wild card

The Indianapolis .500: (Almost) Midseason Review

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.

NFL Week 11 The Thanksgiving Binge Edition

Well, it took 11 weeks, but I now understand every team in the NFL. I may not get them all right, but I can at least predict what they will do on a somewhat weekly basis. I can even document it as I went 11-4 against the spread, and on two of them (Raiders @ Steelers, and Texans @ Jets), I reasoned against myself with what actually happened before taking the wrong side. Too bad I didn’t put any money on it. But, this whole understanding is important for another reason: the playoffs. That is right, I am about to make projections for something that will not happen for another couple months, and those those projections will be based on things that are almost guaranteed to change in those months. Isn’t journalism great?

Happy Turkey Day!

The best part is I can go ahead and guarantee these predictions because I know that no one will A) remember what I wrote in November about the playoffs, and B) no one will hold me accountable. Is it the online format that takes away the principle of accountability or is there just something inherent about blogs that lets you write off outlandish statements as just being that person stating their opinion as fact? I don’t know, but I love it.

So while we are going to lay out the rankings as usual, we are going to have some playoff talk at the bottom about what it takes to win a Super Bowl and which teams have it. I usually have some wiggle room for interpretation of the rankings, but for the most part, I am entirely convinced that these teams belong where they are. Let’s get to it.

Just a warning: this article exceeds 6,500 words. Sorry, I was in the binge-spirit of Thanksgiving. Feel free to skip around, but we have significant information on every team.

32. Carolina Panthers

This is the worst team in football, bar none. I actually liked the effort for most of the game against the Ravens, but they clearly did not have a shot. Mike Goodson might let them deal/waive DeAngelo Williams (no, seriously) and save some cash while they figure out what they are going to do with their team. They do not have any quarterbacks they like on their roster, they only have one wide receiver they actually like, and a handful of individual defensive players they like that just cannot execute the scheme at all. I am truly astounded at how bad they have been, and despite my occasional hysterics, I am not astounded at this level often.

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31. Cincinnati Bengals

I am not sure what the Bengals Fail de Gras was in this game. Was it blowing a 28-7 lead? At home? Against the Bills? After showing pretty well against the Colts? All I can say for Bengals fans is that they should be happy about the local blackout, because few things are as brutal as watching Ryan Fitzpatrick significantly outplay Carson Palmer and letting a 1-8 team shut you out in the 2nd half. Before this next little tirade, I need to clarify that I am usually not in favor of rash decisions or cutting players/firing coaches mid-season for performance.

If you are going to get stuffed by Buffalo Bill, this is not the worst thing. Also as threatening as the Bengals.

With that said, Marvin Lewis should be fired. Carson Palmer should be benched, but then they could not trade him or even dream of it. I could see the Cardinals biting. Jordan Palmer should be cut for being related to Carson Palmer. Paul Alexander (Offensive line/asst. head coach) should be fired. Bob Bratkowski (Offensive Coordinator) should be fired. Kyle Caskey (Offensive Quality Control, whatever that is) should be fired. Hell, just his title is a fire-able offense. Andre Smith should be cut even though he is on Injured Reserve. He isn’t injured he is obese and has no work ethic. Bengals GM Mike Brown needs to be fired above all else. I know they were 10-6 last year. I know they were good. But I also know that what I am seeing on the field is the ultimate in players not buying into the scheme, coaches not doing their jobs correctly, and fans not being able to stand it.

Last year there were two things you knew for sure about the Bengals: they would run the ball, and they would be tough, especially on defense. 49 points to Buffalo, and a season full of not running the ball later, I think the offensive coaches have gone completely insane. The defensive line has been a letdown too, and things just need to change.

It is time for a new era in Cincinnati. An era that does not depend on egomania, low character guys (looking at you Tank Williams and TO in particular), and constant media flurries. They do not have to hire Tony Dungy, install baptismal showers and hire a personal priest/minister for every player, but they need to undo what happened this year, and that unfortunately means starting over since they cannot turn the clocks on Carson Palmer back 5 years. This regime has run its course. Start now while your fans will still appreciate that you are in touch with reality.

And think, I am not even a Bengals fan. If there are any Bengals fans readers out there, let us know by emailing outtatownclowns@yahoo.com. I would love to hear the horror stories.

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30. Arizona Cardinals

I am fairly sure they will bite on Carson Palmer, if dangled. Just saying. Anyway, what is there to say about the Cardinals? Derek Anderson’s numbers in mop up time probably looked good enough for Bidwell to want to extend him, but I hope for Cardinals faithful (all 9 of you) that they do not buy into The Cockroach. Why the cockroach, as I dubbed him on Twitter at one point? You just cannot kill him. He always finds a way to get back on the field and make things worse. However, he is far from their only problem. It is getting to be that time where Cards fans admit they whiffed on the Beanie Wells pick almost as badly as the Colts whiffed on Donald Brown. Hakeem Nicks anyone? The defense has been bad, but I will not even hold this week against them as no one wins in Kansas City. The team is just awful. I think the most telling thing is that the team seemed noticeably less dangerous with Larod Stephens-Howling was out. Can there be a surer sign you are a bad team? I think not. Look at the bright side, there is a quality draft pick coming. Well, as long as you pick a quality player.

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29. Denver Broncos

The y have been plagued by inconsistency lately, but more so, they have been plagued by Knowshon Moreno’s injury and being unable to stop anyone on defense. They actually started with some serious promise, but all that promise is gone and the only things they really have to look forward is ruining a division rival’s playoff chances, getting Dumervil back next year and adding that big piece (possibly) through the draft. The Tebow experiment is actually going well in Denver, in the sense that Orton has played well enough they they have not needed Tebow and can let him grow, but it is absolutely imperative that fans realize how well Orton is playing and do not call for Tebow before it is time. This team is not THAT far away, they just need to revamp the defense and get a go-to-guy on offense.

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28. Minnesota Vikings

The Wicked Old Childress is gone!

Monday was a great day for Vikings faithfu. They no longer need to hide their kids and hide their wives (and husbands cuz they rapin everybody out here. LINK HERE), the child molester impersonator is gone. I was making Wizard of Oz jokes last week, but I should have saved it for this. He is not necessarily the worst X and O coach around, but he is a demotivational poster all by himself. I would hire him as my offensive coordinator, but never as my coach. Frankly, they are a better team than this, but good luck trying to convince me to pick them for the rest of teh year. Their QB is an artifact, their defense has been way worse than it should be, and there is just discord all around this team. Seriously, when was the last time you heard of a team’s players saying “I hate the coach” WHILE HE WAS EMPLOYED??? And then he calls out Percy Harvin, their best player for much of the season, for not working hard enough? Bye bye Vikings.

I love the Leslie Frazier hire and I think they will make strides under him, but they have a tough schedule upcoming and they may not show the progress on the field. The Tavaris Jackson Era needs to restart soon for the good of the franchise. It is not like this is Green Bay where they cared about his legacy, he is a rental, right? Get Tavaris in there.

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27. St. Louis Rams

They are much-improved, but they cannot win the on road. If they are at home, they are a legitimate team to pick, but on the road, you can count on them to lose close games. Think Tampa. Think San Francisco. They are really not a bad team and they ahve been ravaged byinjuries but let’s call it baby steps. I love Sam Bradford, I love the defense, I even love how Steven Jackson has stayed healthy. However, they are not quite tehre to really make moves.

Steve Spagnuolo deserves Coach of the Year consideration, but not the award, for all he has done. That defense has been one of the quiet successes of the year.

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26. Seattle Seahawks

And so the NFC West hate goes on. You know why I had such a good week this week picking games? I picked specifically against NFC West teams. I mean Saints -11.5 over the Seahawks is one thing, but Bucs +3.5 over 49ers,  Chiefs -8 over Cards, and Atlanta -3 over St. Louis were all fairly easy picks. I realize one of them is going to the playoffs, but that does not mean that they are in the top half. The Seahawks, like the Rams cannot win away from home, except against the mediocre 7-3 Bears. They are clearly decent, but they are not good. I don’t even care if tehy make the playoffs. I am serioulsy just relieved to have not seen them all year. I sense they would be brutal to watch.

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25. San Francisco 49ers

They got housed in their own house by Tampa, but that is not really that big of a deal. I still think they are the best team in that division, but they are clearly not a good team. A good team doesn’t turn to Troy Smith as its savior. Ever. I can see them making a push, but only if that push is followed by a satisfying plop and a flush. I mostly am just putting them above the Seahwaks on principle, but they are not good either. Moving on.

On the bright side, you will not have to read about the NFC West the rest of this column.

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24. Buffalo Bills

Somebody break up the Bills! Two straight wins and fairly impressive showings in each. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, and Steve Johnson create an offensive chimera (sentence never before written), and while the defense is not good. they did shut the Bengals in the second half. Can I go ahead and pick them to beat the Pats or Jets down the stretch just for fun? Bottom line is that they are on their way up, and if I did not have a chubby for the next team up, they would probably go above them.

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23. Detroit Lions

I been lovin’ me some Detroit Drank all season and somehow putting them at #23 counts as being on the bandwagon. They have dropped their last two to the Bills and Cowboys, but both seemed to be supernautral situations (Bills avoiding 0-16 fears and Cowboys proving Garrett loyalty) and I cannot hold that against the Lions. The big question for them going forward is if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and if they can add those one or two pieces needed to really make this team a playoff contender. They are going to be a lot of people’s sexy (and inaccurate) Super Bowl pick at the beginning of next year, but they have earned at least some accolade after their showing this year.

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22. Cleveland Browns

They have made great strides this year, but they are not quite there. They have played everyone close this year, and that is a huge success for them, but there is a huge difference between being able to play close games and win close games. I think we should know this by now with the Browns as they have lost just about every close game they have played this year. Now, if you are looking for betting advice, they are usually safe to cover, but if you are looking for them to win, you will end up disappointed. I love Peyton Hillis, and I think Colt McCoy can be their guy going forward, but they are about 4 pieces away from being legitimate. Those pieces are a large possession WR (such as Greg Childs out of Arkansas in the upcoming draft), a playmaking safety (plenty of those around these days), a lockdown (or semi-lockdown) corner, and maybe a rush linebacker to get a little more pressure on the QB. That is really, really reasonable to ask of a franchise going forward. I expect 8-8 next year assuming the schedule is reasonable and no one significantly regresses. Lots of reason for excitement down the road, but they are just not a team that can win games right now.

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21. Houston Texans

Say it with me everyone! THE TEXANS JUST FIND WAYS TO LOSE GAMES!!!!!!!!! God, I would hate me if I was a Texans fan, but at this point I do not think anyone can really dispute it. We know there is talent on that team, but they just find ways to lose. Sometimes it is the lack of mental toughness, sometimes it is the horrendous pass defense, and sometimes it is Sage Rosenfels trying to hurdle defenders and getting helicoptered, but it is always something. Shame on me for buying in after beating the Colts (a game they geared their entire offseason towards) and coming back against the mediocre Redskins in week 2. They are the same old Texans. Gary Kubiak, walk the plank.

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20. Dallas Cowboys

The Boys will be just fine for the rest of the season. Whether or not Cowboys fans should be genuinely excited by this, I do not know, but it is something. They will run efficeint offense and play just enough defense to beat most teams, but they still have a tough schedule remaining so they are still completely dead. I am not sure if this Garrett resurgence is real or just a phenomenon, but I am willing to pick them as long as they keep playing like they did against the Lions. They were not very good, but they were good enough, and that is what you can expect for the rest of the year. Tony Romo should not bother coming back this year, and I am not just saying that because I have Kitna on my fantasy team. There is no reason for him to come back until next year, so why rush it?

I am on record stating that Garrett will fail as a head coach. I am going to stick to it and I think history will ultimately back me on it, despite this hot start.

19. Tennessee Titans

Speaking of overhyped Titans, TA-DA! So much for that big Randy Moss acquisition, right? At least they don’t have quarterback issues, right? At least Bud Adams and his coach are on the same page, right? This repetition is getting annoying, right? Right. Well regardless, I have no option but to simply write them off as pretenders at this point even though they are only one game out in the South and will have plenty of games to catch up (they play the Colts twice). However, nothing screams “WE ARE DONE” more than losing to the Down-to-their-3rd string Dolphins and losing to the Redskins. And they were supposed to be the sleeper pick…

Before I lay this out, here are the criteria for VY’s next tteam. They cannot be a team with a top pick (they would rather draft), they have to have serious present/future issues at QB, and they must seem like a place that would make a move for him (i.e. you cannot see a team like the Jags making a move for him, can you?).

Top 5 most likely destinations for Vince Young:

Where will he run now?

1) Arizona Cardinals- They need him, they already had Matt Leinart, so why not grab the other floppish QB from that draft class, and you can just see him in that uniform, right?

2) Minnesota Vikings- Favre will be gone (probably), they have zero faith in Tavaris, and Leslie Frazier might want a new QB for his new regime. I can see this one happening without a doubt.

3) Seattle Seahawks- Pete Carroll knows first-hand what the kid can do, and call me crazy, but I could see Vince Young, Marshawn Lynch and Receiver-to-be-named-later being a solid offense if they have a good defense behind them.

4) Cincinnati Bengals- I would not bet on this one, but I could see Palmer getting traded (to Arizona in particular) and the Bengals making a move on Young with some of the pieces they get for Palmer.

5) Miami Dolphins- Again, I would not bet on this, but is it so hard to imagine the Fins jumping ship on Henne and going with Yougn, the running game, and Brandon Marshall? It wouldn’t surprise me all that much.

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18. Oakland Raiders

Why so low? 1-4 on the road. However, I still have a hard time finding things to really dislike about their team. They can guard you man to man on the edges most of the time, they can run the ball both efficiently and for boatloads of yardage, and they get big plays out of the passing game, which is really all they need it for. The brewing QB debacle could prove problematic, but otherwise I am high on this team. I realize I have them pretty low, but 14-19 are all pretty even right now. The parity is pretty big at the top of the league, but it is equally big in that 14-19 range.

I will gladly accept an honorary seat on the Raiders bandwagon under two conditions. One, it does not require me ot pick them for the playoffs; and two, I do not have to sit next to Al Davis of Tom Cable.

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17. Miami Dolphins

Normally, the big problem in Miami is getting the team to stop underperforming, but right now it is just about health. Losing Henne and Pennington is one thing, but losing about 3 big pieces on defense is a huge deal for a team that is not elite on either side of the ball. Perhaps even more amazing is that Ronnie Brown is not among the walking wounded (yet), and that maybe Tyler Thigpen isn’t a bad option. Maybe he finally convinces the coaches to run the ball. You know, like they did successfully all last year. They handle the hyped Titans the week Moss arrives, but can’t handle the Bears at home on Thursday? Normally you could write it off as the same old Dolphins, but it is really all about those injuries. Regardless, they are dead for the playoffs, and who knows if their effort will start to reflect that.

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16. Washington Redskins

Average team, average logo

They don’t win pretty. Hell, they barely even win ugly, but they do win, and they get credit for that.  I think the Redskins might just be the most average team in the league. They do not win or lose by much (except for that absolute cremation at the hands of Michael Vick), they play above average, unspectacular defense, they have rotating tailbacks you have not heard of (Keiland Williams, anyone?), mediocre QB where the fans think he is better than he is, and wide receivers who are fast and lack route-running. Can you think of anything more average than that? 5-5 works too. They are capable or beating anyone, losing anyone, and doing it at home or on the road. Average is really just the word for the Washington Redskins.

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15. Kansas City Chiefs

So I still like the Chiefs, but can I PLEASE see something out of them on the road? I mean they play aat Arrowhead and look like a playoff team, then go on the road and need mop up touchdowns to make the score look respectable against the Broncos? What the heck, KC? Maybe they just need their Gates BBQ for pre-game meals or something because they are really just two different teams depending on where the game is being played. However, they are good enough to be way up here while the Rams are way down the list because there is something I can (almost) absolutely count on with them. They will run the ball well, and they will play tough, effective defense every week and that is enough for me. They are a very solid and quality team but unimpressive away from home. I mean at least they tend to play fairly well on the road, even if they do not win. That is all I can really ask of this young team for now.

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14. Chicago Bears

How does humble pie taste? I don’t know, I refuse to eat it on the Bears. Why are they 7-3? Why? They lost to the Seahawks at home! They barely survived the Lions in week 1 (calvin Johnson vs The Ground) and they have beaten up on bad teams, or caught teams at the right time (like Miami on a short week with a 3rd string quarterback and a depleted secondary) and all of a sudden they are 7-3. HOW??? Their only really quality win was over Green Bay when they were heading into their mini-tailspin, and other than that they have feasted on the junk teams.

Who doesn't like real bears?

Ok, let’s just TRY to look at this objectively. Imagine the average NFL team. You can use the Skins if you want since I just called them that, but imagine the average. How do they do in each game? My prediction is next to the team, but feel free to put your own prediction in.

vs Det W
@ Dal W (given how they were playing at this point)
vs GB   L
@ NYG  L
@ Car   W
vs Sea   W
vs Wash  Toss Up
BYE
@ Buf in Toronto  W
vs Min   W
@ Mia   W (given injuries)

8-2/7-3 …

Seriously, is there anything about being 7-3 against that? Look, Chicago, you have given us a lot of things over the years. Deep dish, a host of  world-class musicians and athletes, and a great city in the Midwest, but don’t give me any lip about your team. They are garbage. They might make the playoffs, and they might be able to win a playoff game because they play good defense, but stop telling me they are good. 7-3 means something. But it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

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13. Jacksonville Jaguars

Maybe it is time we take the Jaguars seriously. I mean the second we do it, they will go away so maybe it is for the best.nGarrard is due for a stinker even worse than the one he had in the second half against Cleveland, and the defense has to give out at some point,, but when? Like the Redskins, they are not a great team, but they know how to win games, and clichéd though it may be, there is no doubt that it is a huge factor in being able to make a push for the playoffs. Just ask the Texans. But are they lucky or good? A little of both, but that does not mean they are not good. I am not worried about them taking the division crown from my Colts, but I would not be shocked to see them hang in there either, so I am going to stick with them at 13.

I can never tell if Jack Del Rio is doing a good job or not. Should I be impressed he has this team where it is, or should I be critical of him for not doing it every year and letting his team slump every other year? Should he stay on because the Jags are ok with all this or should they dump him and take a risk on someone else? No clue. If you are reading this, help me out Jacksonville fans. Assuming you are real. I have no idea if there are actually Jaguars fans.

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12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

He thrives in crunchtime

Who are you and what have you done with the Bucs? When did Raheem Morris become a quality coach? When did Punchy Blount and Cadillac Williams become a quality duo? When did Josh Freeman become Ben Rapethlisberger minus the rape? When did this team learn how to win close games? At this point, the Bucs players probably do not even know, but they are still sitting at 7-3 and will be fighting it out with the Bears for that final playoff spot unless the Giants figure it out quick.

The only thing that really keeps me off this bandwagon is the incredible comfort of their schedule. Let’s do the same thing we did with the Bears. How does an average team do against this schedule:

vs Cle W
@ Car W
vs Pit L
BYE
@ Cin W
vs NO L
vs StL W
@ AZ W
@ Atl L
vs Car W
@ SF W

That is exactly what they have done. Do we know they are much above average? Not really. But they have been great late in games and that counts for a lot in this league. Bears fans probably hate me right now for making the same case for both teams and hating on the Bears. C’est la vie.

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11. San Diego Chargers

Here come the Fightin’ Norvs, as usual. The Chargers are that kid who shows up late to whatever he is going to (slow start), is a gigantic douche about it (Rivers), but then is so much fun that you kind of forget he was late until the party is almost over (late season surge) and he pees himself on the dance floor (Chargers playoff failures). Suddenly you remember why you didn’t like hanging out with him.

Right now, they are clearly doing the Dougie like John Wall on the dance  floor (in some pseudo-reality where that is cool), and they are winning, but do not let it influence you down the road. They have one last big roadblock this week in the Colts before they are officially the division favorite, but I a still sticking to my prediction of a 7-0 finish to the year post-bye week. However, all those drinks the Chargers downed while being cool the second half of the season have to go somewhere. Exit stage left/boxers/down their jeans. The only question remaining is who they do it against. My early money is on them to beat the Steelers/Ravens in wild card week, let everyone think they are amazing, and then crash out against the Pats or something. It is hard to find a real disappointment for them with so many good playoff teams. I am sure they will do just fine on their own.

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10. Indianapolis Colts

Before we talk about the team, we should probably talk about that Colts-Patriots game. The most important player for the Colts never changes, however, apart from Peyton Manning, the guy who could have  helped the Colts most was Gary Brackett.  The tackling was a serious issue for the Colts and Brackett does not miss the tackles that Angerer missed. He would have been huge.

Who knew?

With that being said, the Colts played that game without Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt, Gary Brackett, Clint Session, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, and Mike Hart. During the game, they lost another backup safety, Austin Collie, and Antoine Bethea. They lost by 3 to a team that many call the best in the league. In a place Tom Brady has won 25 straight games. Think about that. Blair White and Jacob Tamme were two of the bigger targets for Peyton Manning, and they lost to the Patriots on the road by 3. And you want to argue Manning-Brady?

That last drive had to have every Patriots fan soiling themselves. Before the pick (created by getting pressure on Manning for the first time in 8 minutes), Manning was ready to score 3 touchdowns in 8 minutes against a team that is supposed to be the best in the league? Regardless, the Colts are just fine as long as they keep getting healthy and use this loss as a learning experience. If the defense realizes that the second half is what they have to do every half, and that they cannot afford to let Manning win them every game. If they take this loss as a challenge, they can still be a title contender, but they need to learn from this game.

It was the most excruciating regular season loss in a long time, but it is not even top 5 as far as excruciating losses. The regular season is just not a huge deal. For me, it goes the Super Bowl, the Scifres/Sproles game,  the Vanderjagt game, the Billy Volek game, and any Patriots game, in that order.

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9. New York Giants

If they do not figure out their turnover problem, they will miss the playoffs. Period.  They have all the  talent and scheme in the world, but if they cannot stop trying to gift wrap games for people, they will be done. I like all the pieces they have, although they are accumulating injuries quickly, but turnovers could end up being the thread that completely unravels the quilt when pulled on.

From that side, the Giants are pretty simple to pin down, but from other angles, the Giants are incredibly interesting. I cannot think of too many players who have made a bigger jump than Hakeem Nicks this year. He is absolutely frightening  and although I have not seen him much, I think he can be a Roddy White type down the road.  They have their possession guy in Steve Smith, Eli Manning is putting together another very nice year, and Ahmad Bradshaw is really as good as he looks. What don’t they have? I mean every team could use a shutdown corner, but even without one they are a pretty impressive team all around. If they figure out the turnover issue, they can make a run in the playoffs. If they do not figure it out, they will miss the playoffs.

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This says it all


8. Green Bay Packers

Here is why Aaron Rodgers is not an elite QB. When Jermichael Finley got hurt, my confidence in Aaron Rodgers went way down. More importantly, he has not played as well since he went out. The point? One of the special things about elite quarterbacks is that your confidence in them does not drop when they are missing pieces. Aaron Rodgers has been significantly more turnover-prone since  Finley’s injury, and that is a big deal for his elite status.

However, Rodgers aside, the Pack is playing great right now. They are almost to the point of being back to where we projected the pre-season, but there is just something about them that leaves you a little uneasy. They clearly have the talent and requisite pieces to make a playoff run, but there is just something (other than Mike McCarthy) that makes you uneasy about their long-range chances.

All that being said, few teams are playing as well as the Packers.

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7. Pittsburgh Steelers

How fast can I get lukewarm about a team? When it comes in the form of not being able to win big games at home (vs New England) and not being able to control your emotions in a blowout against the Raiders, the answer is pretty fast. I have a few issues with the Steelers, but my main issues are that they abandon their running game, and they seem to play badly in crunchtime. They also seem to have a suspicious lack of close game experience that really shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is hard to really trust them in the playoffs when they have not felt the heat to some extent in the regular season. I could accept putting them higher, but I have six teams I genuinely like more.

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6. Baltimore Ravens

The more you watch this defense with Ed Reed vs without Ed Reed, you realize how important he is. Without him, they were barely able to turn teams over and became a fairly standard and unintimidating defense, but with him they are back to running picks back like it is no big deal. It really cannot be overstated. This defense is back to where it was last year, which is to say it is very good, though not what it was back in the glory days.

The offense is another story. It is scary, but maybe not the kind of scary that it could be. The receiving corps is next to impossible to defend, and the Rice-McClain backfield is hard to shut down. Together, the offense should be just about unstoppable. However, Joe Flacco is the key part. If he plays up to the level of his teammates, the Ravens can beat anyone. If he plays to his level for most of this year, the Ravens are vulnerable to just about everyone and could find themselves on the couch come late January.

He is ultimately the reason the Ravens are not my Super Bowl pick. If you put Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, or Kyle Orton (QBs of a similar echelon) at QB for this team, I would probably pick them, but as it is, I cannot.

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Here comes the running game!

5. New Orleans Saints

What made the Saints of last year different from the Saints of years before that? They ran the ball and their defense created turnovers at exactly the right moment. This year, they have gone almost completely without running backs, and yet they are 7-3, the defense is playing great ball, and Brees has been as good as ever considering everyone knows he is going to be throwing it. What is not to like here? I continue to expect the Saints to be the experts’ pick to win the NFC going into the playoffs because we have yet to see them at full strength.

The interesting thing will be seeing them play on Thanksgiving tomorrow. Dallas is far from an easy game right now, and this could just be a game that the Saints lose from the situation. The Cowboys are playing well right now, home teams have a marked advantage in Thursday games, and with Reggie Bush just coming back now, it might just be too soon for them to be back on the same page. If they can win that game, then it could be a sign of things to come for the defending champions.

They have what it takes, but I cannot pick them.

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4. New England Patriots

Ugh. First off, congrats to them on winning that game. Every team needs to win games they barely deserve to win, and my hat goes off to the Pats for gutting it out. However, a Super Bowl contender does not let its arch rival almost score 21 points in 8 minutes to come back. Ever.

But here is the worst thing. They remind me of the Saints from last year. They have a defense that gives up way too many yards, and is not rated highly, but steps up in big moments. They have a running game that is vastly underrated and is a big part of their success. They have an outstanding quarterback surrounded by reliable receivers who will not necessarily strike fear, but will do their job well. They even have the great offensive line that does not even let defenses touch their quarterback. They just seem the same, and I hate it as a Colts fan. I do not want to think about the Saints, let alone the Patriots.

But ho-hum the Pats are 8-2 and virtual playoff locks. Home-field would be huge given their home record, but it is not a necessity for their success like the team below. I could see them hoisting the Lombardi trophy, but I would just hate to see it. Hate.

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3. Atlanta Falcons

Can I see something out of them against a quality road team please? If they get the #1 seed in the playoffs, they will win the NFC. Not a doubt in my mind. If they have to play a road playoff game, they will lose. Still not a doubt in my mind.  I take serious issue with ESPN ranking them #1 when they do not really have any big road wins, but we might have to wait til the Super Bowl to see them in a road game against a good team. They have a game in Tampa Bay, but apart from that their big games (including this week vs the Packers) are all at home. I look forward to the prospect of betting against the Falcons in a Super Bowl, but I wish we could see them tested before then because they are a very likable team and a team that is deserving of a title.

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2. Philadelphia Eagles

Raise your hand if you want to face the Eagles right now. Me either. Stop Vick. Stop Desean Jackson. Stop the blitzes. Stop Shady McCoy. Stop trying to stop them and just hope they have an off day. It seems like the only person who can really stop them is Andy Reid, and that seems pretty plausible.

Frankly I do not see too many reasons they cannot make a playoff run. Vick has sneaky playoff experience (win @ Lambeau, & has played in an NFC Championship Game) too, so it is not like their star QB is going to be completely starstruck in the playoffs either. I want to see them get a little scarier on defense before I pick them to win the Super Bowl, but they aare a candidate without a doubt. They are by far the scariest team in the league right now.

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Make no mistake, he has a big mouth

1. New York Jets

Before I tell you why they are my Super Bowl pick, let me justify their #1 ranking. I am not forgetting about their implosion against the Texans, but I give huge credit for finding ways to win games. They clearly have a pretty good defense,  and they clearly have a good running game, but Mark Sanchez has been a revelation this year. I mean I am still trying to get used to the idea of him being a good quarterback, but these last few weeks, he has won the team games rather than being an obstacle to overcome. That was supposed to be their weakness coming into the season, and what is it now? Focus? Do you think they will have a hard time focusing in a playoff game? Me either. TO me, they are just the best team out there. Would I be more comfortable with it if they had not let the Texans back in? Yeah, but they fact that they have won just about every close game this year is big.

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PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

I have the Jets because they have a QB who can win them games, but is not absolutely necessary to win the game. In other words, they have a lot of different ways to beat you. Running, passing, defense, special teams, they have it all. They can be front runners, comeback artists, or grind it out winners, and that goes a long way. If the Falcons get home-field, I have the Jets beating the Falcons in the Super Bowl, but if the Falcons have to play a road game, give me the Packers or Saints.

I still have the Jets, Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers in the playoffs in the AFC, but in the NFC, I am about ready to replace the Giants with the Bucs, but that remains a tossup. Atlanta, Green Bay, New Orleans, and NFC West Punching Bag #1 are in.

Enjoy some Thanksgiving football, and remember to binge eat responsibly.

Sneak Peek:

NE -6.5 over DETROIT
Cincinnati +9 over NYJ (Changed morning of game)
NO -3.5 over DALLAS (but it will be close)

This Week in Baseball: September 10th

Before we get started, something has been brought to my attention.

That something is that Brian Wilson is not right in the head. Not sure if I should start with the fact that he is a ninja and “mental assassin”, with his “50% less awesome cleats” or his mad crossword abilities. Ultimately, I do not think I have to say anything. Brian Wilson is nuts. Moving on.

AL Playoff Race

It has gotten a bit boring as far as who is making the playoffs as far as I am concerned. The Twins still have to hold off the White Sox, but I do not foresee a collapse by the Twinkies. They are a really good team that is just not quite built for the postseason because of teh pitching, but they will ultimately win the Central. I am not writing off the White Sox, but I do not think they are catching them. The only other thing worth noting here is that the Yankees are starting to get some separation from the Rays as we expected and it looks like they will take the division. I do not think it matters since they will be meeting in the ALCS, but it is worth noting at least.

NL Playoff Race

CarGo

The real question here is who DOES want to make the playoffs. The Cards have imploded lately, but the Reds just got swept in Colorado, the Braves lost 2 of 3 to the lowly Pirates, the Padres finally stopped the bleeding, but then lost to the Giants in San Diego. No one is playing well really among the teams we have been talking about for the last few weeks. The Phillies look to be moving back ahead as we expected, but the real story is out West.

The Colorado Rockies are a different breed. They look like they are just not quite ready for most of the year, and turn into an absolute wrecking crew in September. This year has been no different as the Rockies have seemingly been the only team to really capitalize on the Padres’ miserable stretch. As of Friday morning, the Rockies sit only 3.5 games back of the Padres and only 2.5 back of the Giants in the Central. I do not know why, but I have just been excluding the Giants from the playoffs for a while in my head. It just seems like either Colorado or Atlanta is coming out of this thing with that Wild Card berth. Maybe it has to do with my preseason projections, in which I thought Colorado and Atlanta would be Wild Card threats and had the Giants way under .500, but whatever it is, I still do not think they are making the playoffs.

On a different note, I think the Reds have the Central barring a Padres-esque collapse and the Phillies will not relinquish the lead in the East. Just a matter of who is coming out of the wild west bloodbath and if Atlanta can hold on just enough to make it.

Individual Awards

A somehow-under-the-radar Cy Young candidate

There is still no change to my AL MVP pick of Josh Hamilton, though it is still very hard for me to deny Miguel Cabrera the hardware. Cy Young has also tightened up, though I am still sticking with David Price over CC Sabathia. You would think an Indians fan would have some leftover CC love, but not anymore. I am over it. Anyway, David Price is my Cy Young pick and I am not really going out on a limb in saying so. Felix Hernandez is somehow flying under the radar since Seattle is so phenomenally disappointing, but he is leading the majors in Ks, and is 2nd in the AL in ERA behind Clay Buchholz. He is very deserving, but I think it is Price’s year. You really shouldn’t give credit for a team being good overall in a Cy Young race (ask Cliff Lee) but I still will go Price, although I would have no complaints if King Felix won.

The NL MVP race has a new name, and that man is Carlos Gonzalez, who is yet another Triple Crown contender. I have been saying for about a month that he is my MVP pick for next year, but as I never got it on to paper, you will just have to believe me. He is legitimate in every sense of the word, and only his drastic home/away split keeps him from winning the MVP this year. If he carries his team to the playoffs, it will be hard not to put him 2nd, but I am sticking with Joey Votto despite his recent struggles. Still have plenty of Pujols love, but even his incredible value could not keep the Cards in the playoff race (although in his defense, the offense is dreadful). Votto is still the pick.

The Cy Young race, however, keeps getting murkier. Let’s do a blind test and you decide who it is without seeing the name.

Player A: 221 IP, 17 wins, 2.36 ERA, 8 CG, 196Ks (leader at 199), 1.05 WHIP

Player B: 162 IP, 14 wins, 2.21 ERA, 1 CG, 170Ks, 0.96 WHIP

Player C: 183 IP, 11 wins, 2.30 ERA, 1 CG, 186 Ks, 1.11 WHIP

Who should win that? A definitely has the edge in innings pitched, and has been pretty great all season. B offers league leading numbers in ERA and WHIP, and C is the guy many have been giving the award to, myself included, without really looking into the situation. Shame on me.

Do not scroll down if you don’t want to know yet.

Ready? A is Roy Halladay (as I probably gave away by including 8 CG), B is Mat Latos, and C is Josh Johnson. Now tell me who should win.

Cy Young awaits the Doc

I have to admit I am a sucker for the workhorses like Halladay who will go in there and fight for 9 innings. All are deserving, so maybe it is easiest to explain why I did not pick the other two. For me, Latos has just not thrown enough innings to deserve the award, so while he has been outstanding, he has also been outstanding for 60 fewer innings than Doc Halladay. Johnson is another very strong candidate, but I am still going with Halladay. The differences between the ERA and WHIP are marginal and cancel each other out as far as I am concerned. The innings once again go in favor of Halladay, and while that means K/9 swings in Johnson’s favor, I hate the stat K/9. Know why? Because Halladay is the only guy here who consistently goes 9. Johnson has a great strikeout total, and so does Latos for that matter, but Halladay actually stays in the game to get those K/9 in the same game for his team. Even if that does not swing it for Halladay, the final tiebreaker would be team performance and the Phillies, in my opinion, are much better than the Marlins and a little better than the Padres. Roy Halladay is my NL Cy Young Winner. Just as we so boldly predicted preseason (it took less guts than LeBron has to make that pick).

Playoff Picture

I am sticking with the Phillies as my NL World Series pick, if for no other reason than being stubborn and stick-to-it-iveness (I promise I didn’t make that word up). I just think they are best equipped to make the Series in the NL, especially with how ice cold everyone is. I will go ahead and pick the Rockies to win the West and the Braves to take the Wild Card, but I might change my mind tomorrow. It has been that good a race.

On the AL side, everyone knows who will be in the playoffs, and I am sticking to my Yankees over Rays ALCS pick.

Congrats

Phillies over Yankees in the World Series. I have been sticking to it for a while so it should not come as a surprise, but if I had to put a confidence rating on it, no way I go above a 6.

I would get strung up from a crane by my testicles and forced to make difficult decisions if I did not mention this, so here it goes. Trevor Hoffman got his 600th save this week, so hats off to him.

That is all for this week, but stay tuned as things really heat up. October awaits.

This Week in Baseball: August 20th

Last week we looked more at the moves teams made, so let’s get back to the races.

AL East

The Red Sox are done, so it is really just between the Rays and the Yankees. Once upon a time the Rays were struggling to hit and the Yankees looked unbeatable. The Yankees still look pretty good, but with Carlos Pena back and Evan Longoria back on track, the Rays are putting up numbers like Sir Isaac Newton. Right now, the Rays are the better team, but next week it could be the Yankees. I will stick with the Yankees right now in the long run, but nothing would make me happier than to see the Rays take the division and knock the crown off the Yankees ‘ big heads. The sweep of the Rangers was impressive and a sign that the Rays are not just a playoff team, but a World Series contender, but I am not ready to give them the division just yet.

Yankees: 60% they win the division, 100% they make the playoffs (40% wild card)
Rays: 40% they win division, 100% they make the playoffs (60% wild card)

AL Central

I have stuck with the Twins all year, and even with Justin Morneau’s mysterious concussion, the Twins have taken the fight to the White Sox. They got them in Minnesota and put a beatdown on the Sox to give them a 4 game lead. This race is far from over, but for now it looks like it is the Twins’ race to lose. They could lose it, but for a franchise with the luck that the Twins have, I doubt it will happen.

Twins: 75% they win the division, 75% they make the playoffs (0% wild card)
White Sox: 25% they win the division, 25% they make the playoffs (0% wild card)

AL West

The Rangers will win the division, end of discussion. Their current slide is certainly worrying, but I do not think it is serious enough to keep them out of the playoffs. I hope this isn’t the case, but it looks ike the Texas summer has once again sapped the Rangers and it will take some recovery before they are back to their best baseball. For baseball’s sake, I hope they get it back, and I think they will, things are just a little tense in Texas right now.

Rangers: 100% they win the division, 100% they make the playoffs (0% wild card)

NL East

Someone will be safe, but someone could be out.

Now things get interesting. The AL races are straightforward for the most part, but the NL races are just getting out of the blocks. The Braves have been out front for a while now, but the Phillies are charging as they seem to always do in late August and September. Perhaps the scariest part for the Braves is that the Phillies are just now getting Chase Utley back, and Ryan Howard should be back shortly. The Braves did get better defensively with Derrek Lee, but it has got to be getting tense in Atlanta. They are still a very good team, but it is going to take a Herculean effort to hold off the Fightin’ Phils.

I go back and forth on the NL Wild Card almost daily, but this week I have been leaning toward the Braves. It will probably be the Giants next week, but right now Atlanta’s pitching looks just as good as the Giants’ and their offense is sneaky-good. It is going to be exciting to the last day, and that is great for baseball even if it is not good for the mental health of the fans of the teams.

Phillies: 51% they win the division, 71% they make the playoffs (20% wild card)
Braves: 49% they win the division,  69% they make the playoffs (20% wild card)

NL Central

Last time I wrote about the NL Central, I said that it would be close but one team slipping up could very easily just give it to the other team. This looks like it could be happening with the Cardinals’ recent slide. Now the Reds will have plenty of chances to slip up over the next couple of weeks, but right now they have to be the favorites in the Central. The Cardinals are suddenly searching for a solution at 3rd and not getting the pitching they have become accustomed to and the results have reflected the issues. They can still get it right, but things are getting tense in the STL. You might not be able to spell “hustle” without the STL, but you can spell “playoffs” without it, even if we are not at all used to it. I am sticking with the Cardinals, but the Reds are the favorites. The Reds will have to prove it though as the Cardinals have owned them this season. I feel like if the Reds are going to win the division, they are going to have to go through the big boys of the division.

Reds: 55% they win the division, 75% they make the playoffs (20% wild card)
Cardinals: 45% they win the division, 55% they make the playoffs (10% wild card)

NL West

Not a sight the Giants enjoy seeing, but a reality nonetheless.

We have stuck with the Padres here and it looks like it is going to pay off. They hold a fairly commanding 6 game lead over the Giants, and perhaps most importantly, they have a great head-to-head record against them. The Padres are in, which is still a pretty startling sentence to write given all the news about Adrian Gonzalez’s departure before this year. The Rockies and Dodgers were the teams that were supposed to be battling for this spot, not the Padres, but those two teams are out and the Padres are in. The Giants are in a difficult position. They are right in the wild card race, but are realistically fighting it out with the Phllies, Braves, Reds and Cardinals. Are they better than any of those teams? It depends on the day, but the point is that they are in a tough place. They can definitely still make it, but it is going to take some work. I picked them last week so they are obviously right in it, but they have a fight on their hands and making the playoffs would be an achievement given the situation.

Padres: 90% they win the division, 99% they make the playoffs (9% wild card)
Giants: 10% they win the division, 30% they make the playoffs (20% wild card)

This Week in Baseball: The Second Half

I know that technically, the second half started a long time ago, but this is when we get a look at what teams will really look like down the stretch. Now there are still guys like Pedro Martinez out there to be signed, but for the most part, we know what to expect. So ahead, we get to look at the races, the regular season awards, and much more. Get ready, baseball fans, October is coming.

TB and NY: You wanna piece of me?

American League

East

The Yankees and the Rays look like locks to make the playoffs to me. The Red Sox are getting Josh Beckett back, but the Rays and Yankees have been the two best teams in the East, and probably baseball, for much of the year now. The Yankees will win the division, as expected, and the Rays will need some nerves to hold the Red Sox off for the Wild Card, but I think they can do it. The East is really just a bloodbath. If Toronto or Boston was in the West and played those teams over and over, they would clean up, but they are stuck with the Evil Empire and the loaded little engine that could. Tough luck for them, but they will be watching the playoffs from their couches this year.

Central

I am going to stick with my pick of the Twins, though I would not be too surprised if the White Sox were able to hold them off. The Twins went and got their bullpen help in the form of Matt Capps, and I would not count them out for Pedro either. Remember, these are hardly the small-market Twins of the past. I just have a feeling that it is going to come down tot he final day yet again here with potential for another one game playoff. It is really a toss up for me, but I will stick to my original pick preseason and go with the Twins to win the central.

West

Nolan Ryan is the Rangers. Robin Ventura is the AL West.

At this point, if the Rangers lose, it is a monumental meltdown. They are making all the moves, holding all the cards, and pulling away from the now 3rd placed Angels. Cliff Lee gives them legitimacy at the top of the rotation, and they have added great depth with Jorge Cantu. I would once again not count them out for Pedro’s services, although money is very tight in Texas right now. It is worth noting that Oakland, one of my sleepers this year, is really making a push, but it will end in a moral victory and no playoffs.

MVP: Miguel Cabrera (DET) Honorable Mention: Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano

Cy Young: David Price (TB) Honorable Mention: Cliff Lee (a very close second), Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester

Rookie of the Year: Austin Jackson (DET) Honorable Mention: Brennan Boesch (DET), Carlos Santana (CLE)

Manager of the Year: Ron Washington (TEX)

ALDS

Yankees over Twins in 3
Rangers over Rays in 5

ALCS

Yankees over Rangers in 6

National League

Oswalt has been great down the stretch throughout his career.

East

Now here is where things get interesting. The Mets are pretenders like we thought, but the Braves and Phillies look poised to fight to the death. 2nd is not a comfortable option either with Cincinnati in the picture and threatening to even upset the Cardinals (more on that in a moment). Roy Oswalt is in Philadelphia now, and if the hitting keeps up, we could see the second-half-surge Phillies we are used to. You might ask why they did not just keep Cliff Lee, and Ruben Amaro Jr. does not have an answer there, but as they move forward, they have a great shot at fighting to the death with the division leading Braves. I think the Phillies will win the fight, and will keep as close to possible with my preseason prediction with the Braves barely making it to the playoffs.

Central

Unfortunately, elation for the Braves means bad news for the Reds of Cardinals. They are locked in one of the better battles in baseball right now for Central supremacy, and it is pretty hard to separate the two at the moment. Will the upstart Reds upset Cardinals hegemony, or will the Cards hold off the feisty young challenger? I can honestly say I do not know for sure. I tend to lean toward the Cardinals because they have been there before, but if Pujols gets hurt or the bullpen has a rough week, it could very easily swing the Reds way. I will ultimately go with the Cardinals, but it is going to be one hell of a race. For that matter, that is true of the whole NL.

West

The Padres have knocked expectations of the the park.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the Padres have this wrapped up. Their pitching is lights out (though Latos could be shut down as he is on an innings count), and their hitting is just good enough to get them where they want to be. Now, there is definitely some luck at play here as Troy Tulowitzki’s injury was perfectly timed to knock the Rox out of contention, and the Dodgers offensive swoon timed up with playing the Padres, but you have to credit the Padres at this point. They are the best team in that division, and though the Giants are sticking around, I just can’t see them catching the Padres.

MVP: Joey Votto (CIN) Honorable Mention: Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Howard,

Cy Young: Josh Johnson (FLA) Very Honorable Mention: Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Tim Hudson, Mat Latos (if he wasnt on an innings count)

Rookie of the Year: Jaime Garcia (NL) Honorable Mention: Stephen Strasburg (WAS), Mike Leake (CIN), Jason Heyward (ATL), Buster Posey (SF), Gaby Sanchez (FLA), Great year for NL rookies and pitchers.

Manager of the Year: Bud Black (SD)

NLDS

Phillies over Cardinals in 4
Padres over Braves in 5

NLCS

Phillies over Padres in 6

WORLD SERIES PREDICTION

I said it at the start of the season, and although it happened in a much different way than I thought, I am sticking to my beginning of the year pick.

Phillies over Yankees in 7\

See? The All-Star Game matters.

TO SEE MY BEGINNING OF THE YEAR PREVIEWS, CLICK HERE

Maybe there is some wishful thinking here, but the Phillies will walk away with the title.