, just because the NBA changed the rule that required division winners to be slotted in seeds 1-3 doesn't mean that winning the division no longer matters. The three division winners still get top four seeds, which means that the Northwest Division winner will be in the mix. If the playoffs started today it would like look this:

1) Dallas
2) Phoenix
3) San Antonio
4) Utah
5) Lakers
6) Houston
7) Minnesota
8) Denver

Not only does this list tell me that KG is a freaking hero and that the Clippers should be ashamed, it seems to obviously tell us that the Rockets and Lakers won't be playing each other this year. In fact, the only way they could meet in the first round would for the following things to happen:

- A team from the Northwest (Utah, Minnesota, or Denver) would have to get insanely hot and crack the top three in the West.

- One of the current top teams would have to tank, not just below the Northwest winner, but below both the Lakers and the Rockets.

As best I can tell, the only chance of this happening is if the Suns or Spurs tank to the #6 spot in the West, so that the standings would then look like this:

1) Dallas
2) Phoenix (or San Antonio)
3) Utah
4) Lakers
5) Rockets
6) San Antonio (or Phoenix)

Does that seem at all likely? Of course not.

The most likley scenario is that the Lakers and Rockets remains where they are now. And that would mean that not only is a first round matchup out of the question, but that they could not meet in the playoffs until the Western Conference Finals.

In other words, there is almost no chance that the Lakers and Rockets will meet in the playoffs this year, in any round, under any circumstances.

But by all means, let's keep talking about how such a series would go.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Khoub Report: Vol. 4

I was lucky enough to watch the Nuggets-Rockets tonight in what can only be described as the most enjoyable terrible game I've ever seen. Despite horrific bricks being launched from all directions, we still were treated to the following: a great effort from Iverson, signs that the Steve Blake trade is going to be a good move, 24 rebounds from Marcus Camby, a bizarre phone interview with Carmelo Anthony, high comedy from the Bill Walton and Jon Barry duo (Barry is getting better with each passing game), and a big night from Shane Battier. Plus multiple finger wags from Mutombo. Of course, none of that really matters. This is the Khoub Report. So how did our boy do?

The answer to that depends on whether you are talking about offense or defense. You see, Yakhouba was a regular Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde in this one, playing 37 minutes of tenacious defense on Tracy McGrady while also launching a horrific series of ill-advised shots on the offensive end. Honestly, it was bizarre. His D was Bruce Bowen-esque, right down to the 5-for-17 shooting from McGrady, the slight bumps and borderline muggings, and the disgusted reaction on T-Mac's face. It was a virtuoso defensive performance. But on the other hand, he had such a bizarre and often atrocious offensive game that he became the running joke of the broadcast. Despite canning a three with the clock winding down in both the first and second quarters and with the shot clock running down in the third, Khoub finished 3-for-12 from behind the three-point line. 12 attempts! He had an airball, a missed attempt at a game-tying three, and multiple instances in which his shot selection could only be described as terrible. He also had a five minute stretch in which he stepped out of bounds, travelled, and threw a pass off the backboard. It was tough to watch. The good news is that both J.R. Smith (4-for-17) and Leinus Kleiza (0-5, 5 fouls in 25 minutes) were far, far worse.

Giving him a grade is almost impossible, but I'm going to try.

The Line:
37 minutes
13 points
5-14 FG
3-12 3PT FG
4 turnovers
2 blocks

The Grade(s):
Offense (not counting the final five seconds of each quarter): D-
Offense (last five seconds of each quarter): A
Defense: A-
Overall: B-

Friday, January 05, 2007

NFL Playoff Guesses

I tried to shrug off any accountability when it came to making my picks for the baseball playoffs, which was a good plan since I had the Dodgers and Twins squaring off in the Fall Classic. Solid picks right there. And the whole "these are just guesses because the playoffs are too hard to predict" disclaimer seemed to work, because the number of "you suck, you are an idiot" emails was surprisingly low.

Anyway, I'm going that route again. The NFL playoffs are a complete and total crapshoot, as proven by the sixth-seeded Steelers last year. Given that truth, I am going to lay out my "guesses" for the playoffs. Here goes nothing.


Wild Card Round
PHILLY 27 New York 24 - I don't see how the Eagles can be favored by 7 in this one, but I also don't see how the Giants can switch gears to try to win, when they've been playing like they were trying to lose for two months. I like Philly's defense better (especially the reenergized Brian Dawkins), I think Brian Westbrook is the best offensive player in this game, and I saw Invincible on an airplane recently and that gave me some positive vibes about the Eagles in general. But if I was a gambling man, I would absolutely be taking the Giants and the points.

Dallas 28 SEATTLE 21 - I've seen the last four Seahawks games from start to finish and I'm here to tell you that Seattle sucks (and this is from a Washington native and a guy that picked Seattle to win the Super Bowl this year). The line has been a disaster all year, Alexander is hitting the hole like he's running barefoot on hot coals (the tippy-toe steps, not the urgency), and Hasselbeck is dinged up and missing his best wide receiver (although DJ Hackett is doing an admirable job in Darrell Jackson's absence). Meanwhile, the Cowboys look like the classic possum team that fades down the stretch only to turn it on for the postseason. Like the Cardinals in baseball. Bastards.

Divisional Round
Dallas 31 CHICAGO 24 - This may look surprising, but note a few things: 1) Chicago crapped the bad at home last year as well (against Steve Smith and Carolina), and 2) the Bears have routinely been giving up tons of yards and points ever since Mike Brown and Tommie Harris went down with injuries. The Harris injury was especially costly, because without him, the Bears can't get a pass rush without blitzing. If Dallas keeps Devin Hester from scoring on kick returns, I think they simply have a better team.

NEW ORLEANS 34 Philly 31 - Yes, I think it is going to be a high-scoring postseason, at least in the NFC. When teams aren't that good, the deficiency tends to be on defense, which is the case with many of these squads. The Saints are pretty weak all over on D, Dallas can't stop the deep pass, Seattle has approximately one healthy player in the secondary, the Bears have been ravaged by injuries and are getting by on rep alone, and the Giants and Eagles have been mediocre all year. Who is going to stop anyone? And since the Saints have the best offense in the conference, I think they advance courtesy of shootouts.

Conference Championship
NEW ORLEANS 31 Dallas 21 - The Saints have already defeated the Cowboys (and it was in Dallas), so why go against them here? It doesn't seem like anyone is giving the new America's Team a chance to win the NFC, which confuses me. This race is wide open and all New Orleans has to do is win two games. (When all else fails, go with a team that is required to win fewer games.)


Wild Card Round
INDY 31 Kansas City 17 - I know the Colts can't stop the run, but I think the story is being blown out of proportion. Some of the guys over at Rotowire (where I cover the abysmal Raiders) have dug up some impressive research that seems to prove that yards per pass attempt is the most critical stat in the NFL. And last time I checked, the Colts were pretty good at that and the Chiefs weren't. (And in case you want to point to last year as proof to the contrary, I urge you to check the stats, where you will see that the Steelers marched to the Super Bowl by completing long pass plays, not by running the ball. They were improbably successful on third-and-long in particular, which kind of proves that Cower unleashed the long passing game not by design but by accident.) So even though KC has LJ, they aren't going to beat Indy in the dome.

NEW ENGLAND 24 Jets 10 - I think the Pats are going to get some revenge here. Maroney is finally healthy, Dillon is running hard in his role, and Reche Caldwell has shockingly emerged to give Brady a decent #1 option in the passing game.

Divisional Round
New England 21 SAN DIEGO 17 - Look, I love the Chargers. In fact, if you go back to my NFL preview column for Whatif, you will see that I actually picked them to win the AFC before the season started. I'm not sure about this, but I might be the only person on planet earth that did that (of course, I also picked the Jets to win three games, so I'm not going to get too excited). That said, they are going to be getting a tough matchup here. The Pats looked good against the Titans and Belichek has a habit of making life miserable for young quarterbacks. I see the Patriots loading up on LT, confusing Rivers, and scheming for Merriman ... and pulling off the upset.

BALTIMORE 24 Indy 21 - I kind of feel like this is the Colts year to break through and win it all, if only because this is the year no one expects them to (note: this was the same logic I employed in picking the Cardinals to win their series with the Padres and they went on to win the World Series, so maybe I should take that into consideration ... nah). That said, I think the Ravens defense is too tough and with home field advantage, the Ravens should be able to get the job done.

(By the way, I don't remember ever taking more heat for a preseason pick than I did when I tabbed the Ravens to win the AFC North. Funny, I haven't heard from those readers in a while. And yes, this is going down as my most reflective, bitter, and horn-tooting blog post of all time. So bet it.)

Conference Championship

BALTIMORE 17 New England 13 - The Patriots are going to be a tough out, just as they were last year when a bogus pass interference call was the only thing between them and a possible fourth title in five years. But I think the Ravens will do the job, especially since Kyle Boller has looked good in relief duty this year and gives them insurance for the inevitable Steve McNair injury. Who would have thought that Kyle Boller would ever be an asset? In January, at that.

Super Bowl
New Orleans 24 Baltimore 20 - Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but I believe the Saints can win it all. They have multiple game-breaking players on offense, an explosive return game, and - most importantly - the right matchups if things go this way. Philly, Dallas, and B-More? They can beat those teams. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an offense better suited to beating the Ravens. With their rhythm passing game led by Drew Brees, New Orleans can get the ball out quickly and force B-More's aging secondary to make tackles. As good as those guys are, I'm not sure that bringing down players like Reggie Bush and Marques Colston in the open field is their specialty.

So there you have it. If I get one game right, I'll be happy.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Raiders Must Take Quinn

I know there is plenty of time for NFL Draft conjecture, but now that we know Oakland has the top pick in the 2007 Draft, let me just say that Oakland absolutely has to take Brady Quinn.

They passed on Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler last year because they supposedly had quarterbacks for the present (Aaron Brooks) and the future (Andrew Walter). The guy they took instead – safety Michael Huff - had an up-and-down season (at best) and while he might wind up being worth the #7 pick, I don't see how Oakland can remain convinced that they are set at the quarterback position. Even an organization as out of touch as the Raiders has to realize they need a new signal caller.

Brooks is clearly done as an NFL quarterback, but it was the play of Walter in 2006 that made for the bigger story. While it is true that the former Sun Devil played for a very bad coach, had an offensive coordinator fresh off a Bed And Breakfast stint, was armed with a #1 wide receiver that rarely tried, and dropped back behind the worst offensive line in football, that still doesn't excuse just how awful he was. Walter completed 53.3% of his passes, threw 13 picks with just three touchdowns, and compiled a horrific 55.8 QB rating. Plus, he mouthed off a couple of times and showed very few leadership qualities. Oh yeah, and he was also injury prone. Pretty solid all the way around.

Fortunately for the Raiders, Quinn looks like the real deal. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Quinn's biggest weakness is the pass rush. When he has time to throw he can dice up any defense, but when the rush is on (see: the UCLA and Michigan games), he has a rough go of it. This means that if Oakland is to draft Quinn, they will need to spend the rest of their offseason fixing that miserable o-line. They need a new ... well, pretty much everything, including left tackle (Robert Gallery isn’t very good, folks).

In fact, the offensive line is so bad that the Raiders may be tempted to go that way on draft day, especially with Wisconsin's Joe Thomas available. To me this, would be a mistake, as would the selection of Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, because while you need to give a quarterback blocking and a guy to throw to (and with Moss on his way out, Johnson could slide right in), you need the quarterback first and foremost.

And the Raiders definitely don't have that.