Saturday, December 26, 2015

State Of My Teams 2015

The end of 2015 is near, which means it is time to take a look at the state of my favorite teams.  The good, the bad, the firesale.  So let's get to it.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS BASKETBALL:  I feel pretty good about the Heels.  While their preseason #1 ranking is gone and they have lost the lone two "true road" games this season thus far, I like what this team should be when March rolls around.  They are talented, deep and experienced.  The "ifs" are pretty easy to see.  If Marcus Paige and the rest can be healthy for the tournament.  If the team plays hard, especially defensively, every game.  If they can continue their good perimeter shooting.  All those could equate to UNC's sixth title.  Plus, if Brice Johnson keeps playing like he has over the last few weeks, then this team could be the best in the nation.

That's what is interesting about the Heels.  It is a NOW thing.  Next year's recruiting has picked up, but the 2016-17 Tar Heels won't be elite.  Paige and Johnson will graduate and Justin Jackson could go pro.  A look at 2015 as a whole saw some so-so play from last season that saw late leads squandered and the investigation into the program by the NCAA heating up.

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS FOOTBALL:  What a season for Carolina!  Sure, it was book-ended by losses to South Carolina teams (South Carolina at the beginning; Clemson at the end).  There was an 11-game winning streak in the middle and some lofty offensive performances.  Now, several of the guys who made this a magical season will be gone after the Russell Athletic Bowl game against Baylor, but that doesn't take away from a year where UNC won the Coastal Division and gave Clemson (the top ranked and undefeated Tigers) a tough game in the ACC Championship.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS:  A wild year, to be sure.  The Redskins started 2015 in a rebuilding mode and it all looked bad.  The great promise of 2012 is gone.  Robert Griffin III was given his final shot at proving he was the future of the Skins.  The defense was overhauled.  There was a new GM.  The draft wasn't sexy, and neither was the free-agents being brought in.

Which was perfect.  Washington got more bang for the buck and head coach Jay Gruden's decision to dump RG3 during the preseason for Kirk Cousins has proven right for the team.  While this hasn't been a dominant season by any means, the Redskins are a win (today) away from being NFC East champions and a playoff team.  How?  This was a franchise stuck in the mud.  Nothing of value and having to find the quarterback of the future again.  The nickname was in the news again and Daniel Snyder's money grabbing was looking unattractive.  It just looked like another 3-13 year.

Now?  Well, there could be a playoff appearance, the Redskins are trying to keep Cousins as our franchise QB, RG3's contract will be off the books and the GM looks like a guy that can bring a lot of talent into the fold.

CINCINNATI REDS:  My final two teams aren't as feel good.  The Reds are rebuilding and for many around here, it is tough to watch.  I've always said the Reds were in a weird position as a franchise.  They cannot spend with the best in the league (or the division, like St. Louis or Chicago) but they don't have to keep rebuilding to make a run (like the Pirates).  A couple of years ago, the Reds attempted to be like the former, but are now turning into the latter.  The Reds gave huge deals to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey but now having to sell off players like Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier to start over again.  The Frazier deal hurt Reds fans as he was a favorite.  But it is the reality of where the Reds are in the pecking order.  The Reds made a great attempt early in the decade and just couldn't get past the first round.  Now it is time to start over.

The problem is that it is tougher than you think.  The Reds still have Votto and Bailey who are getting paid a lot of money.  The deals for Phillips and Chapman fell apart so they are still Reds.  Feast or famine Jay Bruce and oft-injured Devin Mesoraco are among the more expensive players.  The 2015 season was a last-ditch effort to see if there was anything left in this team.  It didn't, and now Cincinnati is heading into a new era.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS:  The Lakers are in the same boat, albeit a nice, bigger boat.  The Kobe Bryant era is ending and he will be retiring at the end of the season.  While sad, it is good because it finally allows the team to move on to the next phase.  Not only was Kobe's contract (the biggest in the NBA) hurting the Lakers, his style of play was hindering the development of the young guys and a detriment to free agents.

Outside of a few players (namely Julius Randle, DeAngelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson), most of these guys won't be in Los Angeles when the good times roll.  The key for the future is (a) being bad enough to be able to keep their 1st round draft pick next summer (if it is outside the top three, it moves to Philly) and (b) being able to pull some big free agents into the fold.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Could The Redskins Really Win The NFC East?

In life, goals change.

When I was a little kid, I wanted to draw cartoons.  That was until I wanted to be a baseball player.  Then a basketball player.  Then working for Nike.  Then work in marketing.  Finally, I ended up doing none of those things and taking a job that paid well but has zero allure.  So on the side, I write about sports and the teams I love.

One of those teams I love is the Redskins.  Their goals have also changed.  If you told any Redskins fan that the season would end at 7-9, many would have been pleasantly surprised (including yours truly).  I mean, this was a franchise in August that finally gave up on RG3, the head coach was on everyone's chopping block, the nickname was being debated on every talk show and the owner was charging $50 envelope fees.  Yes there was talent on the roster, but there was no reason to think this team would be the best in the division.

Yet here we are.  The Redskins are a win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday away from winning the NFC East for the second time in four years.  I mean ... how?  What?  Really?  Sure, it is more an indictment of the division than the Redskins dominance, but this wasn't supposed to be.  It still may not.  A loss at Philly would be catastrophic for Washington.  Philly would own the tiebreaker and the Redskins would need to win at Dallas in the season finale and hope the Giants beat the Eagles.  But right now, the Redskins control their own fate.

So what will happen?  The Redskins have won 3 of 4 and are the hotter team.  The Eagles have lost 4 of 6 (though one of those wins came in New England) and their defense has been lit up over the last two months.  Bad Kirk Cousins is a memory.  Since that season-changing comeback win over the Buccaneers in Week 7, Cousins has thrown 16 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions.  Cousins also has more rushing TDs (5) than the Eagles' huge free agent pickup, DeMarco Murray (4).  I mean, just give them the division crown right now!

However, your gut says that this is the NFC East and Philly will be ready to knock the Redskins down a peg.  Many Redskins fans (including myself) are just enjoying the ride but are prepared for the rug to be ripped from under them any game now.  I admit, I was in that camp.  But, like the Redskins' goals, I've changed as well.  This may not be a team that will do much damage in the postseason but they are the cream of the crop in a division that went sour this season.  No matter, the Redskins beat the Eagles this Saturday.  ,

Redskins 24-22

Monday, December 21, 2015

What Week 17 Game Should Be Flexed

Week 15 is nearly over (the Lions and Saints face off Monday night in the week's finale) and the end of the season is near.  What game could be the flex game in Week 17 and the final game of the regular season?  The NFL likes to have a game with a lot on the line (mainly a playoff spot up for grabs).

1-EAGLES AT GIANTS:  The NFC East has practically owned the final game of the regular season slot since its inception.  This season could be no different.  Now, a lot of things have to happen for this to be the game.  First, the Eagles need to beat the Redskins this coming Saturday.  If the Redskins win that game, they win the NFC East and this game is moot.  However, an Eagles win puts them in the driver's seat.  If the Giants also win this coming weekend (a hard task at Minnesota), then this could be for all the marbles.  The only risk comes is if the Redskins lose to the Cowboys in Week 17 (after a Giants loss in Week 16), then this game could be meaningless as the Eagles would clinch prior to the game.

2-JAGUARS AT TEXANS:  This could be for the AFC South championship.  First off, the Texans could need this win to clinch the division.  But, like other games, its relevance could depend on the fortune of another team (this time the Colts).  But, if the Jaguars find a way to win Week 16 and the Texas and Colts lose Week 16, then this game is guaranteed to mean something.  See, a Texans and Colts loss plus a Jags win in Week 16 means that Houston is 7-8, Indy is 6-9 and Jacksonville is 6-9 entering the final week.  The Colts result earlier in the day wouldn't spoil this game at all.  Colts win and this game comes down to the Texans/Colts for the division.  A Colts loss means this game would be for the AFC South championship between the Texans and Jaguars.

3-VIKINGS AT PACKERS:  Could be for the NFC North crown.  However, both teams may already be in the playoffs by then so all this would be for is the division.  But, Minnesota may not be a playoff team ... yet.  Of course, that would take a miracle of the Vikings losing to the Giants in Week 16, the Seahawks losing their last two games and the Falcons winning their last two games (one of which is against the Panthers).

4-BUCCANEERS AT PANTHERS:  If there isn't a guarantee of a playoff spot anywhere, you could see the NFL elect to go with the 16-0 storyline.  Carolina's pursuit for the second 16-0 regular season in history could be the feast of the night. I wouldn't blame them.  However, the NFL would try to demand the Panthers attempt to for the undefeated season and not just rest their starters.

5-REDSKINS AT COWBOYS:  I doubt this would be the game.  If the Redskins beat Philly this Saturday, they clinch the NFC East.  A Redskins loss and the Eagles control the division.  Putting this game on Sunday night is risky because an Eagles win earlier in the day would eliminate Washington.

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Are QBs Getting Hurt When We Have All These QB-Protection Rules?

Tom Brady had his knee run into by Bernard Pollard in Week 1 of the 2008 season, and since then we've seen rules protecting quarterbacks get stiffer.  You can't touch their helmets, you can't tackle them low, you cannot hit them hard unless they pretend they aren't a quarterback for a second.

The thinking was that we were seeing all these quarterbacks injured and QBs, as you know, are the faces of the league.  Guys were getting hurt and it was bad business.

Yet it doesn't seem to have helped.

The 2015 NFL season has seen a lot of QB injuries.  Andy Dalton (Bengals) is the latest, breaking his thumb trying to make a tackle and will most likely miss the rest of the regular season.  He joins Tony Romo (Cowboys), Joe Flacco (Ravens), Josh McCown (Browns)

Peyton Manning (Broncos), Andrew Luck (Colts), Drew Brees (Saints), Sam Bradford (Eagles), Jay Cutler (Bears), Marcus Mariota (Titans) and Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) have also missed time this season.  You also had Geno Smith (Jets) injured with a punch to the face and a broken jaw prior to the season.

That's one-third of the NFL that's lost their starting QB to injury.  Some have come back, some are lost for the season and some are in limbo.  Several are Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.