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    • 1) I woulda gone a little harder. 2) The scariest part is "y'all better than that" because I'm not sure they are. youtube.com/watch?v=3p_6dq… 18 hours ago
    • Same sort of goes for the Cavs, who were very clearly just straight up not good. I believe he was a problem in practice. But that's it 1 day ago
    • The Sixers issue was heavy reliance on Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday. Plus Iggy got traded. At Bynum's peak they wouldnt have been good 1 day ago
    • #LRT So I think this was kind of said in jest, but this is an absolutely insane premise. 1 day ago
    • RT @FisolaNYDN: Andrew Bynum is the NBA's serial killer. He's murdered three teams in two years; Sixers, Cavs & Pacers. 1 day ago
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NBA Extensions

Posted by outtatownclowns on November 1, 2012

Midnight marked the deadline for rookies from the 2009 NBA Draft to work out an extension with their teams. The Thunder couldn’t reach an agreement with James Harden and now he’s in Houston. In less publicized news, however, several other notable players from that draft class worked out deals just before the deadline.

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: 4 years, $40 million

DeRozan’s reputation around the NBA has largely remained constant since his days as a draft prospect. He is blessed with tremendous physical tools, can be an explosive scorer, and if he ever makes the jump to being a 22 ppg guy and do it while being more efficient, he could be the starting shooting guard on a decent team. However, none of this has happened. He remains a talented young player, but without almost any indication he will become more efficient, he is more likely to end up like an early-career Jason Richardson than the centerpiece (or even second option) on a good team. If he doesn’t make the jump this year with an outstanding point guard (Kyle Lowry) and solid supporting cast, he may not go to any level beyond that.

Judging the contract is a little hard since post-Lockout GMs/Owners seem to be just as dumb with contracts as pre-Lockout GMs/Owners. In free agency, DeRozan likely would have received this offer from someone. The Raptors re-signing him likely means that the Raptors were also unwilling to find a trade partner. Just off the top of my head, there are a few teams that would at least field serious offers about DeRozan. The Bucks would likely be interested in re-uniting their current franchise centerpiece (Brandon Jennings) with his childhood running mate. There are certainly enough pieces to make this work, but I think the bottom line is that Toronto wants to win now. They aren’t interested in re-shuffling the deck in hopes of a better mix. Frankly, I agree with them. I have little to no interest in paying DeRozan 10m per year, but they are a pretty solid team right now and they will likely make the playoffs this year.

Jrue Holiday, Phildelphia 76ers: 4 years, $41 million

Jrue is in a somewhat similar situation to DeRozan. He is still young, still has plenty of upside, but he hasn’t made much progress year-to-year. He is a fairly important part of the 76ers plans moving forward, and I suppose continuity is worth some extra money, but he just doesn’t do the things you think he’d do. He is extremely athletic but doesn’t get to the rim in the halfcourt often or get to the line (1.8 FTA/game last year). The Sixers offense liked to run a lot last year, but he still didn’t rack up assists in those minutes. Stats are not everything, but on a team that struggled offensively last year, you’d think he would take a bigger role.

Maybe the best way to view Jrue is alongside two point guards who did not get their extensions: Darren Collison and Brandon Jennings. In Indiana, Collison was a speedy, smart point guard who (until the Orlando series) was slightly subpar on defense and was just kind of underwhelming. He would have magnificent stretches where he would hit his mid-range jumper and be aggressive and make the Pacers offense unstoppable. But for much longer stretches he’d struggle with his mid-range pull-up jumper, lose his aggression and find ways to not make full use of his skill set. When the Pacers swapped him (indirectly) for D.J. Augustin, they got a player who was not as good, but who could utilize his skill set more efficiently than Collison did. I do not watch enough 76ers games to state this outright, but Jrue strikes me as another guy with a skill set he doesn’t use efficiently.

Brandon Jennings didn’t get his extension either. He is a quick, sometimes explosive, guard with a very underrated game as a creator. The defensive-reputation of the Bucks sometimes overshadows that for long stretches last season, the Bucks were an outstanding offensive team, particularly with their passing. Jennings’ inconsistent jump shot and inability to finish in the lane (probably a height and loss-of-hops problem) have been well-documented but not nearly as well as his consistency in running the offense and being a productive player. BUT, once again the issue is efficiency. Can Brandon Jennings do his job on this team? Absolutely. Could a lesser player execute the same sets and bring similar skills at a much lower price? Yes.

That’s what it comes down to for Jrue. This contract is a hope that he becomes a player who can utilize his skill set better and jump up a level in the point guard hierarchy, but if that doesn’t happen, this contract will look fairly bad in 3 years.

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls: 4 years, $32 million guaranteed w/ 6 million in incentives extra possible (thus the reporting of 4/38m)

Gee, I wonder who has been teaching Gibson how to yell……

Taj Gibson’s deal is a complete departure from the last two guys we talked about. The Bulls frankly couldn’t afford to let Gibson go, and yet they took a very hard line with him. It is no secret that Bulls fans hate Carlos Boozer and that the Bulls have very little interest in keeping him around. Gibson is probably the better player right now even though Chicago’s likely offensive struggles this year will be slightly ameliorated by Boozer’s presence. On the open market, I would think Gibson could get a Millsap-type deal. His offensive game isn’t as refined as Millsap, but his defense is much better and the value of each is likely similar in free agency. I think Bulls fans would have been happy to extend him for 4 years, $48 million, but they got a discount, so a small round of applause for the penny-pinching Reinsdorf.

Other Things I Wanted To Comment On

All-NBA 2012 Second Round Draft Picks

PG: Tyshawn Taylor (BKN)- There weren’t a ton of PGs in the second round that will see significant minutes and I didn’t see Isaiah Thomas (SAC) on this list.

SG: Doron Lamb (MIL)- Plenty of minutes and I am betting on a Monta Ellis trade.

SF: Jae Crowder (DAL)- Hustle, muscle, decent shooting. Marquette connections had to influence on this pick.

SF (because I didn’t want to pick a PF): Darius Miller (NO)- Should see minutes on an exciting team. If I had to pick a PF, it would be Kris Joseph, but he won’t see enough time.

F/C: Kyle O’Quinn (ORL)- Someone has to play well for them, right?

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The Indianapolis .500: (Almost) Midseason Review

Posted by outtatownclowns on October 29, 2012

This post is a follow up to The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected, which has now turned into a miniseries.

Eight weeks in and the Colts are ahead of schedule for my somewhat ambitious preseason prediction. While the Jaguars and Jets games went much worse than expected, the Colts were able to win close games against the Packers (!), Vikings, Titans and Browns to deliver them to four wins. Obviously, winning close games is an important part to success in the league, and even if a 4-1 record in games decided by less than 7 points is probably unsustainable, there is serious reason for optimism. Andrew Luck has been better than advertised, which is incredible in itself, and frankly that is 80% of the reason the Colts are where they are. The offense as a whole has been very average. The running game has, at times, been a bright spot against putrid run defenses (vs CLE, @TEN in OT) but that is more than you could say last year. Cassius Vaughn has been a revelation as the nickel corner too and is just one of a handful of guys who have been really impressive.

Now before you get excited about the Colts being good again, let me make something very clear. The Colts are still a pretty bad football team. DVOA hates them. They are 4-1 in close games, which is likely unsustainable, and I mean, if you have watched this team at all this year, you know they are unbelievably flawed and full of holes. All of that is ok and expected when only being able to work with 60% of the salary cap and coming off a 2-14 year, but it is a fact we have to account for going forward. The schedule is pretty easy going forward and that is good news, but don’t think for a second that the Colts have arrived. They are a terrible team with a phenomenal player at the most important position on the field. Sometimes that is enough to get you to .500.

Game-by-Game

Week 1- Colts 21, Bears 41

No shame in this. The Bears are fantastic, we played them week 1, and they have all the things that expose the Colts as subpar. Tall, talented receiver, all-around back, devastating defense. To be honest, the score should have been more lopsided.

Week 2- Vikings 20, Colts 23

A somewhat impressive and telling win looking back on it. The Vikings shot themselves in the foot repeatedly in this game and probably should have ripped the Colts to shreds, but only half the Vikings offense was working (Harvin), as Peterson was controlled. The last Vikings TD was fairly lucky and made the game seem closer, but it didn’t end up mattering as Luck once again owned the last two minutes and set up Vinatieri for the game-winner.

Week 3- Jaguars 22, Colts 17

The Colts outplayed the Jaguars in this game but allowed two huge gains, one to Maurice Jones-Drew and the other to Cecil Shorts, and it lost them the game. Oh yeah, Captain Clutch missed a key field goal too. It is a game the Colts will regret losing but is frankly one of those games that is just a coin flip. Games like these are to be expected with a young team and a coaching staff that likely doesn’t have the entirety of its offense or defense installed. There will be at least one more game like this where you just shake your head.

Week 4- Bye

Week 5- Packers 27, Colts 30

An emotional win and unless the Colts beat the Patriots (unlikely), the win of their season. #Chuckstrong was born and while this close game also swung the Colts way, I think we can safely call this game an outlier due to the emotion and digging out of a huge hole after the Packers offense totally imploded in the second half. This game also may mark the best game of Reggie Wayne’s outstanding career.

Week 6- Colts 9, Jets 35

These games are going to happen, you just wish they wouldn’t happen against a very mediocre team like the Jets. Luck was bad, nothing went well for the Colts and the Jets just ran all over their sorry asses. This happens to young teams. It doesn’t happen to legitimate playoff teams. The worst the Colts have played all season.

Week 7- Browns 13, Colts 17

Josh Gordon dropped the game-winning TD and the Colts get the win in a game best-remembered for how few possessions there were, especially in the first half. Look, Cleveland isn’t terrible but if you need any convincing at all that the Colts are a pretty fluky 4-3, this is the game. Trent Richardson even got pulled halfway through the first half! It was not pretty, but it was a win. That counts for something, but not for everything.

Week 8- Colts 19, Titans 13 (OT)

The Colts were truly horrendous in this game. The defense was ok, despite some favorable Offensive PI calls, but the offense was just trash for much of the game. Add in the blown fumble call at the end and it is a minor miracle the Colts beat the truly shitty Titans.  In overtime, the Colts ripped the Titans apart like they should have all game and won. Luck had at least two interceptions straight up dropped and there is just not a ton positive to say about this game. The road struggles are pretty characteristic of a young team, but concerning nonetheless.

 

I think just looking that over tells you that the Colts aren’t particularly good, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get to 8-8 without too much trouble. TV pundits are going to start screaming about how good the Colts are, especially after Luck carves up a terrible New England secondary in what will likely be a 41-34 loss (or something), but you know better.

Ironically, the thing that isn’t getting brought up nearly enough is how good Andrew Luck has been. There are a few whispers starting about his great QBR, how well he throws on the run (out of necessity), and his completion percentage downfield, but most of the talk is about that commercialized whore in Washington. Nothing against him personally, just sick of hearing about him. Just for a second, try to imagine where this team is with a replacement-level QB. We can argue about who that would be, but pick any of Josh Freeman, recent Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer. If ANY of those guys is the QB, this team is at the bottom of the AFC South.

Another little exercise: here’s a list of QBs without including Luck. Where do you put him?

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Aaron Rodgers
  3. Eli Manning
  4. Matt Ryan
  5. Ben Roethlisberger
  6. Peyton Manning
  7. Drew Brees
  8. Jay Culter
  9. Matthew Stafford
  10. Matt Schaub
  11. Tony Romo
  12. Joe Flacco
  13. Robert Griffin III

It is a rough list, don’t spend too much time quarreling over the order of the top 5 or anything. Where do you put Luck in this RIGHT NOW and not projecting potential or a few years down the road? I put him just a touch behind Jay Cutler in 9th. If we’re projecting down the road, I put him even with Eli, maybe even on Rodgers level. Think about that for a second. Andrew Luck is 80% of the reason the Colts are competitive this year, and I really don’t think that is an exaggeration. Think about the Colts offense in abstract terms. You have one very good WR that teams will focus on almost exclusively. You have a couple of promising rookie TEs that are decent but not great yet. You have no running game to speak of against 75% of the league. Is this a recipe for success for any QB? No! that is a disaster waiting to happen! When Cromartie mostly took Wayne out of the game, we saw what happens. The Browns had the capacity to do it took with Joe Haden. Yet Luck has been incredible almost all year. Yes, the Jets game was rough, and he didn’t look particularly good against the Titans either, but what he is doing is astounding. His command of Bruce Arians offense is sublime and the reason the Colts are anywhere near .500. I sometimes object to judging a QB on his performance in the last two minutes since it is often against a soft shell defense. It shows how well he knows the offense but with mitigating factors. Nonetheless, Luck has lead the Colts to 34 points in the last two minutes of quarters this year, not to mention at least a few missed FGs in those stretches. That accounts for 25% of all Colts points this season. Four minutes of a 60 minute game contain 25% of the Colts points.

I’m not sure if that is a good sign since Luck kills it in high-leverage situations, or a bad sign that the Colts can’t score for so much of their games, but once the rest of the team gets the offense down, a no-huddle attack with Luck will likely be deadly. I think anyone who has watched the Colts this year knows how good Luck has been, so I will stop praising him for now and let his play do the talking. He is without a doubt the Rookie of the Year.

The other guy I want to go out of my way to praise is Cassius Vaughn. When I wrote my Colts preview, I was extremely concerned about a secondary that had not yet added Vontae Davis. With Davis the Colts are pretty solid against 2 WR looks, but with the league emphasis on passing and the rise of more and more 3 WR looks, a nickel corner that can tackle and cover is huge. The Colts had nothing of the sort entering the season. Enter Vaughn who has been a revelation and has helped shore up a Colts defense that needed lots of help through the air. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t any clips of his coverage on YouTube. But take my word for it or watch him any week and he is probably already better than Jerraud Powers. He needs more seasoning before he can step up to that slot, but I would bet slot receivers are far below their average production vs the Colts. This has been a big development for a Colts secondary in need of a few pieces.

Looking Forward

Week 9 vs Miami (Prediction: L)

This is almost definitely a loss. Miami is really balanced, really good on defense and just a better team than the Colts.

Week 10 @ Jacksonville (on a Thursday) (Prediction: 50-50)

Who knows with these Thursday games. If Jones-Drew misses the game then the Colts should win it, but it is also a road game on a Thursday. Toss up.

Week 11 @ New England (Prediction: L)

Too much passing and too much talent to lose to the Colts despite a very shaky secondary.

Week 12 vs Buffalo (Prediction: W)

The Bills are bad and it is in Indy. Chan Gailey is one of many coaches who should be preparing for unemployment.

Week 13 @ Detroit (Prediction: 50-50 but expecting a L)

This is one of those games that looks winnable, but the Colts have no answer to Calvin Johnson or Titus Young and it is in Detroit. It is a winnable game but I would be very surprised if the Colts won.

Week 14 vs Tennessee (Prediction: W)

The Titans are really bad and you’d hope that the Colts stuck it to them in this game after their poor showing.

Week 15 @ Houston (Prediction: L probably but let’s file it under unlikely toss-up)

The Texans should have the division wrapped up at this point, but somehow doubt they will be resting starters at Week 15. Expecting a loss in Houston, though perhaps a close one since the work load on Arian Foster will likely be relieved and I have no fear whatsoever of the Texans passing game..

Week 16 @ KC (Prediction: W)

Honestly, even though it is in Kansas City, if you can’t beat the Chiefs you are terrible. They haven’t held a lead this year (only win in OT). This is a win or a huge embarrassment.

Week 17 vs Houston (prediction: W)

Yup, the rested starters at last and the Colts get a free W.

Results: 3 almost definite wins, one toss up, and two unlikely toss ups.

Find a way to win one of those three and the Colts are .500. Win two of three and have an outside shot at a playoff game in Pittsburgh or Denver (can you imagine the publicity for that?). Win all three and… well you can’t win all three because the division likely isn’t locked up for the Texans if the Colts can get to 10-6, but if somehow the Colts won all three of those games, that is 10-6 and a season that is too good to be true. Literally. It would be a fluke. But stranger things have happened. I think they only win one of those three toss ups, but I could be wrong. The Indianapolis .500 rolls on and looks 10x more possible today than it did weeks ago. For that, I’ll give myself a big pat on the back.

AFC Playoff teams: New England, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh (unless Baltimore turns it around fast), Miami (WC), ????? (WC)

That last one is wiiiiiiide open. The fact that I have Miami as the other playoff team should make that pretty clear.

NFC Playoff Picture: Atlanta, SF, Chicago, NYG, Green Bay, Minnesota/Seattle

That is one hell of a conference. Just the fact that we could have two genuine Super Bowl contenders playing in the Wild Card round (Chicago v GB or NYG v GB) tells you all you need to know.

Premature NFL Draft Thoughts

There are a lot of needs on this team, but most notably they are Nose Tackle, Wide Receiver, the offensive line, and Strong Safety. If available (and he likely won’t be), Star Lotuleilei (DT, Utah) would be incredibly. John Jenkins from Georgia would be similarly outstanding. The Colts will likely address either WR or OL in Free Agency, but not both. If Ace Sanders (WR, South Carolina) declares, I could see the Colts taking him as a punt returner and potential Mike Wallace type to go with Wayne. They COULD go for a safety in the first round like Eric Reid (LSU) but I would be surprised if they didn’t address the lines first.

Thanks for reading. There will also be a postseason recap post and MAYBE a postseason post.

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The Jay Cutler Problem

Posted by outtatownclowns on October 3, 2012

A little word association to start off: First thing that comes to mind when I say “Jay Cutler”. Hold that thought.

Jay Cutler is a pretty unique guy. His advocates will pretty universally agree that he comes off as a douchebag and does himself no favors with media or otherwise. The detractors will at least usually concede that he has phenomenal physical tools and wins a whole lot of games. There are surely radicals on either side that will tell you he is a saint or will tell you he is trash beneath comparison to Matt Cassel. If you have no opinion on Jay Cutler, your opinion probably goes back and forth. This is more or less the norm with Cutler and we h;ave settled into a really nice groove of being able to go back and forth on him as a quarterback while universally condemning his attitude. Generally speaking, I have no issue with this. We remember Ty Cobb as a great baseball player and a hall of fame asshole. T.O. will likely shoulder a similar legacy. This is nothing new. But with both of these players we can acknowledge their great play and also acknowledge that they might not be the ideal role model for children. However, with Cutler, we can’t get past his public perception and facial aesthetics. In our appearance over substance era, hating Jay Cutler has become a perfect microcosm of a cultural ill.

Amazingly, Jay Cutler may be less popular than possums or cancer.

Jay Cutler has a phenomenal arm. No one argues this. Those who dislike him as a quarterback take issue with his decision making, and this is a completely fair assessment. It is particularly fair against the rival Packers who seem to have his number. The general dividing point on Cutler is how much we should account for his offensive line. His critics say he needs to adapt to the line in front of him and that it is no excuse. Others (myself included) think that when given time, Cutler is elite and his bad decision making stems largely from his lack of time in the pocket. This has been a huge part of Tom Brady’s success over the years. While I certainly think the offensive line problem is a substantial one, I am not trying to sway your opinion on Cutler’s decision making. It is a little flawed, and we can agree to disagree on its cause. We can even agree to disagree that maybe part of this decision making issue has to do with how many offensive coordinators he has been with over the years. We can write that all off and just look at his performance week to week.

Over the past two-plus years, Jay Cutler has started 30 games. He has had a passer rating over 95 fourteen times, and a passer rating under 70 eleven times. Those are both pretty substantial numbers. In those good (statistical) games, Cutler has been sacked 30 times for an average of 2.15 sacks/game. There were a few 4 and 5 sack games in that sample size too. In the bad games, Cutler has been sacked 48 times, which works out to 4.4 sacks/game. This includes, among other high totals, the 9-sack game vs the Giants. This bad games stat also requires a bit of an asterisk. These “bad” games include quite a few wins in which Cutler was sacked 2 times or fewer (5-6 W-L record in those games, and sacked twice or fewer in 4 of those). Looking up and down the stat-sheet doesn’t tell us how many of his picks were pressured or what have you, but there is a pretty strong correlation between Cutler’s protection and performance. This doesn’t solve any argument, but only goes to show that when given protection, he is a very good and effective quarterback.

In another statistical breakdown, we find that Cutler appeared to be a douchebag in 30 of those 30 games, though it may be 28 or 29 depending on whose indices you use. This narrative has probably been the dominant one in Cutler’s career. When he tore his MCL, he was labelled a quitter. When he yells at teammates, he is just being a prima donna. His body language gets more attention than just about any sports figure I have seen in years. It appears he can do nothing right.

This should all be a nice big warm blanket to worried Bears fans. Everything is ok because Cutler’s tangibles are great and his intangibles aren’t necessarily his fault! Yet intangibles matter, at least a bit. I’m not going to sit here and tell you intangibles can replace tangibles, because they can’t. But if players in the Bears locker room have the same perception as the media (I doubt this), then there is a serious issue. More than any other sport, belief in your leaders and faith in winning matters. Why? Because if you are going to go put your body and livelihood on the line, you’d best believe in the guy next to you. Buying into the coach is important in basketball, clubhouse chemistry at least carries SOMETHING in baseball since you spend months on end with the same 25 guys, but football is different. With the nature of injuries in the sport, with the non-guaranteed contracts year to year, and for many players, week-to-week, if you don’t believe in your guys, you are not going to put it all on the line and, generally speaking, you are probably not going to win a bunch of games. It is clearly more complex than this, but on some basic level, this is undeniably true.

I will say that I do not see Cutler’s personality as an issue, and that the Bears are a damn good football team year after year with him at QB. The hypothetical issue I mentioned above doesn’t seem to be at play here. But the fact that it is even a possibility that Cutler’s talent could be trumped by not giving off the right vibes is astounding. More incredible than all that is that this seemingly absurd idea being is central narrative with Cutler.

As a side dish, this is not only fair, but interesting and insightful. It serves as a great talking point about leadership, different leadership styles and our public and cultural perception of people and athletes. Yet even after a masterful game against a pretty good Dallas defense, the first talking point is Cutler walking away from his offensive coordinator for about three seconds, then Tice coming up and talking to him while standing. What did we say when Brady yelled at Bill O’Brien or Andy Reid got into it with a D-Lineman (in the preseason no less)? “These things happen in football”. When Cutler did it? “What the hell is he doing”. I am beating a dead horse and I know that. Give the man his credit for his phenomenal skills and then, if you so desire, critique his attitude or body language or whatever.

Remember your word from the word association at the beginning? If you needed any persuading from this column at all, the word was probably asshole, douchebag or something of the sort. Try your best to change that, if only by moving it to the second word because Jay Cutler is one hell of a quarterback haunted by a random intangible he likely can’t control.

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Three Players to Watch (Brooklyn Nets)

Posted by outtatownclowns on August 29, 2012

The “Three Players to Watch” series is brought to you by the OuttaTownClowns, covering each of the league’s 30 teams providing you with insight on three guys that should demand your attention next season. As you can always expect at the OTC, not every player noted are a team’s top player, instead it may just be a player’s particular situation that’s worth following if you’re a die-hard NBA fan. Up Next: “Hello Brooklyn, how ya duin” (Lil Wayne Voice)

1. Tyshawn Taylor

The seasoned college prospect fell to the 41st pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and was surprisingly traded by Portland to Brooklyn for cash considerations. Cash considerations? Consider this…Tyshawn Taylor will receive some chances to help the Nets next season. Averaging 15.5 ppg in Orlando Summer League competition Taylor provided leadership, a clear ability to score the basketball at the next level, and most importantly wasn’t afraid to take control of the flow of the game while on the court. Although he only handed out an average of 2.5 assists per game in summer ball, his overall game play can easily make him a reliable option of the bench for Head Coach Avery Johnson if called upon. Don’t be surprised to see Taylor sent to the D-League early on into the year, but come the middle of the season he should rise if given the opportunity.

 

2. Brook Lopez

Go ahead big fella, pick out some new Brooklyn Nets gear that fits. Looks as if you’ll be sticking around after all…

Two words can describe the Nets feeling when it comes to Brook Lopez next season: fingers crossed. After playing in just the first 5 games of the last year’s season, the Nets ultimately decided to shut Lopez down after a severely sprained right ankle. Despite much court time the Nets still elected to re-sign Lopez to a 4 year, $61 million dollar contract extension. Re-signing Brook Lopez and missing the boat on acquiring Dwight Howard the Nets will heavily rely upon Lopez to have a major bounce back year. As the current Nets roster stands, Lopez is arguably their only true center and will obviously need to avoid foul trouble. With the relocation to Brooklyn that included a new logo, new image (Jay-Z convinced the league to allow them to have primary black jerseys), re-signing of Gerald Wallace, and trading to acquire Joe Johnson the Nets have huge expectations this coming season. It’s time that owner Mikhail Prokhorov sees a drastic improvement in team success considering the amount of money he’s been willing and able to fork out over the course of the past two years. Add Lopez to that list and the 24 year-old should definitely feel some pressure to perform.

3. Joe Johnson

NBA fans should be very curious to see how D-Will & “Iso Joe” share the ball next season

It’s safe to say most people like Joe Johnson. He’s not really the type of guy you can really hate on outside of the fact that he’s become famous for delivering clutch, cold-blooded daggers to your team in your own building for years now. But while he executes everything so calmly with ease, it’s hard to understand how on earth “Iso-Joe” is the NBA’s highest paid player. Johnson is an All-Star that got paid Superstar money. In Atlanta, Johnson was an annual All-Star and Brooklyn can expect no different. However, it will be interesting to see how well Johnson’s game can gel in the backcourt with Deron Williams. Both players love and are used to having the ball in their hands. It should be very interesting what transpires at the end of close games and how the Nets offense flows next season. If everything goes as planned, the Nets will somehow sneak their way into the 2013 NBA playoffs. In order for that to even a slight chance of happening, Joe must continue to be Joe while also adjusting to sharing a backcourt with Deron Williams. Easier said then done.

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Three Players to Watch (Boston Celtics)

Posted by outtatownclowns on August 28, 2012

The “Three Players to Watch” series is brought to you by the OuttaTownClowns, covering each of the league’s 30 teams providing you with insight on three guys that should demand your attention next season. As you can always expect at the OTC, not every player noted are a team’s top player, instead it may just be a player’s particular situation that’s worth following if you’re a die-hard NBA fan. 

1. Avery Bradley 

Last season proved to be a growing year for Bradley as he became a much more impactful piece to the Celtics puzzle. Provided with more playing time and trust from Head Coach Doc Rivers the Celtics combo guard turned some major weaknesses into some potential strengths this coming season. Having always been a great on-ball defender, Bradley improved his shooting stroke. In specific he showed a more consistent ability to hit the corner three ball and forced defenses to respect his off the dribble midrange game. It’s also worth noting that these are two improvements that “regular season” Rondo has yet to display. While there’s no debate Rondo is far and beyond the better ball handler, Avery is giving his Celtics coaching staff flexibility when it comes to using newly signed veteran Jason Terry. It’s likely Bradley will be given the head nod as the starting shooting guard, allowing Terry to continue to do what he does best as the sixth man. NBA fans should keep a close eye on Avery’s progress next year. He’s the league’s best on-ball defender when pressuring full court and to see him also add an offensive game is a joy to watch if you’re a fan of following player development.

2. Jared Sullinger

Sullinger couldn’t be in a better situation…

Dropping as low as Sullinger did in the draft was huge blessing in disguise for one of the best players college basketball had to offer last season. Getting in with the tradition of Celtics basketball is a perfect fit for the young power forward and being mentored by one of best power forward’s in league history won’t hurt him either. If he can avoid the injuries, Sullinger has a chance to provide a big impact in year one and will be counted upon to contribute on the offensive side of the floor. The Celtics are hoping that he can exceed the level of play of both Brandon Bass and former Celtic Leon Powe combined. Considering what the young big man did at the college level and in Orlando Summer League it looks as it that won’t be too hard to live up too as he begins his journey in the NBA.

3. Kris Joseph

Joseph will get his chance to be a contributor off the Celtics bench

Don’t sleep on this experienced college player who’s proven to be a winner at the college level. Yes, he didn’t have the most impressive college numbers, no he didn’t have the most impressive summer league, but as the current roster stands he will be counted upon to help fill some minutes while the aging Paul Pierce rests. Having a great support system around him in Pierce, Rondo, and Garnett can pay huge dividends in Joseph’s first year success. He definitely will get his chance to prove he not only belongs in the league, but also prove he can provide a positive impact on the team from day one.

 

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Three Players to Watch (Atlanta Hawks)

Posted by outtatownclowns on August 27, 2012

The “Three Players to Watch” series is brought to you by the OuttaTownClowns, covering each of the league’s 30 teams providing you with insight on three guys that should demand your attention next season. As you can always expect at the OTC, not every player noted are a team’s top player, instead it may just be a player’s particular situation that’s worth following if you’re a die-hard NBA fan. Up first, the Atlanta Hawks featuring the Three J’s: Jeff, John, and Josh…

1. Jeff Teague

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Teague’s future in Atlanta after next season is definitely up in the air

A quick glance at Teague’s year-by-year regular season statistics shows steady improvement each year. Naturally his overall statistics also have to do with receiving increased playing time that hit an all-time high this past season as Teague started in all of the Hawks 66 games last season averaging 33 minutes per outing. However it’s likely Teague won’t be seeing yet another improvement in his performances next season due to the Hawks offseason moves. This summer the Hawks’ two biggest additions came at the guard positions adding Devin Harris via the Joe Johnson trade with Brooklyn and signing free agent guard Louis Williams. It’s unclear as to whether or not the Hawks organization are left unconvinced Teague’s their point guard going forward in the future; but this upcoming season surely is a make or break season for Teague that should determine whether he’ll be considered starter quality or one of the NBA’s best backup point guards come next offseason. Unfortunately Teague may be facing a challenge too tough to overcome, as it’s likely his minutes of opportunity will be decreased with both Harris and Williams on board. In order to prove his worth as a starter Teague must continue to improve his three-point shooting percentage (34% last season) and most importantly his distribution rate as he averaged just below 5 assists per game last season. It’ll be tough and interesting task to watch Teague try to improve yet again next season.

2. John Jenkins

ImageUndoubtedly one of the more NBA-ready rookies in this year’s draft class Jenkins will get a chance to shine in the Hawks rotation next season. Reviewing the Hawks depth chart that includes Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson, there’s a decent chance you may even see Jenkins starting in the shooting guard slot if Head Coach Larry Drew decides to go against the idea of a Teague/Harris backcourt that would lack the 3-point shooting threat that Jenkins certainly provides. Just recently, Jenkins received 48.6% of his peers votes as best shooter in a rookie poll that was released by NBA.com. Jenkins led the nation in three-pointers made per game last season connecting on nearly 4 treys a game. If Jenkins can quickly transition his consistent long range shooting ability to the NBA, he’ll earn a spot on one of the NBA All-Rookie teams.

3. Josh Smith

Last year he was an All-Star game snub, this year he enters a contract year. Watch out folks, Josh Smith is on a mission to get paid! Fantasy basketball players should jump on the opportunity of drafting this guy early into the first round. Last year J-Smoov nearly averaged a double-double putting up 18.8 ppg and collecting 9.6 boards a game, not to mention also averaging 1.4 spg and 1.7 bpg respectively. With the departure of Joe Johnson, Smith will average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game with ease next year. Rest assured he’ll also continue to hold down a 1.5 steals per game average and don’t be a bit surprised to see him get raise his blocks average to 2 per game. With that here’s the first bold statistical prediction for next season: 22.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 2.1 bpg= Josh Smith.                                                       

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J-Smoov will produce eye-popping numbers this season

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21st Century Idolatry

Posted by outtatownclowns on August 24, 2012

In 2130 BCE, it is said that Abraham and Ishmael built the Ka’ba in Mecca. The depth and tone of the stone’s black coloring stood out in the city, and soon it became a place of worship. It was not the Ka’ba that was being worshiped, though it certainly looked the part, but rather idols within the Ka’ba that made for a sanctuary for Christian, pagan, or otherwise. The holy ground became a place of peace, the cornerstone of a peaceful city where war was not allowed and an asabiyya (social cohesion) flourished in the area.

As Muhammad began his mission in 610 CE, the Ka’ba still stood, a place of worship of idols, through perhaps less serene than it had been in the times of Abraham and Ishmael. The Qur’an forbade worshipping false idols and he strove to change the ways of the Ka’ba. He had the idols burned, the Ka’ba renovated, and it still stands today as the object Muslims face during prayer. Of course they do not pray to the Ka’ba, it is simply the direction they face, much as the tabernacle in a church faces east. But the idols burned, and a religion spread that has filled the hearts of millions with wonder ever since.

No, the blog has not turned its sights on religious history. Just making a point.

Today, Lance Armstrong gave up his fight with the USADA and will not contest doping allegations. Cancer survivor, national hero, ambassador and fundraiser for cancer research and by all accounts (excluding Sheryl Crow’s) a very good man. He was also a cheater. This does not make him any less a man in the sense that he is still a cancer survivor, national hero and so on. However, it appears that he did not earn those Tour de France titles fairly. He was surely still in better shape than I will ever be, but he broke the rules. His legacy as an athlete is not just tainted, but irrevocably damaged. Frankly, I don’t know if anyone really cares. We know why we embraced Lance, and we don’t particularly care that we never would have embraced him if he had not won the Tour 7 times. By no means is he ruined as a man because he cheated in sport.

The same sort of thing happened with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ray Lewis, Roger Clemens, Michael Vick and so on. We looked on in wonder at what they could do on the field. We idolized their superhuman talent and we (speaking for my generation here) wanted to be them. Bonds is now seen as a pariah who now takes bike rides in his slimmed down form. McGwire was publicly shamed. Sosa has disappeared completely, particularly after trying to look a little creamier. Ray Lewis was accused of killing a man. Clemens won his case but ended a pariah anyway and not someone any kid wants to be. Vick is perhaps the most interesting case here since his rehabilitation has recast him as an animal rights activist and, once again, a tremendous athlete.

This situation is hardly a new one. Think OJ, think Daryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. Think Mickey Mantle’s alcoholism, drug use and philandering. Ty Cobb was a huge asshole. None of this strikes us as surprising at all since we know these stories, but in the days of Mantle, kids looked on in wonder wanted to be the Mick, have Monroe (a drug abuser and delinquent herself despite they way she rocked a dress) on their arm, and be the epitome of cool and a pro athlete.

Things have changed, at least a little bit. NBA players have become so freakishly athletic that while kids still grow up wanting to drain a 3 like Kobe, swat shots like Dwight or do everything like LeBron, there is a definite disconnect by the time they are 10 that they will never be 6’8″ and a freak athlete. That love of basketball may still remain, but the idol is at least somewhat dead. The co-founder of this blog “6’1, not an Adonis) serves as a bit of a counter-example as he still holds Vince Carter as an idol to this day despite not being able to dunk, but his basketball fanaticism is exceptional, not the rule. The steroids cloud has made it really, really hard to stick with a baseball idol, though Mike Trout and others certainly give hope to a new generation. The NFL is a bit different since no one cares if guys are jacked up, as long as they go out there and risk their future health every Sunday.

So where am I going with this? Nothing is new here about sports figures being real, flawed people. I think we all realize at some point that our heroes are men, and not characters from comic books. But in an information age like ours, will kids have any sports figures to look up to? Is that innocent hope that he/she can grow up and be superhuman gone? If so, is that a bad thing? Do we really want our kids idolizing a ballplayer of any kind when that ballplayer does so little good for the world? Are we that jaded/enlightened/cynical now?

There isn’t really an “answer” to these questions. There are certainly valid opinions on both sides. Maybe it is just a bad year for sports figures and the Joe Paternos of the world will fade into the background as new heroes step forth without issue. All I know is that some day, maybe soon, maybe in decades, we will set fire to the idols in the Ka’ba, hopefully to much rejoicing and rebirth, but almost as surely with a deep sadness that the innocence of sports and athletes is dead. Lance Armstrong was Harvey Dent, except he didn’t try to kill anyone’s son. We saw him as the best of us, a man whose herculean physical strength was matched by an unbreakable will. But he also cheated. Both sides of him are there for all to see. I do not think the sports idol is dead, but I think he is mortal, and some day we will see him/her in flames.

Do we? Should we?

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The Indianapolis .500: A Colts Guide to the Unexpected

Posted by outtatownclowns on August 21, 2012

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts season was truly unforgettable. It was a season that Kafka would have loved, but the fans surely hated. The team was in a strange place it had never been before (2-14), feeling unjustly persecuted (Manning’s injury), and hurting deeply from its father’s flaws (poor drafting by Nepotism Chris). The metamorphosis was sure to come, but thankfully, that did not mean some twisted, fucked-up,  Kafkaesque transformation, but a new head coach, a new GM, a new quarterback and a new era of Colts football the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Jim Harbaugh was the quarterback. For the first time, the team’s goals are not the playoffs, the top pick, or a Super Bowl, and that is alright. Every team’s goal is getting better, but where will the record fall within that “getting better” spectrum?  5 or 6 wins seems to be the general consensus and I think lots of Colts fans would count 6 wins as a coup after last year and the rebuilding that followed.

I say 8-8. It is not only a possibility, but a probability and it isn’t even that outlandish.

First off, the schedule matters. Teams go from last to first in their division all the time because of how the schedule sets up to put 4th place teams against other 4th place teams.  The Texans are clearly the class of the division, but the Jaguars are terrible and the Titans are just ok and going in with a 2nd year quarterback, no Kenny Britt and a new head coach. So what does that schedule look like?

@CHI, vsMIN, vsJAX, vsGB, @NYJ, vsCLE, @TEN, vsMIA, @JAX, @NE, vsBUF, @DET, vsTEN, @HOU, @KC, vsHOU

No, those bold games are not predicted wins, just games that are winnable. The only risky one is the Houston game, and I am going on the assumption the Texans will be resting players for that game. That is 11 winnable games, and while I am obviously not suggesting that they will win all these games, I am also not suggesting that they will definitely lose the rest of those games. I mean some of those games look completely unwinnable, but given the nature of injuries in the NFL, who is to say that Stafford and Calvin Johnson get hurt, putting that game in play, or Tom Brady getting hurt and making every Colts’ fan beam like Christmas morning? Sure, these things are unlikely, but these same rules apply to even just decent teams like Tennessee and Buffalo, who are one or two injuries away from ruin. 11 winnable games and you don’t think the Colts can get 8? Free your mind.

So how did I decide which games were winnable? It had little to do with the standings last year, though it certainly didn’t hurt that most of the teams were pretty mediocre. The new Colts era requires a fresh look at the Colts. It used to be that any team that had a strong offense, particularly running the ball, could give the Colts a run for their money. That appears to have changed. Teams have thus far been able to move the ball a little, but given the defensive scheme and run-blitzing that the Colts will do, the key to beating them no longer lies up front. The real issue is the secondary where Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers are good/decent and the rest of it is very much in question.  In order to beat the 2012-2013 Colts, you have to be able to throw the ball, and throw it consistently. That is why Minnesota and Adrian Peterson don’t scare me. That is why the Jets don’t scare me, That is why playing a 4th place schedule is often easy: there is a total lack of solid quarterbacks. Most of the time, none of those last place teams have good quarterbacks, but the Colts have one in Andrew Luck.

Much has been said about Andrew Luck, and it is for that reason I have yet to write a post on him. The short version is that he is really, really impressive. So impressive that I have little doubt the Colts will average 24 points a game this year. They look capable of moving the ball in the red zone on the ground, which will ease some of the burden, and look like they will be a decent passing team under Bruce Arians. The only teams that are going to be able to really stifle this offense are teams that are much better than the Colts. Few, if any, teams on the Colts level will be able to totally shut the team down. Thusly, it comes down to the defense. How quickly can Chuck Pagano get the system in place? How quickly can the players learn the ins and outs? Will the lack of a nose tackle make the front 7 toothless? All these questions still need to be answered, but even moderate answers to these questions suggest the Colts can string a few wins together and surprise some teams.

So who are they going to surprise? Let’s go through that list of winnable games.

The architect of the Ravens defense teams up with an architecture major at QB.

Vs. Minnesota (Week 2)

Adrian Peterson’s second game back from a torn ACL, Christian Ponder, and a pass rush that is a little bit scary. That is what you sign up for when you play the Vikings. So Peterson is not at 100% yet, but even 80% of him is more than enough to handle. The Colts will presumably make Ponder beat them, and I think he can for a half, but not for a  full game. This is a game that the Colts should win. The offensive line is not nearly as bad as it is being made out to be, the defense should be able to hold the vikings to 20 points or less and that means the Colts have a shot. If Ponder has a good game the Vikings win, if not the Colts will win. That is very much a toss up.

Jacksonville (Week 3 & Week 10)

The Jaguars are really bad, and if Maurice-Jones Drew doesn’t play they could be historically bad. Blaine Gabbert is nothing to fear and these are games the Colts should split at the very least. Winning both is a definite possibility.

@New York Jets (Week 6)

For all the press coverage Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow get, they still combine to make maybe one very good quarterback. Individually, neither is really very good or capable of picking apart a defense routinely. Sanchez does it from time to time, Tebow does it from time to time, but betting on either to do it without question on any given week is shaky. Given the Jets poor offensive line play thus far, lack of a receiving corps and ongoing instability,  picking the Jets third in their own division is totally reasonable. This is a very winnable game.

vs Cleveland (Week 7)

The Browns are not very good. They are not terrible, they are not completely without hope, but Greg Little and Brandon Weeden are not going to strike fear in the hearts of any opposing fans or coaches. This game is a borderline must-win.

Tennessee (Week 8 & Week 14)

The Titans are a very solid team and have been for a while. They are not overwhelming in any aspect of the game since Chris Johnson’s paycheck and I have serious doubts about Jake Locker. Winning both of these games would be a bit surprising, but not stop-the-presses shocking. The Titans defense might chew Luck up a little now and again but both games are winnable, and Colts fans should expect a team “getting better” and “making progress” to win at least one of these games.

vs Miami (Week 9)

Another perennially solid team that has few weaknesses but fewer overwhelming strengths. They will be decent and the Colts may very well lose this game, but starting rookie quarterbacks is risky, especially when that quarterback isn’t the fastest learner the coaching staff has ever seen. I have not watched tape on Ryan Tannehill, but I will be slightly shocked if he turns into a good NFL quarterback. He fits the mold of physical specimen that has technique issues (Patrick Ramsey, Jeff George, Josh Freeman, Jamarcus Russell) better than he fits the mold of some physical questions but does a lot well (Philip Rivers, Jeff Garcia, Jim Harbaugh). I’m not calling him a definite bust, but he has to prove himself, not confirm prior beliefs.About a 6 on the winnable scale.

vs Buffalo (Week 12)

I expect the Colts to lose this game in part because I expect the Bills to be good, but in part because even if they are not good, they will be able to move the ball easily against the Colts defense. This one is not all that winnable, but if we see broken ribs Ryan Fitzpatrick instead of healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, this game could be in play.

@ Kansas City (Week 16)

This game is about on the same level as the Miami game in that the Chiefs have a lot going for them, but since it is never all working at the same time, you never know what you are going to get. If Jamaal Charles is on the field, things get a little trickier, but this is still a winnable game. Winning at Arrowhead might be tricky but after last year it seems like a definite possibility. If this game was week 1, I would probably count it out, but after 15 weeks of development and getting things in place, this game is absolutely in play.

If you give the Colts that week 17 win against a resting Houston (more than plausible), can you see 8-8? Can you let yourself believe that the Colts could be overachievers (in the eyes of all not just the pessimists) for once? Now maybe the talent pool would get replenished quicker if they went 4-12, but that is not happening. The Colts are better than that, and they are a .500 team this year. Expect it.

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The Thunder Roll On With Ibaka Extension

Posted by outtatownclowns on August 18, 2012

The summer months are coming to end. As a direct result the NBA world’s free agency buzz is slowly dying, which leads to many teams having advanced discussions with agents regarding contract extensions. On bigger level our world as a whole is currently facing with the ongoing monsoon season. The Oklahoma City Thunder agreeing upon a reported 4-year, $40+ million dollar extension with Serge Ibaka is the perfect compliment to both.

There’s certainly plenty of room for Harden to fit alongside Westbrook & Durant, but the luxury tax issues may say otherwise…

The Thunder have struck again, successfully locking up Ibaka alongside Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for the team’s bright road ahead. While it’s safe to say the Thunder organization is in good shape for the next 3 to 4 years, one big issue remains in question: Will they have enough cap flexibility to also re-sign emerging guard James Harden as well?

For now the debate remains to whether or not it can be done, but in the meantime the Thunder have taken another giant step in the right direction. Deciding to extend Ibaka before Harden was a brilliant move and here are 3 reasons why:

1. Reggie Jackson:

One of the bigger, if not the biggest, mystery prospect was Jackson when the athletic, 3-year guard from Boston College entered his name in the 2011 NBA Draft. After suffering a knee injury in pre-draft process Jackson pulled out of his remaining scheduled workouts that left many team evaluators questioning his draft stock value. Having a ton of draft success momentum behind them (having previously drafted Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Harden) the Thunder tested their luck again hoping that Jackson would be the steal of the draft when they selected him 24th overall.

Receiving little playing time as a rookie this past season, Jackson only saw the floor in 45 games averaging 11.1 minutes per outing. In this small window of opportunity Jackson failed to impress scoring 3.1 ppg on just 32.1% shooting from the field. However, Jackson raised a ton of eyebrows with his play in the Orlando Summer League this past month. While his shooting percentage hasn’t improved drastically (41.2% FG) Jackson did display many improvements and his athleticism helped find himself on the nightly summer league highlight reels.

If Jackson can continue to show steady improvements and maturity in his game, he can certainly help the Thunder determine the value/priority of giving Harden a big payday. Having already locked up Westbrook long-term it’s not out of the question to consider a backcourt tandem of Jackson/Westbrook that helps the team avoid a luxury tax nightmare.

2. Perry Jones III:

A similar theme arises when examining the Thunder’s latest first round draft selection in Jones III. The Baylor product’s future as an NBA player included many question marks, which undoubtedly made him this year’s biggest mystery in the NBA Draft. Considered to be a potential top five talent, the Thunder considered Jones III a no-brainer when it came time for their 28th overall pick.

Although Jones’s summer league performances weren’t quite the results the Thunder were surely hoping for; the team definitely feels optimistic about his potential. If OKC is able to groom 6’11, 20 year-old power forward they may be willing to trade Kendrick Perkins which would enable them to start either Jones III or veteran Nick Collision at the power forward position and move Ibaka to the center spot. This particular trade scenario would significantly increase the team’s ability to resign Harden. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but the idea of a starting line-up that possibly could consist of: Westbrook/Harden/Durant/Jones III/Ibaka is pretty scary. Talk about a high octane, up-tempo, run and gun game!

3.  Hollis Thompson:

It’s more than fair to call this one a long shot, but it’ll be interesting to follow the development of Thompson. While the junior Georgetown product went undrafted this past June, Thompson does deserve some consideration as a possible piece to the Thunder’s future. After all, we’re talking about a 6’8, 21 year-old swingman who shot 46.4% from the field, including 43% from downtown as the go-to player on his team in the very tough Big East conference. If there’s one undrafted swingmen that might have a chance to find similar success to that of Portland’s Wesley Matthews, it’s Thompson.

In closing, it’s important to keep in mind that in no way are these points big enough reasons to shrug off trying to resign James Harden. Rather these points just strengthen the fact that losing a key piece like Harden may not be the end of the world for the Thunder’s title chances for years to come. Making the Ibaka extension the first priority was the right call as the Thunder organization continues to roll and the team can hope the lightening can strike big with their young prospects mentioned above.

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NFL: November 6th + Surprises of the Year

Posted by outtatownclowns on November 5, 2011

Before we get to the picks for the week, I want to go team-by-team and talk about at least one surprising thing about each team. Why? Because I don’t have much else to write about specific to this week and some of these guys/factors really deserve attention.

Buffalo Bills (5-2)- There are a lot of directions we could go with the DIVISION LEADING BILLS. I could focus on how awesome Fred Jackson is, or how Ryan Fitzpatrick is somehow one of the more reliable quarterbacks this year, but the biggest surprise in my mind is that going into most weeks, I have a lot of confidence in them to not only be in the game, but to have a legitimate shot to win. Last year they had some talent but did not even look close to contention at times. This year I would be more surprised by the Bills getting crushed than, say, Stevie Johnson becoming a breakout player last year.

New England Patriots (5-2)- I don’t think anyone really thought it was going to be a great defensive team but they are struggling to stop any team with a half-decent quarterback. Devin McCourty needs to be a little better, but the rest of the secondary needs to be a lot better.

New York Jets (4-3)- I can’t say I am shocked that Mark Sanchez isn’t that good, but perhaps more surprising this year is that the Jets can’t seem to run the ball especially well either. That was supposed to be a huge factor in their battle with the Patriots for the division crown. Now they are just fighting for a playoff spot.

Miami Dolphins (0-7)- The Dolphins being bad is pretty expected. So is Reggie Bush failing to establish himself as a big-time back. Signing JP Losman as a real starting option? Shocking regardless of situation.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)- I wasn’t entirely sure on them coming into the year but figured they could get to 11-5 or something and be pretty good. That still looks realistic, but what is more surprising is how unconvincing they have been for a 6-2 team that can be fairly called the AFC favorite. I am generally not a Big Ben fan (we are talking football only here, not other issues) because he holds the ball too long, often seems to make bad decisions and really doesn’t inspire confidence, BUT with what he is doing without an offensive line again is pretty impressive.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)- I thought Dalton could be alright and I thought AJ Green could be alright. I never thought the offensive line would hold up to let them build any kind of rapport and I did not think they would click this well. I think they will ultimately miss the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be a complete shocker if they made it.

Baltimore Ravens (5-2)- It is a little surprising that the defense is as good as it is, but the real surprise here is just how bad Joe Flacco is. He never inspired a ton of confidence but he at least seemed capable in the past. This year he has looked like JaMarcus Russell.

Cleveland Browns (3-4)- I am not sure if there is really anything surprising about the Browns. They looked like a really average team and they are nothing if not average. Dick Jauron has done a pretty good job with the defense, so I guess that is my surprise. Boring, I know.

Houston Texans (5-3)- The big surprise here is that defense. Wade Phillips (!) deserves a lot of credit here, as does Jonathan Joseph. That defense is what will win the Texans a playoff game this year.

Tennessee Titans (4-3)- A Memorial Service will be held for Chris Johnson this Friday at 9:00 AM. Pay your respects to the classically overpaid running back who has a bad year after getting paid. As a side note, if someone could alert Nashville PD’s Zombie Unit that Matt Hasselbeck’s grave has been robbed and he seems to be alive again.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6)- That defense is pretty good for being such a bad team otherwise. Tough schedule, but I need to see more growth out of Baline Gabbert before I decide to sign off on this year’s QB class being good top to bottom.

Indianapolis Colts (0-8)- Peyton Manning has been the most valuable player to his team for the last 6 years at least. Pat Angerer is pretty good. I don’t know what else to say that will not incite a page-long rant about my Colts.

Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)- I thought, along with everyone else, that the Chiefs were set up perfectly to crash and burn. They did for 4 weeks, then turned it on again and are now tied for the division lead. I still am but buying them to win the division, but they have been the most impressive team in the AFC West because of their last 4 games. Also, there is no team in the AFC West that I would give a grade higher than a B-.

San Diego Chargers (4-3)- Philip Rivers has been really, really mediocre. I don’t know if he is hurt like local reporters say, if he just isn’t having a good year, or if something else is up, but he has been extremely disappointing.

Oakland Raiders (4-3)- The big surprise here is not that the Raiders were decent and ran the ball well most of the year. The real surprise is that they really, truly thought that Carson Palmer was the answer and were willing to pay top dollar for him. Have they not seen him play the last 2 years? That is a trade they will really regret in a few years.

Denver Broncos (2-5)- There is not really any surprise here when you consider that the Broncos traded their best receiver and have some key injuries. I don’t really have a surprise for the Broncos, but I think I am contractually obligated to mention Tim Tebow and use the phrases “just wins games” and “comically inaccurate”. Done and done.

New York Giants (5-2)- There really isn’t any big surprise about the Giants either. They have a brutal stretch coming up and no one expects them to do much during that stretch. That sounds exactly like what will happen. Defensive injuries, inconsistent pressure on the QB, and over-reliance on Victor Cruz is not a very healthy combination.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)- The obvious surprise here is that the Eagles have struggled so mightily, but equally surprising is just how good LeSean McCoy is. If I need a running back, I take Peterson, Forte, and then a tie between Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy for 3rd. He does everything you want. On another note, expect a giant letdown against the Bears.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4)- The least surprising thing about the Cowboys is that the media has overreacted to just about everything the team has done. The most surprising thing is that a defensive coordinator who hasn’t really had any major success at any point in his career (Rob Ryan) is having a hard time. Oh, wait.

Washington Redskins (3-4)- This one is not close. The most surprising thing about the Redskins by a long shot is that I have a clear and distinct preference for Rex Grossman over any other quarterback.

Green Bay Packers (7-0)- The Packers beat the Panthers by 7, Vikings by 7, were shut out in the 2nd half by the Rams, and because of the relative parity around the league they are clearly the best team right now. So I guess the most surprising thing would be that they were able to gain separation via those somewhat unimpressive results.

Detroit Lions (6-2)- Matthew Stafford is healthy. So is Calvin Johnson.

Chicago Bears (4-3)- Mike Martz swallowed his pride and protected his quarterback. Nothing else is really even close.

Minnesota Vikings (2-6)- If you would have asked me which quarterback among Ponder, Dalton, Flacco and Sanchez were most likely to be terrible this year, I would have picked Ponder. I would have been wrong. He seems alright and I need to watch him a little more to know just how decent he is.

New Orleans Saints (5-3)- The inconsistency with this team is pretty surprising, but specifically I am going with Drew Brees’ complete blackout-suck games that he has been throwing around lately. He seemed like Mr. Consistency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3)- If I told you Tampa Bay’s Point Differential was pretty close to Arizona, Cleveland, and Kansas City and notably worse than Washington, Carolina and Minnesota, would you be confused? I know I was when I looked it up. The San Francisco game is the main culprit here (accounting for 45 of the -38, but damn.

Atlanta Falcons (4-3)- So I wrote the Falcons in for a Wild Card spot last week, but I am still not really sure if they are good. If they focus on Turner and use Ryan only when needed, i am in, but if they try to turn into the Flyin’ Falcons I can’t see them getting that last wild card spot. I guess the thing I am most surprised by with the Falcons is that no one has overrated them nor underrated them this year. Every step of the way it seems to be about right.

Carolina Panthers (2-6)- Cam Newton is surprising, but not THAT surprising. The big one for me is just how bad the defense is after hiring defensive-minded Ron Rivera from San Diego. That is a really bad defense that the Colts actually might have a shot at beating.

San Francisco 49ers (6-1)- Where do I start? Is it their 4 game lead in the division going into week 9? The awesome defense? Jim Harbaugh doing this good a job coming out of a lockout? Alex Smith seeming serviceable? All of it.

Seattle Seahawks (2-5)- 2nd place in the division at 2-5 is pretty surprising, but so is the entire thought-process that lead to Seattle thinking that some combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst could compete.

Arizona Cardinals (1-6)- I am a little surprised that Kevin Kolb is this bad, but the big surprise is how much heart this team is showing in its quest for Andrew Luck. You couldn’t give this team a game at this point. They just want it too badly.

St. Louis Rams (1-6)- When you look at their schedule so far, it isn’t really that surprising that they are 1-6. The big surprise with the Rams is that the Cardinals got so incredibly hot going into the postseason and won a really great World Series.

Picks

Falcons (-6.5) vs Colts

Michael Turner is going to tear the Colts a new asshole. That will make it at least their 4th new asshole this season. The plastic surgery is getting expensive.

Buccaneers (+8.5) vs Saints

Bounce-back for the Saints or Bucs play the Saints close again? I am going with the latter but it could easily be the former.

Browns vs Texans (-10.5)

I can’t see the Browns scoring more than 17 points, and probably fewer.

Jets vs Bills (-2.5)

I believe in the Bills. I don’t think the other shoe is going to drop quite yet.

Dolphins vs Chiefs (-4)

Hot teams tend to beat cold teams. Someone tell the Nobel Prize board about my breakthrough theory.

49ers (-4) vs Redskins

Not even the 49ers penchant for close games can get me to bet on the Redskins.

Cowboys (-11) vs Seahawks

This line is 3 points too high, but I think they are going to kill the Seahawks so I can’t take the Hawks to cover.

Broncos vs Raiders (-7)

I’m not betting on Carson Palmer as much as I am betting against Tim Tebow and betting on Darren McFadden.

Bengals (+3) vs Titans

The quality-but-boring game of the week.

Rams vs Cardinals (-3)

This is a must-watch for all Andrew Luck Sweepstakes fans. Should be a terrible game.

Giants vs Patriots (-9)

This line seems a little high too, but how am I supposed to bet against an angry Pats team against a really mediocre Giants team?

Packers (-5.5) vs Chargers

I really do not understand why everyone seems to be picking the Chargers here. They have lost to both really good teams they have played this year and they have yet to look good. The Chargers do seem to zig when they should zag, but I would be really surprised to see the Packers lose this game.

Ravens vs Steelers (-3)

I am pretty sure the Ravens were looking past the Cardinals last week, but they have no excuse for the Jaguars game. The Steelers will win this game and I would bet a lot on it.

Bears (+7.5) vs Eagles

Upset of the week. The Eagles seemed posed for a letdown and I have been a vociferous Bears supporter for the second half of the year. It starts right here. Bears 23, Eagles 21.

Last Week: 5-9
Season: 51-59-6

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