Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top Five 2009 Fantasy Football Sleepers

Last week, I wrote up the top five likely busts for the 2009 fantasy football season, and hinted at this article's pending arrival. Not wanting to perpetuate the disappointment that often comes with any claim or promise made by Joe and Joe Sports, I present to you this article, addressing the players who might be under-valued going into next season. As with the last article, many things can change between now and then (retirements, free agency, trades, draft picks, etc), and this list is likely very different from one I might write in two months, let alone going into the 2009 season. But it's a fun exercise (which distinguishes it from leg lifts, a decidedly unpleasant exercise), so here we go.
  1. Joseph Addai - Addai was a first round pick coming into this season, and was generally one of the most disappointing players in fantasy sports. He finished with just 544 yards and 5 TDs, and missed weeks 15 and 16 (fantasy playoff time) due to injury. All that being said, I like Addai to be a high level producer next year. He figures to be the featured back from week 1, and the Colts' offense is always one of the best in the NFL when Manning is healthy, which he should be from the get-go next year. My advice is to watch him slip to the third and fourth rounds, and scoop him up. 2009 projections: 1400 total yards, 12 TDs
  2. Tom Brady - Brady is the kind of guy who's going to have lots of questions surrounding him next year, regardless of whether or not Matt Cassel returns (which I expect he won't). Brady, as you may remember, set a single-season record for passing touchdowns in 2007 with 50, and likely helped some opponent of yours nab the fantasy championship last year. And yet, there will likely be three or four QBs taken before him in your draft next year (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, and Philip Rivers all figure to be in the mix). Brady was never the beneficiary of pristine mechanics or a rocket arm. He's a smart quarterback who's got a great scheme and fantastic receivers for it, and all of that will be the same when he starts playing football again. Draft Brady with confidence anytime after the third round. 2009 projections: 4100 yards, 30 TDs, 13 INTs
  3. Marques Colston - Normally I wouldn't put a guy who's got Colston's kind of track record on this list, but it seems like people still aren't sold on him. He missed 5 games this season, and finished with numbers that are unimpressive even when projected out for 16 games. But don't let the numbers deceive you. Colston is a very talented receiver who'll still have Drew Brees throwing to him, and will still be the #1 receiver in an extremely pass-happy offense. He's going to put up great numbers, and would be a steal in the fifth or sixth rounds. 2009 projections: 90 catches, 1200 yards, 9 TDs.
  4. Chad Johnson (Chad Ocho Cinco) - Johnson had by far the worst season of his career, with just 53 catches and 540 yards. And if you listened to my early predictions on fantasy production, he probably cost you some victories, and you want to extract your vengeance from my skull. That's understandable, but I'm going to keep riding this train. I look at 2008 as an anomoly, and I expect Chad to be a worthwhile pick next year. I'll caution you against drafting him too high, but if you can grab him as a late #2 or early #3 receiver for your team, he could be the guy who leads your team to the promised land. 2009 projections: 85 catches, 1250 yards, 9 TDs
  5. Darren McFadden - I'm not ready to discount McFadden as "injury-prone" just yet, although it's certainly possible that he'll end up being that kind of guy. But after being hobbled and generally un-used for most of the season, McFadden stands a pretty good chance of being ignored on draft day. That would be a mistake. He still averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and is still a very talented player. The Raiders aren't skilled enough to keep a player like McFadden off the field for very long, so I expect he'll get more opportunities next year. Don't draft McFadden to start for your team, but when you're filling out your roster in the middle rounds, make sure you don't let him slip too far. 2009 projections: 1200 total yards, 8 TDs

Monday, December 29, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 17 vs. San Francsico 49ers

49ers 27, Redskins 24

And so, the season ends much the way it began, with disappointment and speculation on what changes might be made. I'll be speaking with some of my journalistic colleagues (read: drinking buddies) and preparing a post to go over the Skins' offseason plans, what I think they will be and what I think they should be. But for now, let's review Washington's most recent loss.

Offense: C-

The offense did some things I'm happy about. They put together four drives of 40 or more yards, which is something they've struggled to do all season. Three of those drives resulted in touchdowns, also encouraging. But they also had three 3-and-outs and a devastating fumble to start the second half. Additionally, they had five drives that netted less than 10 yards, which means that they were providing no field position advantage to their defense most of the time.

Jason Campbell totaled just 156 yards passing, though he showed once again that, while he doesn't have great speed, his instincts on scrambling are almost always spot on. But the quarterback's job, first and foremost, is to get the ball down the field, and with 4.6 yards per passing play, Campbell failed miserably on that front. The ground game was decent but not special, and I'm beginning to think more and more that this was Portis' swan song as a premier running back in the NFL...which makes me wonder why Ladell Betts didn't get more opportunities this season (just 61 carries this season).

Defense: C-

The defense has been a strength all season, but this Sunday played at a very unimpressive level. The 49ers outgained the Redskins by nearly 100 yards, and had seven, seven drives of 20 yards or more. Most important, San Francisco put together scoring drives on all three of their 4th quarter possessions, gaining 80 yards for a TD, 34 yards for a FG, and 51 yards for another field goal to win the game at the buzzer. When the game was on the line, when the Redskins needed a stop, the defense just couldn't hold.

Once again, the defense was also unable to generate much in the way of turnovers, though it was nice to see Carlos Rogers actually hold on to an interception. But just once next year, I'd like to see a four turnover game. The 'Skins have got the personnel in the secondary to make it happen; they just need some pass rush to harass a quarterback or two.

Special Teams: C+

The special teams were anything but special. Shaun Suisham made a 41-yard field goal, his only attempt of the day, and Ryan Plackemeier was generally effective. But once again, the punt return game by Antwaan Randle El was atrocious. I hope they get Devin Thomas working on his hands and open-field moves, so we don't have to suffer through another season of these terrible, go-nowhere punt returns.

I'm fine with Randle El as the #2 receiver, by the way. He's got decent hands and seems to have a good rapport with Campbell. I don't think you can lay more money into receivers with Cooley being featured and after drafting three receivers in the second round last year. You have to ride the current group for the time being, and hope someone else emerges to go alongside Santana Moss.

Overall: C-

There's not much else to say about this performance. There were a few highlights, but as has been the case for much of the second half of the 2008 NFL season, the Redskins just didn't have what it takes to close the deal. The first year of the Jim Zorn era ends at 8-8, not a terrible season, but certainly a let-down after the 6-2 start in what should've been tougher games.

See you next year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Top Five 2009 Fantasy Football Busts

It's never too early to start talking about the next fantasy season, especially for those of you in keeper leagues. So, as sort of a half 2008 wrap-up, half 2009 preview, let's take a look at the guys who played above their potential in 2008, and will likely be disappointments next season. This is, of course, with only partial information, so much can (and probably will) change before next season. Whatever, it's fun.
  1. DeAngelo Williams - Listen, Williams was awesome this season. He was particularly dominant in the second half of the season, posting at least 70 yards and a touchdown in each of the past 8 games, and recording two games with 4 touchdowns, including in week 16, which likely won games for most of his owners. His stock will be in the clouds going into next season; I've seen projections that have him in the top 5. Wrong. He'll be good, but Jonathan Stewart is likely to figure into the offense more next year, and he was already a touchdown hawk. Look for a two-headed monster next year that gives fantasy owners fits. 2009 projections: 1200 total yards, 10 TDs
  2. Matt Cassel - Cassel was actually not as good as people might feel. He had five games where he threw at least 3 TDs, but also had four games when he didn't score at all, far too many for an elite level QB. He can be solid, but no way does he come anywhere near the top guys' production (Manning, Brees, Romo, Brady). I do place one caveat on this, though. If he goes to Arizona this offseason, Cassel will be worth at least a 4th round pick, and should be considered a potential keeper. 2009 projections: 3800 yards, 24 TDs, 15 INTs, 3 rushing TDs
  3. Dallas Clark - Another beneficiary of great fantasy playoff production, Clark had a touchdown in each of the final three games of the fantasy season (assuming your championship game is in week 16...and if it's not, you've probably got some hokey champions). People who won playoff games with Clark or lost games because of him will think of him as a powerhouse, but the reality is that, even with Harrison less than fantastic and injuries in the running game, creating a greater opportunity for Clark to step up and post big numbers, he accumulated only 789 yards and 6 TDs. Those are fine numbers from a tight end, as long as you're drafting him in the 10th round. Don't overpay, that's all I'm saying on this or any of these. 2009 projections: 700 yards, 8 TDs
  4. Thomas Jones - Because he didn't get consistent playing time until 2004, many of your fellow fantasy owners won't realize that Jones will be 31 when the season opens next year. Don't make the same mistake. While he's been effective for 5 years now, he's in the midst of a career year, and the chances that he matches this production next year are extremely slim. Definitely take a look at Leon Washington in the later rounds, though. He's got great explosiveness, and if he's given a chance to be the featured back, he could be a stud. 2009 projections: 1100 total yards, 4 TDs
  5. Kurt Warner - While I think Warner will be a colossal bust to anyone who drafts him next year, I've got him at number five because I think a lot of people will realize that he's not that good. His contract is up after this season, and I don't see him returning to the passing heaven that is the Arizona Cardinals. That means he'll be joining a team without two elite level wide receivers, and I just don't like Warner at all in Tampa Bay or Cleveland or wherever. 2009 projections: 3100 yards, 18 TDs, 20 INTs
I should note that two of the guys on the list, Williams and Cassel, were on my fantasy championship team. However, I managed to talk myself out of starting Cassel on most occasions, opting for Romo instead. So, thank goodness for DeAngelo. :)

I've got a similar article in the works, one that will focus on the opposite type of players: players who were disappointing this year, but I expect to bounce back next season. Should be up next week.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Post

It's Christmas Eve, and I've got a couple things to mention, but figured it'd be a waste to put them in separate posts. First, a friend brought this to my attention; you can track Santa's sleigh ride 'round the world. So...enjoy that.

Additionally, our second round of voting also ended in a tie, so I'm just going to arbitrarily pick the song that was part of both of the ties, and play that one. Look forward to that.

My brother bought NHL '09 for the Xbox 360 a couple months ago, and while I was unexcited initially, I've come to really enjoy playing it. It's got a neat feature that coincides with similar features present in most other EA Sports games where you take control of a single player and try to guide them to the promised land...which I guess is the hockey hall of fame? I haven't gotten that far into it yet, still in season one. Anyways, it's really interesting to try to learn a specific position, to work off the puck, and to play positional defense (rather than the wild checkfest that my normal defense tends to deteriorate into).

Don't forget to check out our partner site, Joe and Joe Sports, now on its own domain!

Santa Gets the Boot

Today is Christmas Eve, and after doing my usual perusing through my sports websites, I noticed this little gem from www.si.com. I've got a couple extra minutes on my hand and thought the blog could use a sports/holiday related story. Its entitled "Tomlin annoyed by fake Santa." The title pretty much summarizes the story, but here's a little more detail:

A sports announcer has traditionally dressed up as Santa for the Steelers pre-Christmas press gathering. Apparently, he went a little overboard this year, though, after handing out gifts, cracking a few jokes, and even "roasting" a few Steelers, I'm not sure where he crossed the line.

The bottom of the article is what really gets me. "Later, the Steelers said there would be no future appearances from Santa at any of their news conferences." I do enjoy a fun tradition, and I understand that traditions will evolve and change over time, but putting an end to this bizarre tradition that apparently started during the Cowher era is silly. Its a silly tradition to begin with, but even the NFL needs a break from all the seriousness all the time. A little comedy and holiday spirit mixed together before the Christmas holiday sounds like a light-hearted laugh that has been enjoyed by the other press and Cowher when he coached. Tomlin clearly was not annoyed enough to boot Santa from press conferences last year. So what's the deal??

My only hope is that the football gods look down on this and hamper the Steelers winning ways.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mark Teixeira: Worth It

For those of you just hearing, Mark Teixeira has reportedly signed an 8-year deal with the New York Yankees for $170 million, possibly more.

I'm going to do my best to make this less of a fantasy baseball article, and more of an MLB baseball article. I love fantasy baseball, but the dollars involved in Teixeira's upcoming contract are only partially related to fantasy sports. And I think he's going to be worth every penny he's paid, and even more (which means I think the Washington Nationals should've ponied up the dough).

First off, the talk is an 8-year deal worth $21.25 million per year. How does that compare to other salaries in baseball? Well, it's near the top. Listen, nobody's going to argue that Teixeira won't be that expensive. He absolutely will be among the highest paid players in baseball. Among contracts already signed, only Alex Rodriguez, Johan Santana, and CC Sabathia will also be members of the $20 Million Club (notice two future teammates of Teixeira on that list; don't even bother trying to argue that the Red Sox or Mets are on the same level as the Yankees when it comes to spending). Remember, though, that many of the best players in baseball are still on their initial contracts, or are going through arbitration, and thus haven't been paid full market value yet, like Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, and Matt Holliday. Furthermore, remember that there are a number of MLB veterans who've got fat contracts and aren't performing at that level, like Troy Glaus, Barry Zito, Garret Anderson, and J.D. Drew.

So why is Mark Teixeira worth the money that those players aren't? Because Teixeira is the real thing. His career lows are 26 HR and 84 RBI (both in his rookie season), and has the following five-year averages:

.285, 100 R, 35 HR, 118 RBI, 80 BB

Can you guarantee that kind of production over the next 8-10 years? No, of course not. Don Mattingly, Kent Hrbek, and Mo Vaughn were all top-tier hitters at 28 and out of baseball by their 36th birthdays. But Mark Teixeira has been amazingly consistent as one of the premier power hitters in baseball for five years, and he's succeeded in three different uniforms. I'm as close to certain as I can be about anyone that Teixeira will be a legitimate cleanup hitter for years to come, and those are guys you have to pay for. The reality is that nobody as good as Teixeira is available in free agency this season other than Manny Ramirez, and Manny comes with his own set of issues. Issues that apparently the Yankees were loathe to endure.

The Orioles apparently offered $140 million over 7 years and didn't budge from that, which was essentially conceding that they wouldn't sign Teixeira barring a dramatic hometown discount (which was unlikely with Scott Boras as his agent). The Nationals were in the $20 million per year range, but over 8 years, putting them in the same range as the reported offers by the Red Sox and Angels. The word on the street was that the Nationals would have to pay $200 million over 10 years to get Teixeira.

They should've done it.

Having a guy you can lock into the cleanup spot for at least the next 5-6 years (and probably longer; look at Carlos Delgado or Jim Thome) is an extremely valuable asset. Additionally, signing Teixeira immediately makes your team a legitimate destination for future free agents, as well as giving your still uncommitted fan base a reason to come to the ballpark.

I'm still an Orioles fan first and a Nationals fan second, but I want the Nationals to grow into my new favorite team. I loved the Expos; it's only right that I should like them when they move into my back yard. I was salivating at the thought of Teixeira coming this season, then the Nationals throwing a big contract offer at Matt Holliday next offseason, and riding those two guys in the heart of the lineup for years and years. I can only hope that the new stadium in New York doesn't offer the same short porch in right field, or it could be a long half-dozen years for the AL East.

Oh, who am I kidding. It's going to be long either way.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 16 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Redskins 10, Eagles 3

If you'd have told me the Washington Redskins could score 10 points and win a divisional game, I'd have called you a liar. Well, maybe not. It's professional football, and as the saying goes, anything can happen on "any given Sunday." But still, it's very surprising to see how things turned out.

Offense: C-


You can't score 10 points and have me give you a high rating on offense, win or no win. Jason Campbell had only 144 yards passing, and his completion percentage was only a tick over 50%. Clinton Portis averaged 3.2 yards per carry, and Ladell Betts averaged 3.3. The Redskins punted 8 times, and averaged a paltry 4.3 yards per play. Their sole touchdown came as a result of a turnover.

And in the last ten minutes of the game, when Washington was up by only 7 points, they got three possessions, averaged 1:24 per drive, and went 3-and-out on each of them. Those are the game-closing opportunities that good teams take advantage of to either score again to put the game out of reach, or drain the clock. The Redskins did neither, and it almost cost them the game.

In the vein of proposing completely ambiguous and unjustified concepts, it seems like Campbell is hesitant to throw deep balls. I'm not going to sit here and say that "I saw plenty of guys get open downfield," because the reality is that most guys aren't open most of the time. But some guys are more open than others, and when a guy is 40 yards downfield and is sort of open, the risk/reward suggests that's a pass you should take rather than a swing pass to a covered Portis or Betts. Deep passes open up everything; they open up the short and intermediate passing games, and give running backs much more room to work with. Additionally, Santana Moss and Devin Thomas are both long pass threats who aren't being used properly if they're not being targeted deep.

Defense: A

Before the last play of the game, the defense was sitting at around a B+, and had they given up a game-tying touchdown, would've likely dropped down to a B. But that play was just fantastic. Fred Smoot made a good play on the receiver, and LaRon Landry did exactly what you drafted LaRon Landry to do: lay hits and stop guys. Watching the play live went something like this:

anxiety - quick, deep breath - holding breath - grimace - tentative clap - intent stare at review - big fist pump

That's what watching football is all about.

Other than the final drive, the Redskins defense was stalwart. They forced six 3-and-outs, and allowed more than 15 yards on only two drives all game. Most exciting, however, was the fact that Jason Taylor actually started to produce, making two sacks, including one that forced a fumble by Donovan McNabb. It was the first glimpse of the Jason Taylor I had hoped the Redskins had acquired when I wrote about how good a move it was. If he returns next year as expected, hopefully we'll see more of this.

Special Teams: B

My longtime faith in Ryan Plackemeier paid dividends on Sunday, when he put the Eagles inside their own 20 yard line on five different occasions. Shaun Suisham was less impressive, picking up his league-leading 10th missed field goal. That's a bad category to lead the league in, and I'm starting to come around on Suisham not being the answer. Still, I don't see any value in benching/cutting him at this point, and I'd only dump him for next season if other roster changes suggest the 'Skins might be competing. That is, if it looks like the offense will score more than 15 points a game.

Antwaan Randle El had his first really nice punt return in weeks, gaining 36. Moss had a nice one as well, but it was called back on a penalty. Rock Cartwright picked up 20 yards on his only kickoff return of the day.

Overall: B

It was by no means a pretty game, and the offense looked as anemic as ever, which is definitely a concern for a supposed "offensive-minded" head coach. But a win is a win, and that last defensive play was perhaps the best moment in Redskins football this entire season.

Next week, I'll give analysis on the final game of the season against the 49ers, and then a full breakdown of the Redskins' entire season. We're also looking into a possible radio show (first in a while) discussing what the Redskins' offseason plans should entail. It should be fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Comparison of Two Pitchers

The following are the stats from the rookie years of two starting pitchers:

Pitcher A: 19GS, 6-6, 116.2 IP, 147K, 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Pitcher B: 24GS, 7-5, 146.1 IP, 150K, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Their records are essentially a wash. The rest of the stats lay in the favor of Pitcher A. Pitcher B had a K rate of 9.22/9IP, while Pitcher A had a K/9 rate of 11.34. Pitcher A had the lower ERA and WHIP, although a 4.00 and sub-1.30 WHIP for a rookie pitcher is certainly nothing to scoff at. But how did these two pitchers follow-up their rookie seasons?

Pitcher A: 30GS, 18-6, 211.1 IP, 245K, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
Pitcher B: 33GS, 18-5, 227.0 IP, 265K, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Both pitchers clearly had no trouble. Both posted impressive numbers across the board. Their records are again a wash and so is the K/9 rate with Pitcher B posting a slightly better rate than Pitcher A in their sophomore efforts (10.51 vs. 10.44). Pitcher A again led in terms of ERA and WHIP. Clearly fantasy owners and MLB general managers would be willing to plug either of these two youngsters in at the top of their rotation.

Each pitcher saw their innings increase significantly. Pitcher A had threw an additional 95 innings and Pitcher B threw an extra 81 innings. How will these two guys do from here on out? We will have to wait and see how Pitcher B fares in his effort to defend his NL Cy Young Award. The Giants placed a pretty heavy work load on Tim Lincecum as they (successfully) attempted to push Lincey to the top of Cy Young ballots and bring San Francisco a bright spot to their otherwise dim season. There have always been questions of Lincecum's ability to hold up over the long haul as a starting pitcher due to his small frame and mechanics. That said he has no injury history and getting through the 2009 season would go a long way in putting these fears to rest. How he will do from here on out is anybody's guess. Luckily we have some prior evidence to suggest how Lincecum's trajectory may turn out.

What about Pitcher A? The one that seemed to match or slightly outperform Lincecum over the course his first two seasons? No pitcher's future seemed quite so bright after Mark Prior completed his 2003 season especially when you consider his post all-star figures from that year (10-1, 1.52 ERA). That drove many average Joes to grab him early in 2004 keeper leagues. Since 2003 Prior has won a total of just 18 games. Of course when he came up people spoke about how he was built to be a starting pitcher (he has 6 inches and 55 pounds on Lincecum). That didn't really work out... I'm not saying that Lincecum will definitely not hold up. People said the same things about Pedro and he's had an okay career. But in a fantasy keeper league selling high may not be the worst idea. The worst idea would be to take Greg Maddux with the first pick. That guy isn't even playing next year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is Bobby Abreu A Keeper?

Bobby Abreu is a guy that we often think of as benefiting greatly from his presence in one of the strongest lineups in baseball as a member of the New York Yankees. With him likely not returning to the Yankees next season, does he retain his keeper value? There's actually a good amount of data on this, and the decision should be easier than you may realize.

Abreu was a 20-100-100-20 player last year (almost exactly), and hit .296. The previous season he had similar stats, with 16 HRs and 123 runs. The year before, again, very similar, with 15 HR and 30 SB. He's a career .300 hitter who has played in at least 150 games every season since he arrived in Philadelphia in 1998. He's as safe a bet for 15-100-100-15 as there is outside of the first round guys (A-Rod, Wright, Utley), and is a rare legitimate five-category producer.

Another bit of good news is that, being a productive veteran, he's going to command a substantial contract. That means he's most likely going to end up somewhere that's got a good lineup in place. It might not be "Yankee good," but he's not going to be hurting for protection or guys getting on base in front of him. The recent talk has been about the Rays; I'd definitely like him hitting behind Upton and in front of Longoria. If he doesn't end up in Tampa, he'll end up somewhere else with a team that's willing to spend money on a guy who will produce now, so most likely a team that's got the pieces in place to keep Abreu productive.

He's 34 years old, which might scare off some owners, but if you're at all planning on competing in the 2009 MLB season, you've got to hold on to Abreu. And if you're not, you need to put Abreu on the market. He deserves to be kept in medium-depth keeper leagues (6+ keepers per team).

2009 projected stats: .300, 110 R, 15 HR, 100 RBI, 20 SB

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Big Vote: Overtime!

So it turns out that we had a tie, and I didn't really have an opinion on how to resolve the tie, so I just posted two DMB songs and Hey Hey What Can I Do. Vote for whichever you want, and we'll try to get a winner here. Make your choice.

Redskins Report Card: Week 15 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals 20, Redskins 13

If you were to write a script for how Jim Zorn could be on the hot seat after that 6-2 start, it might go exactly like the past 6 games have gone. Seriously, this is bad, and it seems like the Washington Redskins are only getting worse. I want to offer some objective analysis, and I'm going to try to, but understand that with each passing week, it's become more and more difficult to separate my disappointment from my evaluations. Still, I'm in the business of trying and failing, rather than not trying, so here we go.

Offense: D+

I went all the way back to Week 1 against the Giants to find out what I had rated this offense in that game, and felt comfortable giving this performance a similar ranking. The running game was stifled throughout, and Campbell had a wholly unimpressive game. To be fair, he had the kind of game that he had several times during wins earlier in the season, but without the powerhouse running game to complement it, it's not nearly enough production.

This is the part of the analysis where you're expecting me to try to explain why giving the ball to Mike Sellers twice on the one yard line was a good idea, even though he was stuffed and then fumbled. Well, how's this for a shocker: it wasn't. Sellers' greatest asset is his ability to blast through arm tackles, and power forward for extra yardage on dump off passes. We saw him do just that on his only reception of the game, a 14-yard check-down. But the reality is that, while Sellers is technically a "fullback," he's best suited as a 3rd down back. Swing passes, screens, draws, that's where Sellers can be most effective. Running him up the gut at the goal line makes almost as little sense as if the Skins' had done it with Larry Centers back in the day.

One last thing. On my favorite local radio show, The Sports Reporters, co-host Steve Czaban made a comment regarding Santana Moss's ill-conceived celebration and Clinton Portis's mouthing off during the week. The connection between the two players, of course, is the University of Miami. His quote (roughly, I was in the car), "There is an absurd clique of entitlement and jack-assery from that university, and I just wish the Redskins would take their business elsewhere." He's got a good point; Portis seems to constantly be undermining his coaches and teammates, and Moss acts like a #1 wide receiver but plays like a #2. Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson were elite players when they took heat for celebrating too much. Moss is what, the 10th best receiver in the conference? Give me a break.

Defense: C+

The Redskins played F defense for one quarter, and A- defense for the rest of the game. Thus, C+ defense. Cincinnati and Ryan freaking Fitzpatrick picked apart the Skins to the tune of 14 first-quarter points, and gained over 180 yards on their four drives that started in the first quarter. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Bengals' stat line is that Fitzpatrick had 11 carries. Why is that disappointing? Because that means that the Skins flushed him from the pocket at least a half-dozen times, and weren't able to put him on the ground before he passed the line of scrimmage. That's a symptom of a defense that doesn't disrupt the passer, and can't even generate coverage sacks when they lock down receivers.

Also, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but when your team doesn't have an explosive offense, you need to keep the turnover differential squared up. I think it's fair to say that, if the Redskins could've generated two takeaways to counter the two fumbles the offense lost, we might be talking about a hard-fought and troublesome win (like the one against Detroit), rather than a deflating loss.

Special Teams: B

If I were only evaluating the way they played, the special teams would get an A or A-. But unfortunately, the punt return game, finally showing some promise, was marred by constant penalties. On three different punt returns, the Redskins were called for penalties, including one penalty that negated a 28-yard return by Santana Moss. So they finally made something happen in the return game, where they've had trouble all year, and they draw a penalty to kill it.

Rock Cartwright is a beast, though. He had an 87 yard return late in the game that would've set up a touchdown for a good offensive team, and set up a field goal for the anemic Redskins offense. And while Ryan Plackemeier isn't an elite punter, he certainly had a good game, and got two great punts early in the game when the offense was stalled out. Unfortunately, the defense couldn't hold tough, and the lowly Bengals looked like mighty tigers.

Overall: C-

The only consolation after watching this game is that I know for certain that the Redskins aren't a playoff caliber team. Yes, they had a chance at making the playoffs if they had won, but anybody who saw the debacle on Sunday knows full well that Washington has no business in the playoffs. Now is the time to get Fred Davis, Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly, and all the other youngsters into the lineup, and give them a chance to get a feel for the offense. I expect Jim Zorn to be back next season, and if the young guys, specifically Thomas, can start to get comfortable with the scheme, you never know, maybe one of them explodes for a great sophomore season.

PS: I decided to nix the evaluation of playoff scenarios that I talked about last week. It felt too early to start going into them, with so many teams still in the mix, and it also felt like the Redskins were going to lose this game. Now, fortunately or unfortunately, we don't have to delve into that topic, and we can focus on other things...like baseball. Expect a baseball-related article this week. See you soon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Redskins Report Card: Week 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens

Ravens 24, Redskins 10

Well, that was that. I can't see a way that Redskins look likely to make the playoffs at this point, barring some big time collapses on the part of other teams. I'll put together a little examination of the possibilities as an article later this week, but for the time being, just accept that they're virtually eliminated.

Offense: D

I could just copy and paste last week's description, but I'll give you at least fresh language. The running game was pitiful, maybe even worse than it was against the Giants. Most notably, Clinton Portis, no longer the NFL's leading rusher, has combined for 22 carries and 54 yards between the past two games. Those are bad numbers for a single game; as two-game totals for the most important player on the Skins' team, they're fatal.

The passing game was anemic, accumulating just 192 net yards, with Jason Campbell tossing two interceptions. Turnovers were once again the death knell for this team; two early giveaways essentially ended the game. And this has been the story all season. When Washington has been able to limit (or eliminate) turnovers, they've been a good team, and a winning team. But ever since Campbell's first interception, the Redskins have gotten worse and worse on offense, looking less composed with every snap.

The blame for this problem goes all over. Campbell should be able to keep his cool better, he's been in the league for several years now. Additionally, Jim Zorn needs to see the way his quarterback is reacting and adjust his game plan to include more motion, screens, end-arounds, and swing passes, to keep Campbell's confidence up and keep the Ravens' defense off balance. When your running game isn't working (and against Baltimore, you have to expect it might not), you've got to find different ways to pull the defensive backs towards the line.

Speaking of the running game again, some of Campbell's problems have to be put on Portis' shoulders. Not just because the running game needs to be more effective, but because Portis is the face of the Washington offense. If the quarterback is getting jittery, it's Portis' job to say, "I got this, just relax," and then to blow up the next guy who comes in on a blitz, or to take one of those swing passes and blast his way to the sticks. He's got to be as much of a leader as Campbell; while obviously you want Campbell to be poised at all times, the goal is to win games. So if it means Campbell has to take a back seat to Portis in the huddle for a moment, then that's how it goes. They're in the midst of a 1-4 stretch that's sliding them out of the playoffs; long-term cultivation has to be nudged aside for now.

I'd like to re-iterate my comment from last week that Mike Sellers needs to be more involved in the offense. In a situation like Sunday when your #1 guy goes down, you have to use a committee to try to get the job done, and Sellers has to be part of that committee. He's simply too explosive to resign him to special teams and an occasional 3rd down. And it's not like this offense is clicking on all cylinders and could be disrupted by a shake up. Let's see what Sellers can do with 10-12 touches; I have no doubt that if we don't, whatever team signs him next will, and will reap the benefits.

Defense: B

I decided that, at least for this game, I'm not going to penalize the defense's score for the ineptitude of the offense. The defense actually played very well, save for a crucial fourth quarter drive that essentially ended the game. They held Baltimore to fewer first downs than the Redskins, and got two turnovers while holding Joe Flacco to a paltry 134 yards. They did enough to put the Redskins in a position to win the game, but the offense piddled away every opportunity the defense provided.

An extra piece of information that I think we can take away from this game is that Willis McGahee is no longer the Ravens' long-term #1 running back. Le'Ron McClain seems to have a real knack for rushing the football, and in the NFL, you go with whoever is getting it done. The whole concept of playing someone because their contract is greater, or they were traded for a lot, pretty much goes out the window when you're in the playoff hunt.

Special Teams: C-

You can look back at what I've said in any Special Teams segment all year to know what I thought about their special teams against Baltimore: Randle El stinks, Plackemeier is okay, Rock Cartwright is solid, and Shaun Suisham isn't as bad as you think he is. And as for people who say that the Redskins should get rid of Suisham, explain it to me. If you get rid of him now, you'd be signing a kicker who nobody thought enough of to have on their team. If you get rid of him in the offseason and invest in a big name kicker, you're stupid. You have to look at kickers the same way you look at closers in baseball: you don't invest in a good one until everything else is in place. Suisham is fine for now. Let the offense give him some 30- to 40-yard field goals to try before you hang him out to dry.

Overall: D+

The game was excruciating to watch, unless you're a Ravens fan like Chip, in which case I imagine it felt like you were kicking a retarded kid. Way to go, you bullied the kid with MS, dick.

Look for an article detailing the wild scenarios that would put the Redskins in the playoffs later this week.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Neat Feature For Rock Band 2

There's an interesting (though functionally useless) feature for Rock Band 2 that I discovered last night. In your Band Profile, you can edit the list of "stand-ins" for your band. You can choose from any of your created characters, and assign them to different instruments. I had no idea what the actual result of this was until last night, when I finally assigned some characters to instruments just before playing a few sets.

The "stand-ins" are on stage with you when nobody takes that instrument. For example, my stand-in drummer is Randy Savage (yes, that Randy Savage). I played guitar last night (as Hulk Hogan), and while I played, Randy Savage was the computer player playing the drums.

Is it useless? Completely. Is it a feat of programming? Definitely not. But is it cool? It is. For some reason, it is.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Is Robinson Cano A Keeper?

Robinson Cano has been one of the great mysteries of fantasy baseball over the past four years. Like clockwork, he's been unimpressive before the all-star break, and again like clockwork, he's vastly outperformed in the second half, each of the past four seasons. And in fact, it seems to have gotten more pronounced recently. The numbers:
  • 2005: .288 pre-all-star break, .303 post-all-star break
  • 2006: .325, 4 HR, 27 RBI before, .365, 11 HR, 51 RBI after
  • 2007: .274, 6 HR, 40 RBI before, .343, 13 HR, 57 RBI after
  • 2008: .247, .358 slugging before, .307, .482 slugging after
But when you draft (or in this case, keep) someone, you're investing in them for a full season; you don't want to keep a second baseman like Cano and then know you have to draft another one to plug in for the first half. So we have to review Cano as a full year candidate. And as a full year candidate, Cano just doesn't measure up.

I did some quick math and calculated Cano's 162-game pace over his first four season in the majors, and here they are: .303 AVG, 85 R, 18 HR, 87 RBI, 3 SB. In his "career year" in 2007, he hit .306 with 93 runs, 19 HR, and 97 RBI. If you could count on those kinds of numbers at a still pretty weak position like second base, Cano might sneak into your keeper list.

But you simply can't. The reality is he'll likely slip down to those 4-year averages, which makes him about as valuable as Jose Lopez. Who, you ask? Well, it's not surprising that you don't know him; he finished the season on the waiver wire in our very competitive keeper league. Granted, he was good enough to be on a team, but the reality is that you can get numbers very similar to Cano's for a fraction of "keeper price." Lopez, Kelly Johnson, Mike Aviles, and Placido Polanco figure to be available several rounds into the draft, and Cano belongs just a tick above them. A worthy pick in the 3rd-5th rounds, but not a keeper.

2009 projection: .310, 90 R, 15 HR, 80 RBI

Does The NFL Hate The Vikings?

As many of you know, the Minnesota Vikings are my second-favorite football team. They're on a pretty good run, winning four of their last five games including two division games that even up some important tiebreakers for the Vikings. So why am I mad?

Because the Vikings are going to lose defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams for the last four games of the season, which puts even this weekend's game against Detroit in doubt. The importance of the two Williams to the Vikings defense cannot be overstated. They are quite simply the reason that Minnesota sports the #2 rushing defense in football. Kevin Williams also has 8.5 sacks, and his strength in the pass rush has allowed offseason acquisition Jared Allen to run rampant on opposing quarterbacks to the tune of 11 sacks. Losing the "Williams brothers" (the men are not related) would be a virtual deathblow to a defense that has come up strong in this recent stretch, and potentially to the Vikings' playoff chances.

My opinions on the NFL's and all sports' steroid policies is a matter for another post; what I want to talk about here is the Vikings. The Vikings lost Bryant McKinnie for the first four games of this season due to a suspension stemming from a fight outside a night club in Miami. Hmm. A football player in a fight? Unheard of. Well, except for on the football field.

On November 2nd, Jaguars defensive tackle John Henderson and Bengals guard Andrew Whitworth were in a scuffle. According to ESPN.com, "Henderson and Whitworth exchanged punches after Henderson knocked off Whitworth's helmet, then appeared to try to gouge his eyes. Both players were penalized and ejected Sunday." Punches, eye gouging, sounds like an classic WWF match. Their punishments? Four-game suspensions? Not exactly. They were ejected, as mentioned, and fined $10,000 apiece.

Why? Why this disparity? As a Vikings fan, of course, I think it's because the NFL hates the Vikings (and I'm not so sure that they don't). But realistically, it's because the NFL likes there to be fights on the field. They want their games to be as close to gladiatorial combat as is legally allowed. Fights are great. Street fights at a night club don't help the NFL perpetuate that similarity, so you get suspended. It's a load of shit. How is a player more responsible for his conduct when on personal time than during an actual NFL function? You know, like a game?

It's all about the public perception among non-NFL fans. It's not a news story if NFL players fight on the field; it's not a story at all. You can tell that from the lack of concern that commentators show when players get into scuffles. "And now a little bit of chippiness after the play," that's what they say. But it's a news story if an NFL player gets into a fight at a night club, because regular people want to think that rich people are all arrogant jerks, and professional athletes are an easy target for that.

This post has gone in every direction, so I'm going to grab one more story and call it a day. I'm sure most of you know all about the Plaxico Burress story, so I'm not going to bore you with the details. What I am going to mention, though, is this: from everything I've read and heard, it sounds like Antonio Pierce committed a serious crime. If the NFL doesn't punish him to at least the extent that McKinnie, Williams, and Williams have been punished, I'm going to move the Giants up to #1 on the list of teams I hate the most. Yes, I keep a list.

And more than likely, your team is on it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Poll-star

I posted a poll to the right, and I'll live up to it (though I don't know how long it'll take me to get the resulting audio track posted). Anyways, have a look, vote, and get out of my face. (Check it around 2:45 if you just want the highlights)

Redskins Report Card: Week 13 vs. New York Giants

Giants 23, Redskins 7

The score may fool you into thinking that this game was competitive, when it was anything but. And the worst part of the game was that it was the Redskins' supposed strengths that failed them.

Offense: D+

The Redskins' trademark this year, their signature, has been the strong running game. They've relied on Clinton Portis for 30% of their offense for a good portion of the season, and he's always delivered. But we all knew that, eventually, some team was going to take away the running game and force it all upon Jason Campbell. Not surprisingly, it happened when Washington faced one of the best-coached, most balanced teams in the NFL.

On Sunday, Portis accounted for a paltry 11% of a mostly unimpressive offense that had one really good play, a touchdown on an end-around to Devin Thomas. The pass protection has to account for a large part of this disappointment, giving up 4 sacks and several more hurries and scrambles. Obviously the Giants have a top tier pass rush, but with all the money the Redskins have poured into the offensive line, you'd expect a little more performance out of them.

One last thing is that this team was at its best last year when Mike Sellers was involved. Sellers proved to be a very appealing red zone option, which is a place the Redskins have struggled this season. Both on the ground and through the air, Sellers has got to have a bigger role if the 'Skins are going to make good on my prediction (which I'll give you at the end of this article).

Defense: C-

This was a bad defensive performance as well. They did a decent job at containing the run, holding both Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward under 4.0 yards per carry, and stifling a couple of drives inside the red zone. But the Redskins got absolutely picked apart by Eli Manning, not much differently from their first meeting. Manning picked up 305 yards through the air, and hit virtually every important pass in the first half, making clutch third-down throws and just generally dominating the vaunted 'Skins secondary.

Is Washington's defense a disaster? No, not at all. Jason Taylor just needs to start doing what he was acquired to do, which is disrupt the passing game. He's a physical freak and he's got an entire career of pressuring quarterbacks. It's about time he started doing it in a Redskins uniform.

Special Teams: C-

Alright, I'm ready to back off of my support for the kicking game...just a tiny little bit. Shaun Suisham missed a 42-yard field goal, his 3rd miss in 4 tries on kicks over 40 yards over the past three games. But the two games before that he was 5/6 on 40+, so it's not like my faith in him was completely unfounded. I still don't think you replace him or anything drastic like that, and you still give him a chance at any field goal 45 yards or shorter in decent weather. But if it's a long field goal, or if weather is an issue, then you give more consideration to going for it on 4th down. That's all.

Plackemeier had some good punts, though he was trading punts with the master, Jeff Feagles. Someday this guy will get the credit he deserves; he's a virtuoso. Oh, and James Thrash is just useless. He can be a gunner on punts and a coverage guy on kickoffs, but you just can't give him the opportunity to catch/carry the ball anymore. That's Devin Thomas' job. He can be a decent kickoff guy, and since he's under-utilized on offense anyways, putting him in the return game only helps, doesn't hurt. Do it.

Overall: D

My overall grade this week is lower than any of the individual grades, and here's why: the clutch factor. Whenever the Redskins needed to make a play on offense, they came up short. Whenever the Redskins needed to make a play to stop the Giants' offense, they came up lame. In a game that's as competitive as professional football is, it all comes down to converting third downs, making smart special teams plays, taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves. The Redskins failed on all of these levels on Sunday, and it showed in the final score.

All that being said, I think the Redskins are a playoff team. What's that you say? They'd have to win their final 4 games to make it into the playoffs? Well then, that's what I'm predicting. There's no reason they should lose to San Francisco or Cincinnati, and Philadelphia is always a beatable team. This weekend's game against Baltimore is, in my mind, their toughest game on the road to the playoffs, and I think they win it. Baltimore isn't the powerhouse that they're getting credit for being, and this group of Redskins players made late pushes last year and three years ago. I think they've got it in them to do it again.

So watch out, 11-5, here come the Redskins!

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...