preview

AFC West Preview

1. San Diego Chargers     OTC Projected Record: 10-6

They need him like Kathy Lee needs Regis.

Calling Card: Balance
Weakness: Instability
Franchise Player: Philip Rivers

Last year, many had San Diego making their long-awaited Super Bowl run. But they lost to the Jets and had to start the offseason, which ended up being a tumultuous one, early. LaDanian Tomlinson was shown the door by AJ Smith, Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill wanted new contracts, and the defense lost pieces such as Antonio Cromartie and Jamal Williams. I guess we should not be surprised at this from a franchise that fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season, but with such major faces leaving, serious questions remain about the hegemonic power out west.

Offense

This was an outstanding unit last year, but there are now serious questions about the offense. Philip Rivers will be just fine as he is a fine, albeit annoying, quarterback, but outside of him, there is a lot of uncertainty.  Can Ryan Mathews replace LaDanian Tomlinson as the every-down-back? Will Vincent Jackson play? Can the other receivers pick up his slack if he doesn’t? Will Marcus McNeill get into camp and play? Can this offense repeat its virtuoso performance from last year? Will Norv Turner continue to get credit despite the fact that Romeo Crennel could get 11 wins out of them with that talent level?

Let’s answer each question in full, because if there are too many negative responses, the Chargers will find themselves in a tough spot.

Can Ryan Mathews replace LaDanian Tomlinson as the every-down-back?

In short, yes. He is not the receiver LT was, but that is where Darren Sproles can step in and give teams nightmares. Tomlinson had a pretty mediocre year last year, and Mathews will fit in very nicely in that backfield. Not only will he do fine, but if some of the other questions have certain answers, he could find himself approaching 1,200 yards.

Will Vincent Jackson play?

Norv is predicting big things out of the rookie RB.

You cannot understate how important this guy is to the offense. He is a big receiver who can get down the field, and frankly he is the only wide receiver I would trust on that team. Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are serviceable. But not at all sure things like Jackson. Without Jackson, this team’s passing attack takes a serious step back and will force them to the ground and force them to put serious strain on rookie running back Ryan Mathews.

Can the other receivers pick up his slack if he doesn’t?

Nope. Antion Gates can pick some up, but they cannot replace Jackson.

Will Marcus McNeill get into camp and play?

The Chargers dodged a big bullet getting him into camp. He is extremely important to the offense as a tackle. Most interior guys are important, but can be moved in and out. Tackles are not like that and if McNeill was out, then this offense could have some real problems.

Can this offense repeat its virtuoso performance from last year?

With Jackson? Sure. Without him? Not even a chance. He is their most valuable skill-position player on offense.

Will Norv Turner continue to get credit despite the fact that Romeo Crennel could get 11 wins out of them with that talent level?

Evidently…

Defense

The defense is also hurting after some key departures, but I think they can replace Cromartie without too much of a learning curve, and while Jamal Williams was very good at what he did, big nose tackles are becoming dime-a-dozen in the NFL. Granted, my team (the Colts) can’t find one, but the Chargers would not have cut him if they did not have someone capable of filling his shoes. They will not be a shut-down defense, but they will be very solid.

Special Teams

Always a strength. Sproles is a nightmare for the opposition in the return game. Kaeding is solid as they come, and Scifres is one of the best punters in the game.

Overview

A lot of this rides on Vincent Jackson ‘s willingness to play, but I get the feeling he is serious about his holdout.  Their division is so weak that it will not kill them as far as record, but without him they are not even close to contenders. Put them in a tougher division and they finish 8-8.

2. Kansas City Chiefs     OTC Projected Record: 7-9

Reunited and it feels so good.

Calling Card: Nothing (yet)
Weakness: Experience
Franchise Player: Matt Cassel?

Why the optimism? I believe in New England West this year, and while it is not the safest pick, there is plenty of reason to believe the Chiefs can make strides this year. They got an absolute stud in the draft in Eric Berry, picked up Charlie Weis to coordinate the offense, Romeo Crennel to handle the defense, and have the savvy Scott Pioli at the helm to guide the team in the right direction as far as personnel. The Chiefs will be one of the surprises of the 2010-2011 NFL season.

Offense

Say what you want about Charlie Weis’ days at Notre Dame. As a Notre Dame fan, I would use the words “failure”, “in over his head”, and “waistline” to describe it. However, during those years, one thing became clear to me. Charlie Weis was a bad head coach on non-game days, but he called outstanding games for the offense. As a head coach, you have to get the most out of your players, and Weis did not do that as a head coach. However, he is not a head coach anymore, and can really focus on calling the games and leave the player development to the rest of the staff. Under his tutelage, Matt Cassel can be a very efficient QB, Dwayne Bowe can return to respectability, and Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles can gash opponents on the ground. The offensive line is far from perfect, but they are not bad and Weis can work around some of their deficiencies. I am not sure if I would go all-in on these guys for fantasy, but they will be a surprisingly effective unit this year.

Defense

He could be berry, berry good.

Remember what I said about Weis as a coach vs coordinator? Apply it to Crennel too. Year 2 in a 3-4 defense and I expect some good things. Eric Berry will give the secondary an instant upgrade and playmaker, and that is something they really lacked last year. Brandon Flowers should be at least respectable this year, and the big guys up front like Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson should be able to help everyone out by pushing the line backwards. Mike Vrabel might not be what he once was, but he can help Derrick Johnson keep getting better and help Tamba Hali develop into an even better edge rusher. Like the offense they will not be outstanding or a top unit, but they will at least hold water this year.

Special Teams

A question mark here, but for a team that has so many areas to improve, I would not worry about it too much. They can fix this next year.

Overview

I expect good things out of the Chiefs, but just in a relative way. I would not be shocked to see them get to .500, but as it is, 7-9 is far more likely and very respectable.

3. Denver Broncos     OTC Projected Record: 5-11

Calling Card: None
Weakness: Lack of a calling card
Franchise Player: Tim Tebow and Champ Bailey

They lost their best player, drafted a new quarterback way too high, and lost their best defensive player for much of the year due to injury. Sounds like the start of a blues song, not the upcoming season of a team that was, at one point, a shoe-in to make the playoffs. Things are not beyond hope for the Broncos, but things could certainly be looking better.

Offense

No matter who is at QB, the Broncos are not as solid as they should be. Ryan Clady went down with an injury, and without him, the running game and Knowshon Moreno will suffer and Kyle Orton will not find quite so many open guys. Demetrius Williams was really the first pick of the Broncos this year, but he has been overshadowed by Mr. Tebow. He is decent, but he is not Brandon Marshall, and that is the problem. Very few teams depended as much on one receiver as the Broncos relied on Marshall. Jabar Gaffney seemed to be the only other receiver Orton had chemistry with, and whether or not he can develop that same chemistry with his new corps is very much in doubt. Add to all this that he now has to look over his shoulder at Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow, and things get more complicated.

Inside of Denver, Tim Tebow is very overrated. Outside of Denver, he is a little underrated.  Overall, he is probably still too young to take over an offense and I fear that the public pressure will push him into the role too soon, which will be awful for Denver. He can still be a winner in this league, but not if he is thrown to the dogs.

The running game will be alright, but without Clady, it will not be anything the Broncos can hang their hat on, which realy gets to the heart of the problem. The Broncos do not have one thing they can rely on without a doubt to do well. The offense is very much in the air right now.

Defense

After retiring, Bailey should work as a guard in a prison because he is so used to being on lockdown.

When Elvis Dumervil went down, I was somewhat nonplussed. He had a great year, but undersized rush linebackers seem to be floating around. However, after hearing how Broncos’ players were crushed by it, I realized that the Broncos really don’t have anyone to step in and take over that role. That lack of pressure on the QB makes a huge difference. The secondary has to cover longer, the rest of the blitzers have to work harder on every down, and it wears on a team over a longer stretch.

Champ Bailey is still very solid and I think Dawkins can put up another solid season, but all that extra pressure on them is doing them no favors. The defense will still be pretty solid, but it will not be nearly as good as last year.

Once again, they have nothing to hang their hat on. Things are just too in flux to lead to success.

Special Teams

Not great, but always seem to find good returners and kickers, so I have confidence in them to do it again.

Overview

All the instability around the offense and a shmear of unfortunate injuries spells disappointment for the Broncos this year. McDaniels on the hot seat by the time all is said and done.

4. Oakland Raiders     OTC Projected Record: 5-11

Calling Card: Running Game
Weakness: Al Davis
Franchise Player: Darren McFadden

The new man in charge in Oak-town,

Everyone has the Raiders breaking out again, but until Al Davis leaves, that will not happen. They have even made some decent draft picks lately (Rolando McClain and the rest of this class), and did well to grab Jason Campbell, but things will not get off the tarmac for the Raiders quite yet. Plenty of interesting things to talk about in Silver and Black, but not all of that will lead to success.

Offense

The running game is the key here, and while they will not have Darren McFadden for a while, but Michael Bush can hold down the fort until he returns. Jason Campbell also gives the Raiders some credibility in the air, and according to all sources out of camp, Darius Heyward-Bey looks better than he did at any point last year, and Louis Murphy looks like he could put together another year like last year. Zach Miller should be very good as well. If the offensive line can hold up for an entire season, something I am skeptical of, the offense could be very respectable.

The big issue is Al Davis loving the vertical passing game, when Jason Campbell is not built for that and the running game is the real strength. That offensive line is not built for the vertical passing game.

Defense

A pretty solid unit given how often they had to be on the field last year. Nnamdi Asomugha is still a lockdown guy, and the Raiders have a bunch of quality linebackers, but I am not sure if the general malaise around the club will affect them or not. Richard Seymour has hardly played nice, and he is not alone as far as Raiders who are a handful. The talent is there without a doubt, but it seems like the Raiders just do not bring it most weeks. Early last year they completely shut down the Chargers by going man to man all around and pressing them, and then they didn’t do it on the most important possession of the game. To me, that is just the story of the Raiders season. They have what it takes to win some games, but they get in their own way. Same thing here.

Special Teams

Janikowski is as erratic as he is powerful, but he sticks around. The return game seems solid, but maybe that is just because we are constantly seeing them return kicks from the defense giving up points.

Overview

A lot of progress was made, but not quite enough to get the Raiders to respectability. Not a team I would be shocked to see succeed, just not expecting it to happen yet. The Cable Guy isn’t really helping either.

Advertisements

Wall & Jennings Connect on a Nasty Alley-Oop

By: Ross Geiger

Wall will be flying high in D.C. this season

The best two point guards from the past two drafts collided this week in Los Angeles, California for the Boost Mobile Elite 24 event. They’re both former participants of the Elite 24 event, where 24 of the top high school prospects regardless of class take the hardwood.

Before the event’s actual game a handful of the NBA’s brightest talent took the stage against this year’s 2010 Elite 24 players among those young NBA players that joined John Wall and Brandon Jennings included DeMar DeRozen and 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans.

One of the games best highlights was a 2-on-1 fastbreak which left Jahii Carson left helpless trying to guard both Jennings and Wall running the break. Jennings delivered quite the pass and Wall finished up nicely with a 1 handed monster jam. Check it out:

NFC North Preview

Just a brief word about this division before I get started. I like most of these teams this year, but they have a less-than-kind schedule and their improvements may not show up in the standings. Naturally, some improvements will, but just because I have your team at 4-12 does not mean I think they are only one game better than the Bills or Browns. Yes, that was directed at you, Chicago.

P.S. This article will not use the F Word. You will see what I mean.

1. Green Bay Packers     OTC Projected Record: 13-3

Ever since #4 left, things have been going Green Bay's way.

Calling Card: Passing Game
Weakness: Offensive Line
Franchise Player: Aaron Rodgers

Last year, the Green Bay Packers were everyone’s sleeper. With their new 3-4 defense and a rising star at quarterback, they made a lot of sense as a team to sneak up on people and make a run beyond the first round of the playoffs. However, things did not get off to a good start for the Pack. The offensive line was a sieve, the defense did not learn the 3-4 especially quickly, and, to add insult to injury, that old QB was in Minnesota tearing it up. However, as the year went on, the 3-4 started to stick, and the Packers were suddenly a team that no one wanted to play. That is about where we stand this year with the Packers. They have a fast, mean defense, an offense to rival any offense in the league, and no more sleeper label. The Packers are favorites in the NFC North.

Offense

Aaron Rodgers is headed for elite quarterback status beyond fantasy ranks, but there is more to this offense than Rodgers. The Packers quietly seem to construct a respectable running game every year, and they got a steal in the draft in Brian Bulaga to give the offensive line some much needed help. Greg Jennings is still the most popular Jennings in Wisconsin (over Brandon) and Donald Driver is still solid enough to hold down his deal with Time Warner Cable and haul in Rodgers’ passes. Add Jermichael Finley to the mix at tight end, and the Packers really do not have a weakness on offense. I went ahead and listed the offensive line as a weakness as Bulaga has yet to prove anything, but I think you can tell by my projected record that I think the offensive line will hold this year.

Defense

A new anchor at the center of the Green Bay defense.

Last year gave a glimpse of what Dom Capers wanted to turn this defense into. Going into year 2, I expect the metamorphosis to be complete. They lost Aaron Kampman, but lately it seems like the easiest thing to find is a fast linebacker who can rush the quarterback off the edge. They also have B.J. Raji (remember him? Highly touted DT out of Boston College?) healthy now to help clog the middle and push the offensive line back into the quarterback’s face. They finished in the top 5 in defense last year, but they lacked consistency at times, like the 503 yards passing they gave up to Big Ben in Pittsburgh. Year 2 means fewer wrinkles to fix and more consistency. This is a championship caliber defense.

Special Teams

Mason Crosby is as solid as anyone can be kicking in conditions bordering on arctic for half the year, and the return game is solid, though not explosive, with Will Blackmon. Don’t expect anything wild out of them, just solid.

Overview

The Green Bay Bandwagon is filling up fast, and while I am hardly the only one to like the Packers this year, I feel I am not without reason in picking them to finish with such a good record. I am not sure if they are ready for a Super Bowl run, but there is little doubt in my mind that they will have a chance to prove their worth in the playoffs. Hopefully for the Cheeseheads, someone can block a rusher in overtime.

2. Minnesota Vikings     OTC Projected Record: 11-5

-Insert Child Molester Reference Here-

Calling Card: Offense
Weakness: Head Coach
Franchise Player: Adrian Peterson

The Vikings had yet another offseason filled with news about a 40 year old QB who decided to return. However, there is way more to talk about with this team than him right now. Sidney Rice will miss about half the season after hip surgery, the QB has to try and replicate the best statistical season of his career, and a relative shortage of young guys to step in and fill voids. It will be hard for the Vikings to repeat their performance from last year.

Offense

This team is still incredibly talented on offense, but they seem to be guys on their down side rather than upside. Their QB is from the Mesozoic Era, their RB, while an elite talent, has fumble issues, their leading WR (Rice) is out for 8 weeks, their rookie stud from last year has had more migraine scares (Harvin), and no one on that offensive line is getting younger. Now all these guys are very good players, and should have good seasons, but last year, they all had great seasons. Even Visthante Shiancoe had a great year, cashing They were a juggernaut last year with those great years, and it is very much up in the air if they can repeat any of those performances. Now 11-5 is still very good, but it is a clear sign that they are no longer a lock to blow division opponents out and run roughshod over everyone. Definitely an offense on its down side.

Late breaking as I write this, the Vikings have acquired Greg Camarillo from the Dolphins. I like it a lot for him, but he doesn’t offer the same things as Rice. Javon Walker is a joke.

Defense

One of the funniest men in the NFL. Remember his joke about a "Schism" being an STD? Good stuff. Long live the mullet.

The defense is a little bit different. They are full of veterans who are still very solid, especially up front with the Williams Wall, Jared Allen, and Ray Edwards. The Williams Wall is getting a bit old, but it still is good enough to clamp down and clog up the line like one of their arteries. Edwards plays Robin to Jared Allen’s Mullet Batman, but everything up front is solid for the Vikings. They did lose a bit of their luster last year as teams started to run the ball on them, but they should still be able to be a very good run defense even if they are no longer the best. The secondary is not great on its own, but with the pressure of the front 4, they are more than fine. The linebackercorps is solid too with standouts Chad Greenway and EJ Henderson being the main attractions. They are not as good as they once were, but they are still plenty good to shut down the mediocre teams and limit most of the good teams. They will have problems with the really good offenses, but who doesn’t? I like the defense more than the offense, but it is clearly not what it used to be.

Special Teams

As long as Harvin can avoid looking into the sun and it triggering a migraine, he should be a gamebreaker in the return game, and the Vikings kicking and punting seems to be solid every year.

Overview

Brad Childress will kill this team. I haven’t seen a main piece of a group so spineless since calamari. He plays second fiddle to his quarterback, has little to no respect in the locker room, and still looks like a child molester. Low blow? Maybe, but I am not backing off the statement. He will cost this team, though the offense’s upcoming struggles will certainly not help.

3. Detroit Lions     OTC Projected Record: 4-12

Calling Card: None
Weakness: Defense
Franchise Player: Matthew Stafford

I really like the Lions this year. Their schedule does not. Their division is very tough, they have to play the NFC and AFC East (both of which are very good), and some of their more winnable games come on the road. This is a team for the future, but with this schedule, they are not a team for the present just yet. They will be watchable; they might even be a C+ team, but it will not show up in the win column.

They do not have a calling card yet, but they are going to be a quality passing team this year and Jahvid Best should be a nice shot of life to the offense. No calling card yet.

Offense

The offense should be good this year, but not quite enough to make up for the defense. Matthew Stafford’s rookie year looked a lot like Peyton Manning’s and Calvin Johnson is still a freak so it follows that they should be pretty decent through the air. I even like Nate Burleson’s chances of being a very solid #2 in the offense. However, they have more than that with Jahvid Best, the Barry Sanders-esque RB out of Cal. They even have Brandon Pettigrew, the 2nd year athletic TE out of Oklahoma State, to hold the safety in the middle of the field. I can’t believe I’m saying this many good things about the Lions, but I think their offensive line can even be on the verge of respectable this year with a few guys getting some key experience last year.

Consider me firmly on the Lions’ offensive bandwagon.

Defense

The House of Spears takes Detroit.

Different story here. Ndamukong Suh is a beast and should help immediately, but there are just problems here that he cannot fix. Like coverage. The secondary, even with veteran Dre Bly, gets torched every year but little seems to change back there. They did add some young pieces to the secondary, but they still might get torched more often than they do the torching. Consider it, like the entire defense, a work in progress.

Special Teams

Not much to say. Not the best special teams.

Overview

I like the growth of this team, but it will not show up in the win-loss column. Jim Schwartz has the team heading in the right direction, but between their opponents and a defense still progressing, the Lions may be in line to get another high draft pick while still being solid on the field.

4. Chicago Bears     OTC Projected Record: 4-12

Calling Card: Defense
Weakness: Consistency
Franchise Player: Right now, none

This joke makes itself

Before Chicago collectively shouts me down about this, allow me to explain. Just like Detroit, the Bears have a very difficult schedule this year. They also had serious offensive line issues last year and decided a good way to fix this would be to bring in an offensive coordinator who has the QB sitting in the pocket until he grows a beard. This offensive coordinator also prizes QBs who make good decisions, and dislikes using tight ends. Could you pick a less perfect team for Mike Martz than the Chicago Bears? We have a lot to talk about with the Bears, but you might not like it, Chicago.

Offense

Cutler is still talented. He also still makes bad decisions, and still has no protection. Bad news. Matt Forte had a bad year last too, and while some of that can be pinned on the offensive line, not all of the blame can be placed there. Cutler didn’t throw to him, he couldn’t run effectively, and he drove many fantasy owners to suicide. I do like Devin Aromashodu as a breakout guy, but that is largely as the main target in Martz’s offense, not necessarily because he is the best WR on their roster. Devin Hester is still a playmaker, but I just can’t get excited about anything in this offense.

One example of fantasy football helping us understand regular football right here. Many feel that Martz will ignite the Bears offense and get them throwing down the field productively. However, as Matthew Berry has taken to pointing out, the Bears already threw the ball 4th most in the NFL last year. How much more can they really throw, and how much more effective can they really be with the same bad offensive line another year toward the retirement home.

Oh, and the Over/Under on Mike Martz undermining Lovie Smith is Week 10.

Defense

On paper, this defense is solid. However, the stalwarts on the defense like Urlacher might spend more time on the training table than on the table. Hell, he is already hurt, imagine what happens when he starts playing real games. The addition of Julius Peppers is very nice on paper, but I sense that once the Bears make their race to the bottom like a cheap-labor dependent economy (high-brow there, apologies if it didn’t make sense). He is still a fantastic defensive end, but there is a reason he has not had an elite season in a while. I like it on paper, but the papers change with injuries, and the Bears do not have answers.

Special Teams

A good point for the Bears. Hester may not have run one back in a while, but the field position he gets them purely by being on the field is huge. I think the Bears should stick him back in the kickoff return game. Danieal Manning is good, but I doubt teams kick to Hester if he is out there so he should not be too tired. Play some mind games, Chicago. Good unit.

Overview

Again, much better than their record, but not a good team. Lovie Smith might get fired in season (though we think this every year), and Mike Martz/Mrs. Doubtfire is not a good thing for Chicago. Bear down, Chicago Bears fans. Things are going to get worse before they get better. If they get better…

AFC North Preview

1. Baltimore Ravens     OTC Projected Record: 13-3

Calling Card: Offense (you heard me)
Weakness: Pass Defense
Franchise Player: Ray Lewis (for now)

The new addition.

This is not the team you think they are. They are not the defense-first, Trent Dilfer Ravens that won a Super Bowl with almost no offense. They are a finely tuned offense, full of talented guys at skill positions and bruisers of offensive lineman capable of plowing a hole for Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, or holding the pocket firm for Joe Flacco to find Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin. And yet there are questions about the defense. Questions never before asked of the Ravens, but questions that are very valid with a missing Ed Reed and not enough calvary to make sure that the opposing offense doesn’t blister them through the skies. All that being said, the Ravens are a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

Offense

I love this offense this year. Joe Flacco has a big new toy to play with in Anquan Boldin, but the best part about it is that he does not even depend on the new toy to be successful. Even without Anquan Boldin, the Ravens have more than enough offense to bludgeon most opponents, but the addition of Boldin adds a dimension to the offense they did not have last year. It used to be Rice up the middle, Mason out route, Rice/McGahee up the middle, first down. It seemed to repeat over and over, but it still worked because they have a good line. Now they can throw it to Boldin in the flat or send him across the middle and let him do work after the catch. They can stretch the field and let Kelley Washington and Mark Clayton worry about vertical routes since they aren’t the best route runners. This offense is a force to be reckoned with. Oh, and they have the best receiving duo in the division, as hard as that is to believe.

Defense

The Ravens will be without the Dirty Bird for a while.

When was the last time we openly questioned the Ravens defense? Well this blog did early last year, but we never would have guessed it going into the year. They did end up finishing 3rd in total yardage and points, both of which are outstanding results, but that was during a nearly-career year from Ray Lewis, and a nearly full year out of Ed Reed. I still think the pass defense is somewhat suspect, especially without Reed, but this weakness is certainly no apocalypse scenario. They will be just fine, just maybe a little more susceptible than they used to be.

Special Teams

Kicker seems to be a problem in Baltimore again, but they always seem to pop out good returners out of nothing, so hopefully for the Ravens’ faithful, their kicker turns out the same way.

Overview

Coach John Harbaugh has his team poised to make a legitimate AFC title run, but they are going to need some improved kicking and special teams if they want to do it. They finally have the skill position guys, they just need to put it together.

2. Cincinnati Bengals     OTC Projected Record: 11-5

Dear Twitter, we will make you explode at least once.

Calling Card: Running Game
Weakness: Subtlety
Franchise Player: Chad Ochocinco

The Bengals had a very quiet offseason this year, sitting pat and not adding any new loudmouths to their already controversial roster. Just kidding. Welcome to Cincinnati, T.O. I am very ambivalent about the Bengals this year. On the one hand, I think this expanded receiving corps is a good thing for the team and will take some pressure off Cedric Benson and Carson Palmer in longer-yardage situations. However, on the other hand, I fear that appearing T.O. will intrude to the point of turning this run-first attack into a pass-happy one, a change that would be awful for the Bengals. Which way will it go? Only time will tell.

Offense

This needs to be a run-first team and anything else is a bad sign. One way, the loudmouth wide outs have hijacked the offense, and the other way Cedric Benson is phased out for being ineffective. Carson Palmer is an excellent QB, but putting the ball in his hands to win every game when they have such a strong running game to lean on is an extremely inefficient way to go about business. I think this offense will be very good, but it has tons of room for error. Cincinnati had better buckle up, because it could be a bumpy road if the offense gets away from the running game. Jermaine Gresham is a potential breakout rookie almost lost in the quote-clutter provided by T.O. and Ocho, but his play should do the talking. There is not a ton to talk about right now as far as the offense is concerned, but if things go wrong at all, this offense will be a huge topic of discussion.

Once a bust, The Benson Burner is the key to the Bengals success.

Defense

Not the most exciting thing in the world, but undeniably effective against teams without the word “JETS” on their helmets. I see no reason they should regress, though seeing if they can repeat their phenomenal performance from last year. Again, there is not a ton to talk about here, just expect solid defense from this unit. Hopefully Keith Rivers can stay healthy this year to give the defense a little extra pop, but once again nothing too out-there to say about the Bengals Defense.

Special Teams

Never a great unit, and now without Shayne Graham, the kicking duties are up in the air. Things should be passable, but nothing too above average.

Overview

Ultimately, the T.O. addition adds far more distraction than it does Ws. He has added a touch of instability to the offense with both positive and negative influences. I think they will be good, and a playoff team, but they are not better than the Ravens.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers     OTC Projected Record: 6-10

Psst, hey Ben, that look is not helping your case that you aren't a rapist. Sincerely, Brad Childress.

Calling Card: Passing Game
Weakness: Offensive Line
Franchise Player: Hines Ward (formerly Ben Roethlisberger)

Big Ben is suspended, but let’s just pretend for a second that he is not. The Steelers have issues. Their top wide receiver (Santonio Holmes) is gone, their offensive line is seriously wounded and lacking in depth, their defense had more issues than a night on Jersey Shore, and they are just a key injury to Aaron Smith or Troy Polamalu from returning to those defensive issues. At least they have their starting quarterback. Oh, wait. They don’t really have that either for at least the first 4 weeks, and potentially longer. Oh, and the Steelers haven’t been a physical offensive team since Jerome Bettis. Steelers faithful may be crying til the Three Rivers overflow this year.

Offense

This is going to have to be all about Rashard Mendenhall until Big Ben returns. The bad news? The defenses know this too. I wish Dennis Dixon would win the starting job, but it looks like it will be Charlie Batch, which is not the worst thing, but is not necessarily a guy you want to lean on to win big games. When Big Ben does get back, those offensive line issues will persist and Mike Wallace is the hot young option, which is anything but a sure thing. There is just enough talent on this team to win some games, but they are headed into a downward spiral.

I realize I have said very few good things about this team, but everything is bad news for the Steelers. Bad news is not the same as bad, however, and they still have plenty of talented guys, they just happen to be guys I am less than enthusiastic about.

Oh, and Hines takes over “Franchise Player” status from Ben Rape-thlisberger. Just because.

Defense

The defense was a surprisingly bad element of the Steelers last year. Without Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu, the once feared Steelers defense got shredded week after week, eventually going ona  streak in which they gave up 27 points to both the Chiefs and Raiders (ouch). I do not think the Steelers will have the same injury suffering as last year, but any team that is so dependent on a few guys can be game planned for effectively. The D needs some work to return to dominance, but I do think it will improve somewhat. It will not be elite, but it will no longer be an embarrassment.

Special Teams

Solid, but seems to lack an explosive guy in the return game. By no means a necessity, just one hole in the third phase.

Overview

Things are not looking good for Mike Tomlin and Pittsburgh, but 6-10 is admittedly closer to a worst-case scenario than the norm. However, I think the worst-case is a likely case for Pittsburgh and its injury-prone squad.

4. Cleveland Browns     OTC Projected Record: 3-13

So where are the brownies I was promised? Wait, WHAT?!?! I HAVE TO BUILD THIS INTO A WINNER???

Calling Card: Awesome Orange Helmets (but more seriously, Running Game)
Weakness: Football
Franchise Player: Ummmm, Josh Cribbs?

Mike Holmgren gets standing ovations in Cleveland. That is how much Cleveland loves its Browns. However, the team has not been giving them much to love lately, turning in dismal season after dismal season (not including Derek Anderson’s miracle season). There are many places to start with the Browns, but all of them are bad, except Mike Holmgren, so in the interest of fairness, his name were the first two words of this section. Moving onto the realities on the field…

Offense

There is more to talk about here than you would think. They have a new, veteran, quarterback in Jake Delhomme, who is admittedly throwing to a mediocre corps, but there is hope out wide for the Browns. Mohammed Massaquoi, the youngster out of Georgia, showed some promise toward the end of last year, and will almost certainly be the main option for Jake Delhomme. However, the key to this team’s success is on the ground. They have Jerome Harrison to start the season, but once healthy, Monterio Hardesty can pick up considerable slack. He is a powerful back, and that is exactly what the Browns like in a back, so it only makes sense that he could be an impact guy toward the end of the year. Definitely a unit with potential, but not at all a good unit.

I felt obliged to include Colt McCoy here, even though there is no way he starts a game this year. Seneca Wallace is the backup.

Defense

“Bad” is the word I would use to describe the defense. Creative, right? I think a video might be the best way to describe the defense, but let me at least give the defense their due before showing it. I guess we can start with rookie Joe Haden, who can certainly step in and help an otherwise dismal unit. Other than Haden, I am not even sure exactly where to start. D’Qwell Jackson put up the best statistical season, but really, when no one is making tackles, someone has to right? Browns fans might be better off just finding a different game while the Browns are on defense. For their health.

Now for that video…

Special Teams

MTV Cribbs: The only entertaining programming on BrownsTV

Woo hoo!!! Here comes the Browns wild card, Josh Cribbs. Too bad he plays so few plays per game. They do run a wildcat-type formation for him, but with how significantly more productive he is than any other member of the Browns, they probably should have just started him at Wildcat QB toward the end of last year after Brady Quinn’s injury.

I said this about the Bears when it was about them, and I will say it about the Browns now. When you get the most excited about your special teams being on the field, your team has issues. At least the Bears had vestiges of a defense the last two years. Sorry, Cleveland. Maybe Grady Sizemore can return kicks? I know he isn’t worn out from the Indians’ season, he barely played.

Overview

I think you get the picture. Best of luck Mr. Holmgren. You need it.

NFC East Preview

1. Dallas Cowboys     OTC Projected Record: 12-4

With expectations this high, Wade Phillips has a lot on his plate this year. From the looks of it, it's not the first time he has had a lot on his plate.

Calling Card: Balance
Weakness: Playoffs
Franchise Player: Tony Romo

The Super Bowl is in Dallas this year and it has everyone thinking about the Boys playing for it in their own house. They have weapons all over the field on offense and monsters on the defensive side. Add Dez Bryant to the mix and another year under Miles Austin’s belt and all the hype certainly seems deserved. However, playoff shortcomings have been the bane of this team and they are hoping that this year will be the year to change all that to play the big one deep in the heart of Texas.

Offense

The talent is there. Tony Romo, despite being overrated for much of his career, is settling in as an excellent quarterback and he has more skill position guys around him than he could ever hope for. He has a stable full of outstanding running backs like Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. He has wide threats in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Roy Williams. He even has an excellent TE in Jason Witten. The only thing he could ask for is a better offensive line, which is a substantial thing to ask for. They are huge up front, but not necessarily the most skilled and any failures can probably be pinned on them.

Last year, the Cowboys were a better team while running the ball, but they tended to want to throw the ball and got impatient with the run. That is exactly the way to get a big offensive line in trouble. Big guys specialize in run blocking (generally speaking) and going away from that run both hurts the line, and takes the bread and butter away from the offense as a whole. Fewer superstar numbers for Romo is a good thing as long as they are running the ball successfully. Keep that in mind while watching this outstanding offense this year.

Defense

She won a Super Bowl with Reggie Bush. Will she bring the same to Miles Austin or will she leave him, ummm, uhh, synonym of what these two did on tape...

The defense is probably this team’s x-factor. Everyone talks about Romo and the offense, but this unit was outstanding last year for much of the year.Jay Ratliff was quietly an absolute beast last year and even with Demarcus Ware’s injuries, he still played well. With Ware healthy, Ratliff returning to prove that he was not a fluke, and talent all over the field (noticing a theme here?), the defense is ready to put the big D back in Dallas. 2nd in points/game, playmakers everywhere, as long as they do the small stuff, they will be outstanding again.

Special Teams

As long as that enormous video screen stays out of the way, everything should be fine. Looks like they finally found a kicker too, and the return game is solid. All good on this front.

Overview

Everything is there on paper. Not everything is there in the mental toughness area. I think this team is primed for another playoff flop, and not just because it is easy to say it, but because I think they have just enough offensive line problems to keep them from fulfilling their potential, and in many’s eyes, their destiny of a Super Bowl won in the big D.

2. New York Giants     OTC Projected Record: 10-6

Calling Card: Running Game
Weakness: Defense
Franchise Player: Eli Manning

Oh the joy of the 3rd place schedule. Thanks to a favorable schedule and a few key additions to the secondary, the G-Men look poised to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in which the Big Blue defense was feeling blue more often than not. Tom Coughlin’s team looks to be on the up.

Offense

Eli Manning put up a career year last year for all the wrong reasons. He threw for 4,000 yards, but largely because the Giants were constantly behind and needed Eli’s arm to try and dig them out of the holes they put themselves in. Once upon a time, the running game was the key to the Giants’ success and if they can get Ahmad Bradshaw to be the main back so Brandon Jacobs can focus on short yardage, it would be huge. Jacobs is a fine back, but letting Bradshaw be the main back adds a new dimension to the offense, and he is just as good as Jacobs, just not quite as freakishly athletic.

However, the running game is only part of the equation. With a solid running game in place, last year’s breakout wide receiver Steve Smith and youngster Hakeem Nicks have a shot to give Eli consistent quality weapons outside. If they can get both aspects working, especially the running game, there is no reason why the offense shouldn’t be good.

Defense

Big Blue's new big hitter

This was the big issue last year. Every week they would come in and get shredded by any offense with a half-decent passing game. It stopped them from running the ball on offense, forced Eli to try and bail them out, and ultimately dragged the team to mediocrity. However, the Giants made some good moves to try and fix it. They got Osi Umenyiora back to help take some pressure off the secondary, but also drafted Jason Pierre-Paul out of USF to get pressure on the QB. He is far from polished, but he can be an athletic burst off the bench to get pressure on the quarterback on passing downs. The Giants also added Antrel Rolle at safety to hopefully close some of those gaping holes. I think it will work if they can avoid getting the injury bug too bad and Big Blue can return to defensive respectability.

Special Teams

Should be solid, but nothing too exciting. They had some kicker questions last year, but with the swirling winds at the Meadowlands, that is not too unexpected.

Overview

I am not sure if they will be as good as their record, but that schedule and a team that was not too far away last year just screams rebound. A playoff push for the G-Men.

3. Philadelphia Eagles     OTC Projected Record: 8-8

The new object of Philadelphia's Love-Hate relationship.

Calling Card: Passing Game
Weakness: Running Game
Franchise Player: Kevin Kolb (the Eagles hope)

The Donovan McNabb Era is over. Eagles fans have clamored for it for ages, but now that he is gone, uncertainty looms over one of the winningest franchises of the last decade. Enter Kevin Kolb, the virtual rookie out of Houston who showed some promise last year, but not enough to put Philly completely at ease. Gone too is Brian Westbrook, though Philly got more practice than they would have liked over the past few years given Westbrook’s injuries. Throw in the death of Jim Johnson last year and things are very much in flux in Philly.

Offense

Let me start by saying I am a big for of Kolb this year. I think he has all the tools to be successful in Andy Reid’s system, and has plenty of infrastructure around him so to speak. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are a nightmare to keep track of, LeSean McCoy is a running back on the rise, and Brent Celek is coming off a breakout year. Even his offensive line is solid, so any failure to produce is squarely on him, not his supporting cast. However, I feel that he is not going to come up short. Accuracy is important in the West Coast offense, and Kolb has plenty of that. Philly fans will be rough on him, and it will not all be great news for him, but Kevin Kolb has my endorsement going forward.

As always the running game will keep them from scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but what is new? This has been a problem forever so it is hardly something new worth worrying about.

Defense

RIP

Jim Johnson is gone but the urge to blitz remains. The Eagles have speed and tenacious tacklers, but it remains to be seen if they can keep up this high level of performance without their long-time coordinator calling the shots. I think that the Eagles will slip up a little defensively, not to a criminal level., but just not as the swarming menace we have gotten used to seeing over the years. That secondary wobbled a little last year (17th against the pass) and I am not sure if they got those issues sorted out in the draft with their selection of Brandon Graham out of Michigan. When they moved up to make the pick and Earl Thomas was still on the board, I was sure they were going to go for him, but they went another direction. Graham is very solid and fits the Eagles’ mold, but they needed secondary help and he is an outside linebacker (or will be in the NFL). I do not see them improving to the level they need to if they are to compete for the playoffs. A solid first year, but not what Eagles fans expected when they called for McNabb’s head.

Special Teams

David Akers is a staple. Sal Rocca is pretty good, and Maclin and Jackson are playmakers in the punt game. Excellent squad.

Overview

It will be a successful year for the Eagles, just not in the eyes of their fans. Kolb will grow, but not without pains here and there and the defense is still not fixed in this very difficult division.

4. Washington Redskins      OTC Projected Record: 5-11

Shanahan is the man with the plan.

Calling Card: Running Game
Weakness: Pass Defense
Franchise Player: Donovan McNabb

Where to start? Do we start with the positives of Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan, or the Albert Haynesworth saga? It has been a very up-and-down offseason for the Redskins and that is really the last kind of offseason you want, almost even over it being all down instead of up and down. Hopes are riding high in the capital, but the team still has serious issues it needs to address. Pair these hopes and issues with a very difficult schedule, and you have a recipe for disaster for the Redskins. Not disaster in the sense of losing 13 or 14 games, but the enormous disappointment that comes with high expectations and a team not quite ready.

Offense

We know it will be better, but not by how much. Mike Shanahan has a history of a strong running game, so you can bet on Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson, and Willie Parker to get plenty of looks. However, it also looks like Shanahan tried to bring in as many washed up guys as possible at running back. I have no issues with Portis (except his injuries), but Johnson hasn’t been productive since he was exposed as the result of an excellent KC line, and Willie Parker couldn’t cut it in a franchise that loves to run the ball. Are these guys really what Shanahan had in mind as Portis’ backup plan? I know he has turned nobodies into studs before in Denver, but these guys are not exactly guys that inspire confidence. In the passing game, things look better, but may ultimately not be too different. Donovan McNabb is an excellent quarterback, who also has injury issues. However, after Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, the Redskins’ next option is Joey Galloway, followed by Devin Thomas. You think defenses will have a hard time figuring out who to cover there? They will key on Moss and make life very difficult on McNabb. So while he is an upgrade, there is plenty to fix around him.

The offensive line is yet another example of things that need fixing. You have a quarterback with injury problems. The last thing you want is to get him hit constantly, so first round pick Trent Williams to step in right away and protect McNabb. It is hard to say someone cannot have a steep learning curve when he is just starting his career, but failure to protect McNabb could hinder this franchise beyond this year.

Defense

I know it is the pads, but not a very flattering picture. Or flattening for that matter.

And now we get to Haynesworth. The bottom line here is that it doesn’t matter who wins this little hate-fest between Shanahan and Haynesworth, because the team is already losing as a result. Having to get asked about this guy every day has got to be wearing on teh defense, and they aren’t sure if Albert will be on the field with them, regardless of if its the decision of Haynesworth or the coach. The real shame is that he is overshadowing real bright spots like Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher, both of whom put up outstanding numbers last year on a pretty dismal team. The defense can be alright, but their job gets harder every time Shanahan and Haynesworth go all passive-aggressive to the press. The secondary needs some work, but the Redskins are hoping that the new 3-4 defense will help pressure the quarterback to take some of the onus off the corners. It will not all be choppy seas for the Hogs, but it will certainly not be what the Skins were hoping for.

Special Teams

Remember Jim Zorn’s fake field goal? Video below.

Overview

Reminds me of the Seattle Mariners this year. Lots of new acquisitions. Lots of optimism. Not enough substance to really make a move, ending in huge disappointment.

On your mark, get set, NFL!

Ladies and gentlemen, it is that time again. Time for the gladiators of the gridiron to do battle on Sundays for the next 5 months or so. This post is not a preview, just a sign of things to come and a calendar to help you stay up to date with our upcoming division previews. We will going through the league division by division talking about every team just so you can get a better idea of what to expect from your team, and your team’s competition. We will leave no stone unturned as we look for signs of this year’s Super Bowl Champions.

Projected Schedule:

8/23 (Night): AFC East
8/24: NFC East
8/24: AFC North
8/25: NFC North
8/25: AFC South
8/26: NFC South
8/28: AFC West
8/28: NFC West
9/4: NFL Power Rankings, Review and Predictions

This is just a projected schedule, but I plan on having the previews done on each division on those dates. Stay tuned!

NBA’s Top 10 Free Agents Most Likely to Leave Their Current Teams Next Summer

Melo is likely to join Stoudemire in New York

1. Carmelo Anthony (Unrestricted): At this point it’s more than clear that it’s going to take a miracle for the Denver Nuggets to resign the face of their franchise. Melo has declined to offer any signs of interest in remaining with their ball club. It’s been reported that Anthony is already in the process of selling his estate in Littleton, Colorado. He just recently held his wedding in New York and there have been multiple reports of friends close to Anthony saying he wants to play for the New York Knicks. To back those reports up, Amare Stoudemire upon signing with the Knicks also stated that both Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker are interested in joining him in New York. And on top of all of that Anthony is from the East Coast.

Possible Destinations: New York Knicks & New Jersey Nets

Eva Longoria wants to be "Spiked Out" with Spike Lee himself in New York

2. Tony Parker (Unrestricted): It’s hard to imagine Tony Parker leaving his fellow pals in San Antonio but it seems as though it’s becoming more and more likely. According to Parker’s wife, actress Eva Longoria, Tony wants to play for the New York Knicks. Seems like a great fit for both Tony and Eva as they go about their careers.

Possible Destinations: New York Knicks

3. Jeff Green (Restricted): Don’t sleep on Jeff Green as a free agent next offseason. There may not be too many better fits for Green’s style of play and Oklahoma City already has a nice chemistry, but at the end of the day money talks. Being a restricted free agent will leave the Thunder organization in a tough situation next offseason. Green will receive plenty of interest from around the league, especially if his Thunder team goes onto improve and build upon last season’s success. Thus leaving Green in a great position to consider all options, stay patient, and wait for that one team that’ll overpay him. From there he’ll sign the offer sheet and place the ball on the Thunder’s court.

Possible Destinations: Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Denver Nuggets

4. Troy Murphy (Unrestricted): One year is all it will be in New Jersey for Murphy. After this upcoming season, he’ll take his services elsewhere and most likely he’ll try to become that missing piece to helping a team become one with NBA Finals potential. In doing so, Murphy and his agent can’t expect anywhere near a similar contract as his previous deal but he’ll still get paid nicely.

Possible Destinations: Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder

Tayshaun's Most Memorable Moment

5. Tayshaun Prince (Unrestricted): He’ll most likely be moved around next season’s trade deadline but nonetheless Prince’s tenure in Mo-Town has come to an end. The team has been exploring their trade options with their long time small forward for quite some time now. Much like Murphy, Prince most likely will join a playoff team that immediately improves their title chances adding the defensive veteran.

Possible Destinations: Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors,  Utah Jazz

6. Thaddeus Young (Restricted): Unless the 76ers decide to trade Andre Iguodala, expect to see Young go his separate ways. Like Jeff Green, Young is a restricted free agent that still hasn’t reached his prime. He won’t be offered nearly the same amount of money, Green will be offered, but he’ll get enough that Philly will have no interest in matching the offer.

Possible Destinations: Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz

7. Samuel Dalembert (Unrestricted): Sac-Town is overloaded in the post with tons of young talent: DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, and Hassan Whiteside. Dalembert will be a very interesting free agent to keep on your radar next offseason. On one hand he’s a very unique talent whose game doesn’t get credited enough due in large part to his horrible contract. He’s 6’11, very long, runs the floor extremely well for his size, and is great shot blocker. But on the other hand, he’s a guy that’s going to demand a lot of money that he won’t deserve in the long run.

Possible Destinations: Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors

Landry will be a wanted man next offseason

8. Carl Landry (Unrestricted): As mentioned above, the Kings are overloaded in the post, the departure of both Dalembert and Landry not only seems very realistic but the best thing for the Kings future. For Landry, he’ll be able to find a home where he’ll be much more effective. He also will have a lot of options to choose from.

Possible Destinations: Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Hornets, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets

9. Andrei Kirilenko (Unrestricted): After next year in Utah, gone are the days of not knowing when or for how long Kirlenko will be healthy. He’ll be a mystery man come free agency not knowing if he’s healthy, how many year’s he’s got left in him, and most importantly how much he’s even worth.

Possible Destinations: Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Hornets, Boston Celtics

Redd's definitely worth a gamble next season for the veteran's minimum

10. Michael Redd (Unrestricted): The Michael Redd era in Milwaukee has come to an end. After suffering multiple knee injuries over the course of the past few years, Redd has been nearly nonexistent on the floor and remains nonexistent as the Bucks move towards the future. Next season, if and when Redd returns back healthy, he’ll need to show the league he’s still got something left to offer off the bench. But there’s no doubt that a team will give him a chance for the right price next offseason.

Possible Destinations: Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks

Milwaukee Bucks Summer League Game 1 Points of Emphasis

By: Ross Geiger

Game 1: Dallas Mavericks: 73 Milwaukee Bucks: 72 OT

After watching the Milwaukee Bucks lose a tough one in a very exciting battle with the Dallas Mavericks in their Summer League opener, I came away with five players that are worthy of some points of emphasis.

Jackson could earn a jersey with the Bucks this season, but he won't be wearing #00, that belongs to Drew Gooden

1. Darnell Jackson: Leading all scorers with 17 points in the contest, Jackson’s NBA experience really paid dividends. Going 8-15 from the field while collecting 7 boards all came under composure. Many of the young players came into the game with debut butterflies but it was evident that Jackson’s adapted to the summer league experiences. He led by example in 25 minutes of play and played under control the entire time, only committing 2 fouls as well. It’s still very early in a long process but his Game 1 play definitely helps his case in grabbing one of the last few spots on the Bucks roster this season.

2.  Larry Sanders: Despite what many take from Sanders’ pro debut, I actually feel I saw more positives than negatives today. Yes he struggled offensively but we knew that was his biggest weakness coming in. Having only connected on 4 of his 15 shot attempts Sanders must improve upon finishing at the basket while absorbing contact, along with better shot selection. As far as the shot selection goes, that can easily improve as the games move on, he was trying to impress as any brand new top pick would in their debut. But as I mentioned there were tons of positives from this year’s 15th overall selection. Sanders is very active on both ends of the floor, alert at all times, and always attacking the glass. Those intangibles are things that will most definitely find him earning some floor time under Bucks Head Coach Scott Skiles this year. Though it’s only one game and my first look at the Bucks rookie if I were to give you an outlook on Sanders’s first year with the Bucks here’s my evaluation: He’ll play spot minutes, be a spark plug used at the end of quarters giving guys quick breathers, instant energy. A very realistic first year comparison in terms of production and play I’d say he’ll be a lot like Suns forward Lou Amundson. With that being said, he obviously carries way more potential and talent moving forward with a bright future in this league. Just be patient and give him some time to transition and adjust to the NBA level of play.

An NBA Type Talent With Off-the-Court Question Marks

3. Sean Williams: Being a guy always high on the potential of Area 51, I definitely won’t count him out on making an NBA roster this season. If he can prove (and keep) his head on straight (which is a big if) there’s no question he’s an NBA type talent. He’s long, runs the floor like gazelle, can clean up around the rim, and of course he lives up to his nickname “Area 51” protecting the paint by swatting away shots. What I liked in his first game with the Bucks was his patience, his control, and his willingness to move the ball. On top of that he impressed me with his 15 foot look that he drilled and also threw his body around a bit and took two charges. Williams has a great sense of when and when not to attempt to block a shot, he stays grounded at the right time and tends to pick the correct times to challenge a shot attempt. That feature of knowing when to block a shot could really benefit Bucks draftee Larry Sanders who doesn’t have the slightest clue when there’s a time and a place to leave his feet. Bucks fans, it’s a long shot, but don’t count out Williams on maybe earning that last roster spot. I wouldn’t bet on it, but his talent is intriguing and if there’s any organization that can help Williams change his off court habits it’s in Milwaukee. There’s no doubt the Bucks are great situation for Sean Williams future, the question is whether or not Williams is worth risking the team’s locker room atmosphere. If Xavier Henry or Paul George would have fallen to the Bucks at 15, I think Sean Williams maybe makes the team. But with Sanders on board, along with Tiny Gallon whose close with Brandon Jennings, I see Williams unfortunately not getting his second chance with the Bucks.

4. Deron Washington: A second round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons in last year’s draft, Washington’s got an idea of what summer league’s all about this year. That showed in today’s game as Washington went 4-8 from the field, hitting 1 of 2 attempts from downtown, and 2-2 from the charity stripe. His contributions helped keep the Bucks in the ballgame and he hit some big shots. Washington finished with a solid 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, to go along with 2 steals. With continued play like this, Washington should find himself a nice look overseas next season.

The Former Marquette Standout

5.  Dominic James: The former standout point guard from Marquette is entering his redemption year after suffering a summer league ending injury just a day or two before he was set to participate in summer league last year with the Bucks. James didn’t have a pretty game by any means but his hard nosed, full court pressure defense and his efforts in getting good looks for those around him gives him my nod for my 5th and final spot. His highlighted plays include a buzzer beating high fade away jumper to end the first quarter of play, a nice no look dish hitting Darnell Jackson after drawing too, and his hustle play in which he sprinted all the way down on the defensive end, ultimately sacrificing his body leaping over the media table on the baseline. James isn’t quite a NBA level talent, but this type of play will definitely help his chances overseas, giving him more better opportunites in the future. I’m sure we’ll see Mr. James on an NBA Summer League roster next year as well. In the end, it’s great to see the Milwaukee Bucks giving exposure to Wisconsin area players: Dominic James, Jerry Smith, and Franklin.

The Bucks look to bounce back from their overtime loss against the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow against the Memphis Grizzlies. Game time is set from 8 ET and will be televised on NBATV.

Follow Ross Geiger on Twitter: (@RossGeiger)

Lakers vs. Celtics – NBA Finals Game 5

By: James Sargent

Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics – 8 ET ABC

Game 4 was a gritty performance by Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson.  Doc Rivers left the bench in a little longer than he normally does in the fourth quarter against the Laker’s starters and the move was ingenious.  Davis and Robinson were unconscious and could not be stopped, and this was a good kind of unconsciousness for Davis.  If the Celtics want to head to LA with a 3-2 lead, the bench is going to need to step it up again and provide another spark.  This will be a very tough task to ask for because with each new game comes new counter strategies and ways to stop previous occurrences.  The Celtics will definitely need two of the “Big Three” and Rajon Rondo to have a steady game.

Shrek and Donkey could be the reason for another Laker meltdown

As for the Lakers, Kobe was shutdown in the fourth quarter and Andrew Bynum was hit with another knee injury, limiting him to only 12 minutes of play.  Bryant was pestered by many different Celtic defenders who held him to only two field goals in that pivotal fourth quarter.  Kobe said he felt miserable after the game and Phil Jackson said Kobe was very tired.  Could Bryant be going back into the funk he was in at the end of the season?  I don’t think so.  I believe with the two days off, Bryant will be rejuvenated and ready to bring his “A” game like he usually brings.

Pau Gasol will bring his usual intensity to the court and continue to reek havoc on the Celtic’s frontcourt.

Rajon Rondo will record an “almost” triple-double by scoring in double figures and having double digit assits, but he will only reach about 5-7 rebounds.

Now, I asked my dad to get his thoughts on the game, and I am going to stick with what he had to say.  Celtics need a must win since winning two in LA is very unlikely.  Also, Ray Allen is going to hit some three pointers and get back to his shooting ways.

Celtics- 97 Lakers- 94

NBA Finals Game 4 Preview

Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics- 9 ET ABC

Rondo will come up big with his back against the wall tonight

Before the series began I predicted the Celtics to win the NBA Finals over the Lakers in six games. After dropping Game 3 at home, that prediction looks a little unreal having to win three straight against the Lakers. But as series shifted to Boston, I felt the Celtics would win 2 of the 3 games. Going into Game 4, I’m sticking to that prediction which would it a 3-2 series in Boston’s favor heading back to Los Angeles for the final two games.

Tonight, I fully expect Rajon Rondo to dazzle us all yet again like he did in Game 2 with a triple-double performance. And finally expect Paul Pierce, who has been a huge disappointment thus far, to step up tonight in a critical Game 4.

Mark My Words: If the Celtics lose one of the next two games, the series is over. They can only hope to win one of two in Los Angeles, so these next two home games are key to having any chance in becoming the 2010 NBA Champions. As for tonight, the Celtics veterans will show just why they’ve been champions before and will continue to work towards showing the league that again this year.

Celtics- 102 Lakers- 100