@craigballard77

Friday, January 28, 2011

NBA All Star Starters...

February 20, 2011 the best basketball players on earth will gather at the Staples Center in LaLa Land to "compete" in the 60th All Star game...LA is back as the host city for the first time since 2004...we know these games are traditionally for the fans, and the play is highlight reel-style until both teams buckle down in the 4th Q...the first 3 Q's are played with the Toronto Craptors style of "D" which is to say no D...The starters for this game are voted in by the fans worldwide, and as usual there are some impressive choices (Derrick Rose, Amar'e) and some swings and misses (Yao)...let's take a look together...

Eastern Conference Starters...

PG - Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)...nicely done by the fans in getting this one right...the popular pick would be to vote in Rajon Rondo (Boston) who had his coming out party last season and who is really on the scene as a premier PG, but Rose has been Tony the Tiger style grrrrrEAT this season giving the Bulls a gaudy 25 points per game to go with 8 assists per game...Rose (along with Amar'e) is out front of the MVP talk currently...Despite injuries to Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer this guy has the Bulls humming at 31-14 overall (currently tied with Miami for #2 in the East) - 10-0 in the Division - 10 game lead in the Division...our boy Chuck Swirsky is having a ball calling the games on the radio for the Bulls with a Superstar like Rose...I took particular notice when a player by the name of Kobe mentioned that he really appreciates seeing a kid with Rose's talent that has the recognition of what aspects of his game need to be improved, then commits in the off-season to improve...Kobe says this guy has already clearly taken steps forward in certain areas and he predicts the sky is the limit for Derrick Rose...good enough for me

SG - Dwayne Wade (Miami Heat)...Wade was the #2 winner in the 2010 Summer-O-Fun in the NBA (#1 being Joe Johnson who re-upped in Atlanta for more $$$ than any other team would have paid him, and he got more $$$ than any other free agent)...Wade did not have to change his address and welcomed long time chums LeBron James and Chris Bosh to town...this was supposed to mean much less scoring opportunities for D-Wade, but his 25.3 points per game say otherwise...his 3-point shooting continues to be awful, and his free throw shooting is decent at best, but his ability to attack the rim and finish at the rim with an athletic move remain his strength (same as it was as a Collegian at Marquette)...D-Wade is rebounding at a better pace than he ever has too
2 of these 3 are special players...the other is Chris Bosh
SF - LeBron James (Miami Heat)...we go from Wade who had a great off-season to Bron Bron who had a disastrous off-season...the Wins are still piling up for LBJ, but he stacked W's in Cleveland too...the "Decision" show he so mistakenly did to announce that he was "taking my talents to South Beach" provided a major blow to his relationship with fans...video after video of James jerseys being set on fire...Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer roundly criticising James for the "Decision" show, and for the actual decision itself to go to Miami with Bosh and Wade...somehow LeBron James became the most hated player - even passing Kobe Bryant for that distinction...BUT - at the end of the day the fans could not resist voting for James as we are all still on the same page regarding his talents...even Lakers great (and NBA logo) Jerry West (who traded for Kobe when he ran the Lakers) has James ranked as the best player in the NBA...as per usual James averages close to a Triple-Double...his 3-point shooting has actually improved...his Field Goal Percentage is down from his past standard, but that will improve with time as his teammates understand more and more where to feed LBJ the basketball in spots where he feels he can go to work...we are still witness

PF - Amar'e Stoudemire (New York Knicks)...now I do want to talk about Amar'e, but while we are on the subject of PF in the East I would be remiss if I did not mention that Chris Bosh (the man who wanted to be on TV and wanted more attention than he felt he was receiving as a Raptor) was a 5-time All Star for the Raps and was one of the top vote getters every season...what an afterthought he has become in South Beach...25 players received more votes than Bosh this year, and in the PF votes where he was annually #1 or #2 as a Raptor CB4 finished 5th this year...in Miami Bosh has seen his Field Goal % - Points - Rebounds - Assists - Blocks all take steps backwards...for me I am glad he will not be an All Star...Anywho back to a man who does deserve praise and that is STAT (Standing Tall And Talented) Amar'e Stoudemire who has the Knicks back as a relevant team in the Association for the first time in years and years...Stoudemire is the first Knicks player to start an All Star game since Patrick Ewing in 1992 (geez I was still in high school in '92)...he is setting Knicks records and has been a beast...we know from Alicia Keys that New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of and Amar'e is the toast of the town


Is that a bird?!?!  Is that a plane!?!?  Oh it's D12

C - Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic...2012 Los Angeles Lakers...a guy can dream can't he?!?!)...D12 was #2 vote getter in the NBA (Kobe #1) and the #1 vote getter in the East...what can you say about this guy...likes to have fun, likes to win...he scores, he rebounds, he provides an amazing presence at the rim that blocks and changes several shots every game...we look at the overhaul the Magic did to their roster allowing them to add Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu all of whom are looked at to provide outside sharp-shooting to go with everything that D12 brings down low...I wrote in a previous blog that when Kobe is ready to leave the NBA I feel he will be passing the torch to Howard who is going to completely dominate this league one day...there were days that you needed to build your team to give yourself a shot to beat Bill Russell, Kareem, Hakeem, Shaq etc and Dwight Howard will have that same domination soon...he is already damn good


Western Conference Starters


CP3 is one of the greatest PG's ever

PG - Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)...most underrated Superstar in the Association?!?!  Do you hear a lot about this guy?!?!  You should...he is special...this guy will go down as one of the greatest PG's ever...immense talent on a roster with very pedestrian talent...at some point in the next year or so he will be traded out of New Orleans (he will be the next trade-watch player after the Carmelo Anthony situation finally gets resolved) and perhaps to a better team with more North American coverage where we will see more of him...in 2010-2011 his scoring and assist #'s are slightly down, but he has led a decent-at-best team to a good record (30-16 and currently on a 9 game winning streak)...his Personal Fouls and Turnovers are down, while his 3-point shooting and Steals are up...

SG - Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers)...for the 13th straight year KB has been named an NBA All-Star...if he gets named to a 14th next season he will tie Jerry West, Shaq, and Karl Malone for the most ever...quick - what team drafted Kobe Bryant?!?!...answer at the bottom of this blog entry...What can I add here that you don't already know about Black Mamba?!?!  Truly one of the all-time greats...no one has facilitated and contributed to winning like Kobe has since Jordan...his #'s remain great, and this season he is doing it playing through a mashed finger on his shooting hand, and a knee that is so damaged it is pretty much bone-on-bone at this point...in the first half of this season KB has been the only Laker to bring it every night...this guy is special

SF - Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets currently)...the #1 story in the Association for a while now has been where will Melo be going forward...we think it will be New York, but what Borough?!?!  Melo also recently lost his sister and missed time due to that...despite these huge distractions Anthony has had a great season...the Nuggets are 27-18 and currently the #6 seed in the tough Western Confernece...Melo is the team leader in points, and rebounds...his 3-point game continues to be horrid, but his fouls are down - his turnovers are down - his rebounding is at a career high pace, as are his blocks...this guy was born to score the basketball


KD is one of the best scorers we have ever seen
 PF - Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)...we take you back to 2006 when the city of Seattle had to decide whether to shit or get off the pot as far as committing $$$ to the Seattle SuperSonics to upgrade their Arena and thus keep the franchise in Seattle...the Seattle Government did not go for it and thus the team was doomed in Seattle...in 2007 the Sonics had the #2 overall pick and waited to see what Portland would do with the #1 pick...Portland would land either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant as the #1 overall pick and the Sonics would land the other at #2 overall...Portland went with Greg Oden leaving the Sonics to take Durant...3.5 years later and Durant has played just under 200 more games than Oden, and last season at 21 years young Durant became the youngest player ever to lead the Association in scoring...this season he is again #1 currently for scoring...fans in Oklahoma City got lucky to get this team, and looks like they have someone special to cheer for in KD...once his body fills out he could be a LBJ type of talent

C - Yao Ming (Houston Rockets)...Yao is done for the season, and likely done for his career...a sad story as far as I am concerned as Yao is a great b-ball player and even better person...whereas Greg Oden began his career right away with terrible injuries Yao only missed 2 games in his first 3 seasons, but injuries to his feet and ankles have not only jeopardized his NBA career, but may affect his quality of life...good luck big fella...Now the only way Yao got voted in this season is that the voting is available on-line so he gets hundreds of thousands of votes from Asian countries...the fans screwed this up badly (as fans often do) as Yao was #1 in votes for C while Andrew Bynum was #2...Bynum is not even back to full health/mobility yet and while he has All Star potential he is not having an All Star season due to injuries too...As for who should start at C for the West how about Utah C Al Jefferson...Big Al is undersized (listed at 6'10" but there is no way he is that tall) but has heart and work ethic that have made him a perfect fit to replace Carlos Boozer in Utah...I can see maybe allowing Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, or Kevin Love to play out of position and start at C for the West too...a dark horse may be Memphis C Marc Gasol 


Super Bowl preview coming soon... craig.ballard@hotmail.com


P.S. pictured here is Kobe on Draft night July 11, 1996 wearing the hat of the team that drafted him...the now non-existant Charlotte Hornets who traded him that same night to the Lakers for Vlade Divac

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vernon Wells trade...

My name is Craig Bllard, and I am a Jays fan...

Time for us to hold another AA meeting...around here AA stands for Alex Anthopoulos (GM of YOUR TORONTO BLUE JAYS)...This guy is less than 2 years on the job, but we have seen a lot to be impressed and excited about...

Jan 21, 2011 ends the Wells era in the T-Dot

The latest is a move that we have been discussing here through the blog, and on Sounding Offf with Spencer Miller for a while now...with the influx of Outfielders that AA has brought in like Fred Lewis (released), Corey Patterson, and Rajai Davis the team is giving several veterans playing time in the OF, and we figured they were looking to replace someone...in particular we looked together in a previous blog entry at the Jays trading 1B of the future Brett Wallace for 20 year old CF Anthony Gose http://craigballard77.blogspot.com/2010/08/aa-meeting.html  ...Gose has Superstar upside and we started our Wells-Watch then as AA had added a replacement for Vernon in Gose...Now without question Gose needs seasoning...this leaves Davis and Patterson to split the leadoff man, and CF position for at least 2011...we do see potential here for a drop off talent-wise from those 2 compared to Mount Vernon, but this deal was all about long term financial flexibility...

We look at the upcoming contract for HR King Jose Bautista...looking more and more like a hefty long-term deal is coming for Jose which would mean a team that has a budget to work with would have Wells and Bautista taking up around 35-40% of the payroll...unacceptable...we remember the albatross contract in years past of Carlos Delgado that prohibited the Jays from making any kind of moves as they were so handcuffed financially...AA has committed to young players with Superstar upside (Gose, Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar, Deck McGuire, Kyle Drabek, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow to name a few) that also have financial stability for several years...the word to use would be controllable...you know what you are paying these guys for several years and there are no surprises or contracts that you cannot get out from under (in particular this last part is why this trade will be celebrated as a great move for AA as the Wells contract was thought to be almost un-movable...AND Wells has a no-trade clause so you had to find a team with A) $$$ to pay Wells B) an interest in taking Wells C) return assets of interest to AA and D) a team of interest to Wells so he would waive his No-Trade Clause...tall task, but for AA mission accomplished...I am already seeing several news outlets criticising the Angels for taking on this contract...especially since the power #'s between Wells and Mike Napoli are so similar,but at about $17 mill per year salary difference...

The 2 sides have been slightly evasive when discussing what teams will pay whose salaries etc, but it does look like each team will pay their own new player(s) meaning the Jays will really be off the hook for the entire $86 million over the next 4 years still left on Wells' contract...The Jays get back C Mike Napoli (headed to arbitration, but likely looking at $5+ million this season...not a free agent until 2013 at the earliest) and OF Juan Rivera who is the final year of his contract and will earn $5.25 million...quick math tells us the Jays will save in the $12 million neighbourhood this season alone...what I love is the idea that AA can spend that $$$ the way he sees fit (I have great faith that AA will use that $$$ to help acquire and develop numerous assets)

Here are the newest members of YOUR TORONTO BLUE JAYS...

BIG swinging Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli...Catcher/First Base...the Jays have liked Napoli for a while now...I think we would all agree that his catching defence is decent at best which is not ideal for a young team with young pitching...but he does play First Base also...we remember AA had interest in signing Russell Martin to play some Catcher (25 year old Cather J.P. Arencibia won the MVP in 2010 at the AAA level and is set to start his MLB career so he and Napoli could platoon behind the plate) and be the right handed hitting First Baseman vs left handed pitchers to platoon with Adam Lind...Napoli brings the same things to the table, and has more power than Martin so AA got what he wanted there...Napoli has hit at least 20 HR's in the last 3 seasons...now caveat emptor  this guy strikes out a TON and hits into double plays a lot too...the Jays will look to help him get better in both areas, but again we keep in mind that the best asset in this trade was not Napoli or Juan Rivera, but the financial flexibility from 2011 going forward...


Rivera will get a chance to be in the OF mix in '11
 Juan Rivera...OF...Juan was one on several Angels players that had great 2009 seasons (.287 batting average...28 HR's...88 RBI's) but struggled in 2010 (.252 avg...15 HR's...52 RBI's)...The Jays have liked him as a 4th OF for a while too...he will have a chance in Spring Training to be in the OF mix with Jose Bautista and Travis Snider sure to be every day players with Patterson, Davis, and now Rivera to compete for the 3rd and 4th OF spots...one scenario could be having Rivera play LF vs lefties to rest the lefty hitting Snider...In his 10 seasons Rivera has hit over .300 just twice, hit 20+ HR's just twice, and drove in more that 80 runs just twice...again we say that the #1 asset in return for the Jays is the financial flexibility from 2011 going forward...

The time to try to trade Wells was now...his value was higher than it has been in ages, and you can't risk him having poor #'s this season as that would mean trying to move him next year where he would be a 33 year old decent CF making $63 million for the next 3 years...absolutely un-movable at that point...this past season Wells had more HR's and RBI's than he has had in the past several years...also had his highest Slugging Percentage and OPS in years too (OPS is On Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage...this stat is relatively new and is used as a measurement of a batter's overall performance)

My name is Craig Ballard, and I am a Jays fan...

Keep the emails and your thoughts coming... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

As all teams in the National Basketball Association have played 41 games now we are smack in the middle of the 2010-2011 season...let's take a look at some notable Good...Bad...and Ugly


The Good...

There are a few places to start here...let's start with San Antonio...the Spurs are an Association best 35-6...the depth on this squad allows them to dictate tempo, and impose their will on most nights vs most opponents...this team has 9 guys averaging at least 7 points per game...Manu Ginobli is playing great, and Tony Parker too...the depth has allowed Tim Duncan to just go with the flow and contribute wherever he can...damn good team with a damn great Coach...Greg Popovich has my respect big time

The Celtics (Jermaine O'Neal...Rajon Rondo...KG... Shaq) and Miami (LBJ...Mike Miller) have had guys miss time due to injury, but the Celts are 31-9 and Miami is 30-12 currently...The Lakers and the Thunder have had ups and downs, but still have 58 wins between them...of the teams that lost Superstars in the off-season (Raps/Cavs/Suns/Jazz) only the Jazz have been good...Jerry Sloan has this team playing great on the road and the have a 27-14 overall record (currently tied for the #3 seed in the West)

Blake Griffin is a BEAST
In LaLa Land the Clippers have 2 players playing at an All-Star level...rookie Blake Griffin in the best pick-and-roll big man to enter the Association since Amar'e...this guy is a true beast...as we speak he is in the midst of 27 straight double-doubles (team record) and his 47 points the other night are the most in a single game in the NBA so far this season...the Clipps also have 3rd year Guard Eric Gordon...this guy has a 18 ppg career average, and is up to 24 this season

Amar'e Stoudamire has been the toast of New York...he is setting team records for scoring, and is currently #2 in the NBA at 26 points per game...Amar'e and new PG Raymond Felton have the Knicks at 22-18 (6th seed in the East currently)

At 21 years young Kevin Durant was the youngest scoring leader in the history of the NBA, and he is back at it again this season leading the NBA at 28 points per game...

Kevin Love has developed into a double-double machine in Minny...21 ppg with 15 rebounds per game is what this 3rd year Forward-Center is averaging...

In Memphis PF Zach Randolph is on pace to average a double-double 5th time in the past 6 seasons, and he is looking at 20+ ppg for the 4th straight season...


Rose is nearing the high level set by Rondo

3rd year PG Derrick Rose in Chicago has the looks of Rajon Rondo last season...2009-2010 season was the coming out party for Rondo, and Rose has taken several steps forward in his overall game this season...even Kobe Bryant has commented that he appreciates seeing a player with Rose's skills that gets better from year-to-year...Kobe follows the game closely and he knows the areas that require development from Rose and after playing the Bulls a few weeks ago Kobe said he was happy and impressed that Rose is clearly working on his overall game...

The Orlando Magic pulled the triggers on multiple trades that saw Vince Carter, Mikael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, and Rashard Lewis get moved for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas...the new-look Magic lost the first 2 games with that new squad, but since that are 10-3 (the 3 losses were @ New Orleans...@ OK City...@ Boston and the 3 losses were by a combined 7 points)


The Bad...

If the playoffs started today the Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets would be surprise omissions in the West...in the East Charlotte and Milwaukee are currently on the outside looking in

Larry Brown was shown the door in Charlotte after a 9-19 start...the players have been very vocal at how much they appreciate new coach Paul Silas' offense-first approach, and have been vocal about how Larry Brown's slow-down style was nothing but frustrating...

as a GM Dumars has been horrible since '04

The 2004 NBA Title that the Detroit Pistons won has sure bought GM Joe Dumars a TON of leeway...in the years that have followed he has been terrible with his player-personnel decisions...this team is currently 15-26 and completely irrelevant in the Association

New Jersey and Minny are a combined 0-18 vs Division foes

Toronto-Sacramento-Minnesota-New Jersey-Washington all continue to be organizations that just stack L's

The Dallas Mavericks got out to an impressive 26-8 start, but Disco Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler went down to injury and as a result the Mavs have currently lost 6 straight...Dirk just came back, but the dynamic scorer Butler is lost for the season


The Ugly...

Cleveland Cavs are currently in the midst of a 13 game losing streak, and these losses are blow-out losses...their record is currently 8-32

Washington Wizards are 0-19 on the road

Players throughout the NBA are being warned on a daily basis about gambling with each other (fights and hard feelings going on all over from in-flight card games and gambling)


WHERE will Melo end up at trade deadline?

Players throughout the NBA are being warned on a daily basis about using extreme care and caution when using Social Media like Twitter...

The drama surrounding Carmelo Anthony and his future have become annoying on a Brett Favre level...every day...every story in the Association seems to be about where Melo will end up...he is sure to land in the State of New York, but what Borough?

Next up...video blogs to preview AFC and NFC Championship games... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NFC Division Weekend

The NFC Division Weekend features a pair of rematches...Seattle won @ Chicago in Week 6 with a 23-20 final...Green Bay lost @ Atlanta 20-17

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

When the Seahawks have the ball...

Mike Williams and Pete Carroll all smiles at USC
WR Mike Williams is a great story for 2010...last NFL action was in 2007, but he was re-united and it feels so good with his USC Coach Pete Carrol ...just 2 Regular Season TD's, but he led the team with 68 catches and 751 yards...in last week's stunner that eliminated New Orleans he caught 5 passes - one went for a TD...in the Week 6 win @ Chicago Williams had QB Matt Hasselbeck will be looking to spread the ball throughout guys like Williams, Ben Obomanu, and veteran Brandon Stokley...the running game has Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch...Lynch gave Seattle that memorable TD run vs New Orleans last week, and Forsett ran for a 6.7 yards per carry average in the Week 6 Bears game (his Reg Season average was 4.4)...throughout the Regular Season the Seahawks running game ranked 2nd or 3rd from the bottom...to go with a poor running game Hasselbeck threw 17 INT's and only 12 TD's...it all added up to a bottom 5 overall Offence, but they exploded for 400+ total yards last Saturday...

Bears great D-Line allows Urlacher and Briggs to attack

This Bears D is Top 10 in most Defensive categories including #2 vs the rush (90 yards per game) and #4 for points allowed (17 points per game)...on the D-Line Julius Peppers (Pro Bowl) and Israel Idonije (8 sacks each) occupy enough of the O-Line to allow great LB's Brian Urlacher (Pro Bowl)and Lance Briggs (Pro Bowl) to be aggressive...the Secondary is a group that accounted for 21 INT's, and the D as a whole forces a lot of fumbles...This D has a goal of 3 turnovers per game and that is how they are coached...for years the Bears have been great at INT's and at stripping the ball from ball carriers/wide receivers...the CB's to cover Williams and Obamanu will be veteran Charles Tillman and former Colts player Tim Jennings...D.J. Moore will cover any 3rd WR...this D knocked Favre into retirement, and the only drama for me in this game is what broadcast booth will the Bears knock Hasselbeck into as he will surely retire and become a broadcaster after this game

When Chicago has the ball... 

Lovie/Cutler/Martz needed each other to rejuvenate their careers

The Bears O was an up and down unit in 2010...the #'s are pedestrian, bad even...bottom 10 in most categories...QB Jay Cutler threw 23 TD's (good, not great) but was picked off 16 times (bad) and sacked 52 times (yikes)...In the Week 6 game vs Seattle he went down 6 times, but he did throw for 290 yards (0 TD...0 INT)...what is concerning is that his completion percentage vs Seattle was a brutal 43%...The thing here is this is the 3rd different system in as many years for Jay so we knew there would be time needed for him to adapt to this Mike Martz system (a TOUGH system to learn and master...it will take some time)...things have been better lately for the O, and with more and more understanding of the system things will only get better and better for Chicago in the short, and long term...Surely an infusion of talent on the O-Line, and in the WR group is needed for Chicago in the off-season, but some pieces are in place already...WR Johnny Knox led the team with 51 catches (tied with RB Matt Forte) and 960 receiving yards...his 5 TD's tied him for team lead with TE Greg Olsen...Know had a very impressive 18.8 yards per catch (by far #1 on the team)...Knox and Olsen will be the focal points of the passing game with WR Earl Bennett contributing too...Martz runs plays where he has Cutler throw short/quick passes to Forte which are basically their version of running plays as Martz likes to get Forte the ball in open space as he may not be a traditional RB who can bring success by pounding it into the D-Line every carry...veteran RB Chester Taylor will get playing time too...of course the dynamic Devin Hester will return kicks, and the Bears do try to get him touches on O too

Earl Thomas has played well as a rookie
No team in these playoffs allow more yards per game than do the Seahawks...when they get beat they get slaughtered...Seattle has lost 9 games this season and their average margin of defeat is an amazing 21 points...very often teams score on this D, and keep scoring...witness these #'s by weak Offences - 38 points for Tampa Bay...40 points for San Francisco...33 points for Oakland...31 points by Denver...This is a unit led by LB's Lofa Tatupu and David Hawthorne, but has little depth...the unit is middle of the pack for forcing fumbles, and had just 12 INT's...the Secondary has veterans Lawyer Malloy and Marcus Trufant to go with great rookie Earl Thomas...the pass rush is brought by Raheem Brock and Chris Clemons...some talent here, but not a ton


Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons

When the Packers have the ball...


Greg Jennings doing a Lambeau Leap
 This Packers O is Top 10 in the NFL in numerous categories...The unit is led by QB Aaron Rodgers who gets major production from Pro Bowl WR Greg Jennings and Pro Bowl LT Chad Clifton...the running game lost #1 RB Ryan Grant in Week 1 and never really found a steady and productive replacement...rookie James Starks ran for 101 yards in all of the Regular Season, but against Philly he romped for 123...If the Pack are really going to get that kind of a contribution in the running game then this O will put up points...the passing game is strong...Rodgers and Jennings, plus the ageless Donald Driver, and against Philly 9 different players caught a pass from Rodgers...despite losing to this Falcons team in Week 12 Rodgers passed for 344 yards and hit 8 different players...the #1 rusher that day was Rodgers with 51 yards and a TD, but RB Brandon Jackson had just 26 yards on 10 carries...either Jackson or Starks will have to produce vs the Falcons, but the Falcons D is more vulnerable to attack through the air so look for a big day from Aaron Rodgers...


 This Falcons D allowed 105 yards per game on the ground (10th best in the NFL) and allowed just 18 points per game (5th best in the NFL)...Pro Bowl DE John Abraham (pictured here) is the only pass rush threat...Abraham had double-digit Sacks for the 6th time in his career this season...ILB Curtis Lofton is very good...CB Brent Grimes (not related to Frank Grimes) and former Texans CB Dunta Robinson will both be heavily tested vs the Packers...the Secondary was Bottom 10 as far as yards allowed through the air, but the team did get a very impressive 22 INT's...on Saturday I will be looking at SS William Moore as a guy who needs a big INT...the Week 12 game vs Green Bay was a W, but the D was torched through the air...a key on Saturday will be containing Packers WR Greg Jennings...Jennings burned most teams this season, and Week 12 was no exception as he burned the Falcons for 119 yards on 5 catches...


When the Falcons have the ball...

#2 Matt Ryan has all eyes on him as the leader of this O
QB Matt Ryan has an impressive 20-2 record at home in the Dome...Ryan threw for 3,705 yards with 28 TD's vs just 9 INT's, and had a career high QB Rating of 91.0 during his Pro Bowl 2010 season...WR Roddy White also was named to the Pro Bowl and he is a stud...2010 was White's 4th straight season of 1,150+ yards, plus for the second straight season he had double-digit TD catches...Veteran TE Tony Gonzalez is in the 14th season of his Hall Of Fame career, and he again was named to the Pro Bowl...FB Jason Snelling and WR Michael Jenkins also contribute...as far as the running attack goes, enter Michael Turner...after injuries slowed his 2009 season Turner rebounded this season to get 1,371 and 12 TD's this season and was also named to the Pro Bowl...in the Week 12 matchup vs this same Packers D Turner ran for 110 yards and a TD at a very impressive 4.8 yards per carry...Atlanta is middle of the pack in most Offence categories, but they combine all their pieces to still be able to average 26 points per game (5th best in the NFL)...the Falcons scored 47 TD's and the Packers got 46


Clay Matthews is a MONSTER
This Packers D is very good...Top 5 in several categories including #2 in points allowed per game at just 15.0...There are 3 Pro Bowl studs on this unit...2nd year OLB Clay Matthews had 13.5 Sacks...The defending Defensive Player Of The Year CB Charles Woodson had a career high 92 tackles this season...FS Nick Collins was named to the Pro Bowl for a third straight season...ILB's A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop each had 100+ tackles this season...remarkable production form those 2...on the D-Line B.J Raji and Cullen Jenkins give the Packers their pass rush from guys not named Matthews...the Secondary has Tramon Williams and Charlie Peprah to go with Woodson and Collins...the Packers 24 INT's were 2nd in the League...

AFC Divisional Weekend preview is below... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

AFC Division Round

We see that the AFC takes the whole idea of this weekend being Divisional Weekend seriously...both match-ups feature Division rivals...actually both games feature crazy/insane/intense rivalries

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

When The Pats have the ball...

Gronkowski and Hernandez

6th best D for points allowed vs #1 O for points scored...To talk about how good Tom Brady has been/should be/will be is obvious...the guy is special, truly...but Tom Terrific will not rush for many (if any) yards, and he will surely not catch any passes so let's look at other players that contribute to this 11 man unit for New England...in our Pre-Season blogs we looked at Belichick drafting two new toys for Brady in TE's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez...each had the potential to give Brady a new weapon, and each has, especially in short yardage or goal line scenarios (16 TD's from Brady to these 2 guys this season)...The Pats run more multiple TE formations than any other team in the NFL thanks to the talent and depth there...on the outside of course is the amazing Wes Welker, and the rejuvenated Deion Branch...the O-Line does their job by keeping Brady upright (sacked just 25 times...both teams have 2 O-Lineman on the Pro Bowl roster) to spread the ball throughout the roster...the once non-existent running game has had a boost with the addition of Danny Woodhead and his gaudy 5.6 yards per carry...the Pats have carved the best D's in the NFL and will get a third challenge from this Jets D (Pats looked weak in a 28-14 Week 2 loss, but looked amazing in a Week 13 45-3 beat down)...the TE's are the key for the Brady Bunch...Wes Welker is great at running the short/underneath routes, and Branch can catch too, but Brady has been killing LB's and Safeties all year that are trying to cover the talented TE's in the middle of the field...The Pats are a Top 10 running team, especially lately with Woodhead, and we recall the Colts eliminating the Jets last season when they got a surprising 101 yards from the combo of Joseph Addai/Donald Brown...that was at a 4.2 yards per carry average...compare that to this past Saturday's paltry 3.7 yards per carry that the Colts managed and we see that even teams that are prolific through the air still have to bring a rushing element to their attack if they want to eliminate this D

The Jets D has Top 5 stats in almost every category, but the feeling is that as the season progressed they regressed...it was looking like if you can avoid Darrelle Revis and just pick on the other DB's you can make hay vs this D...that was not the case in the Wild Card game...Revis was amazing holding WR Reggie Wayne to 1 yard on 1 catch, but the rest of squad was good too...Safeties Eric Smith and Brodney Pool will need to have even better games in Foxborough, especially as they will need to account for the aforementioned Patriots TE's...for me the loss a short time ago of S Jim Leonard and really the loss of DT Kris Jenkins are monster losses for this Jets D, especially in this game...Leonard because of the Pats TE and running threat, and Jenkins is a huge loss IMO as I believe to beat Tom Brady you need to be able to bring pressure up the middle to collapse his passing pocket...the Ravens and Steelers are both much better equipped for the task as the Jets lost Jenkins some time ago now...teams try to pressure Brady on the edges with blitzes, but coming from the edge takes 1 extra second and that is all the time Brady needs to find the match-up he wants to exploit and deliver the football...the last time that Brady threw an INT I still had hopes for the Dolphins season...that was a l o n g time ago...that is bad news for the Gotham Green as they only forced 12 INT's all season long

When The Jets have the ball...

Of the 4 remaining teams in the AFC the Jets with Mark Sanchez have the worst QB...I would not say Sanchez is bad, and I would not say he did not take steps forward in 2010, but we would all rank Brady/Flacco/Big Ben ahead of Sanchez...The Jets coaching staff credit Sanchez for the play call at the end of the game on Saturday where he put a good pass on Braylon Edwards...that allowed Nick Folk to kick a much closer Field Goal to win the Colts game...his maturation and his accuracy on that play are both examples of his progression...still, we have said all year if you are going to go into Foxborough to play the Brady Bunch you had better bring your A+ Offense which we said is 30+ points with zero turnovers...Dropped passes were not an issue for the Jets in the Dome, but in frigid Foxborough we could see a different story...there will be multiple times where Sanchez and the passing game will need to convert third-and-long situations leaving Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Dustin Keller to go against a poor New England Secondary (only Washington and Houston were worse for yards allowed in 2010)...now to be fair to that Pats Secondary usually teams are forced early in a game to throw a lot vs the Pats D as Tom Terrific normally has one or two TD's on the board before smoke from the pre-game fireworks has even cleared out so we can cut them some slack...the numbers are very bad, but it does seem to be a unit that is improving...For me the Jets will have to really rely on the running game to beat the Pats...New E allows 4.2 yards per carry and Ladanian Tomlinson needs to have a similar day to the one he had on Wild Card Weekend ie 2 TD's...the guy I will say is the key on Sunday is Shonn Greene...do we see similar talent give-or-take between Ray Rice and Greene?  Well then let's remember the 83 yard TD scamper on the games first play 1 year ago from the day I write this (Jan 10, 2010) to stun the Pats, and stun the crowd...before anyone could catch their breath from that play the Ravens had added another TD and 5 minutes into that game, at New England by the way, the Ravens led 14-0 and they never looked back...If this game plan by the Jets O is standard and isn't planning to try to get Greene multiple touches then I can't see anything but a Pats blowout W...Greene ran for just 2 TD's all season...I think he needs 2 TD's this game alone to have the Jets competitive in this one


MONSTER season for Jerod Mayo
For New England their starting CB's are both young and banged up...2nd year CB Kyle Arrington and rookie CB Devin McCourty (2nd in the NFL with 7 INT's) will be hoping that inclimate weather can assist them in stifling the Jets passing game...Strong Safety Brandon Meriweather is in his 4th season and he is actually the veteran of this young Secondary...the play maker on D is ILB Jerod Mayo...Mayo's 175 tackles were 15 more than any one else in the NFL (wow)...OLB Rob Ninkovich has come on lately too...
All-in-all it seems to me like Baltimore and Pitt have legit chances to beat this Pats team...the Jets just do not seem to me like a roster that can beat Tom Terrific et al...

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

When Baltimore has the ball...

Can Joe Flacco get the passing game going?!?!
Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron (Head Coach of Miami's 1-15 2007 season) says that in practice everything is on point and the potential is obvious and real, but the O has been pedestrian for 5+ weeks at this point...the good news for the passing game was the 256 yards Joe Flacco put up @ KC, but what remains troubling to me is the lack of production throwing to the WR's...Anquan Boldin was brought in to be the guy to make the big catches for this team...he was solid with 5 catches, one for a TD vs KC, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason each had only 1 catch...Flacco did his damage with TE Todd Heap (10 catches...108 yards) and Ray Rice caught 5 passes and moved the chains through the passing game...finding that kind of success over the middle by using RB's and TE's in the passing game is very difficult vs Pitt...I am troubled by the thought that Baltimore has a struggling passing game currently, and @ Pittsburgh with that crowd and that D is hardly the cure for what ails you...as a road team in the playoffs we know you need to have a good game rushing the football, but Rice and Willis McGahee will likely have their biggest moments when they are called on to stay in the backfield to protect the QB...any whiffs by would-be blockers on any of the numerous Blittsgurgh QB pressures will result in multiple sacks of Flacco, and/or turnovers...(side note - do Bills fans notice that on Division Weekend both Willis McGahee and Marshawn Lynch will be in action for their respective teams?!?!)...for me Cam Cameron has to find a way to allow for Ray Rice to have the type of game where he gets multiple touches on the ground and through the air...

This Pittsburgh D is #1 for fewest points allowed per game (14.5) and #1 for fewest rushing yards allowed per game (this team allows an average of only 62.8 yards per game...wow)...they run a 3-4 base D (as does Baltimore, New E, and the Jets)...this team has slightly more INT's than Baltimore, and way more Forced Fumbles and Fumble Recoveries...the unit is banged up...really at this time of the year for any team that is par for the course...Troy Polamalu is on the same level as far as controlling a game with talent and intelligence as guys like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are known to be on the Offensive side...ILB's James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons are healthier perhaps than most on this unit and they will have to control how much of a factor Todd Heap is over the middle - and Ray Rice out of the backfield...a big game is likely needed this weekend from S Ryan Clark...we know the key guys will be Polamalu and OLB James Harrison and the havoc they wreak on a regular basis

When Pittsburgh has the ball...

New BFF
This O-Line is anchored by a rookie centre in Maurkice Pouncey, an underrated story this year...Pouncey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie this season...he hands off to Big Ben Roethlisberger who put up 3,200 passing yards with 17 TD's vs just 5 INT's despite being suspended by the NFL for games 1 through 4...for years Big Ben has had a rhythm and timing with WR Hines Ward, but lately he has found a new BFF in WR Mike Wallace...Wallace will get multiple opportunities to run deep routes in any game with his 4.33 speed...Mewelde Moore will be back from injury, plus rookie WR Emanual Sanders also contributes to the passing game...of course we know how good TE Heath Miller is...Miller and Ward are both great at adding to the running game as blockers too...the man they are blocking for is Rashard Mendenhall...the 1,273 rushing yards with 13 TD's looks really good, but his 3.9 yards per carry average is down from last season when he romped for 4.6...for me 3.9 is good, not great...we mentioned how the RB's will be put in critical spots for Baltimore as far as pass protection and picking up the blitzes - same thing to be said here about Mendenhall, and from time to time Isaac Redman...the Steelers will be wary of where Ed Reed is at all times...they know if they do not allow him to get a turnover then they have a great chance for a home W

STILL on another level

Speaking of Reed there is a question as to how effective he will be on Saturday as he is with his family this week in Louisiana attending to a situation where his younger brother jumped into the Mississippi River last Friday as he was running from the police and he has not yet been found...the one thing though is that Reed knows this D, and knows this Steelers O inside and out so he shouldn't be too far behind the game plan this week as far as X's and O's go...this Ravens D is Top 5 in points allowed per game (16.9) and rushing yards allowed per game (93.9)...future Hall Of Fame LB Ray Lewis is the inspirational leader of this unit...at 35 years old his 139 tackles led the team, and were his most in the last 6 seasons...Lewis had a Sack and a Forced Fumble in their Wild Card win @ KC...the entire D surrendered just 161 yards to KC...OLB Terrell Suggs is back on the map as a bad-ass s.o.b...he had 11 Regular Season Sacks, plus 2 more @ KC...Suggs said earlier this week that the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry is "definitely Armageddon"...Strong Safety Dawan Landry had a great season, but his INT vs KC last week was his first INT of the year

NFC Divisional Weekend blog to follow soon... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Roberto Alomar

On July 24, 2011 the greatest Toronto Blue Jays player ever (IMO) will be inducted in to the MLB Hall Of Fame...

Alomar in his early days...1988
 In 1985 the Toronto Blue Jays were lead by Manager Bobby Cox and a roster that included Jays greats like Bell, Barfield, Moseby, Upshaw, Whitt, Stieb and was owned by Labatts Breweries...that was the year that the Jays made their first ever trip to the postseason...it was also the first season of pro ball for Roberto Alomar...by the 1986 season Robbie was already winning minor league batting titles and was getting on the map as a big time prospect...this was all in the San Diego Padres organization, and Robbie made his MLB debut as a Padre in 1988...it was early in his career, but Alomar was already creating a rep as a slick fielding second baseman who had a flare for robbing hits, especially up the middle...

2 years later in 1990 Jays GM (and fellow 2010 Hall Of Fame inductee) Pat Gillick pulled the trigger on a trade that would alter the future of the Jays...out were fan favs Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, and in was Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar (I remember a lot of initial criticism for Gillick making this move)...this was now a Jays team with a new home (Skydome having opened the season prior) and a new nucleus...hard to believe that Alomar played for 6 teams after his 5 year stint as a Jay, but it was his time spent north of the border that established him as a legit star, and a legit Hall Of Fame candidate...

In his career Robbie was a 12 time All Star including all 5 years with the Jays...10 time Gold Glove winner including all 5 years with the Jays...2 time World Series Champ and we know those were both with the Jays...Alomar's career #'s are Hall worthy... .300 career batting average (.307 as a Jay which is the Club record) - 2,724 hits - 210 HR's - 474 stolen bases (82% success rate as a Jay)  - despite usually hitting in the #2 slot in the batting order Robbie still amassed 1,134 RBI's...Robbie hit for average, pretty good power, drove in runs, scored runs, stole bases, even hit from both sides of the plate...pretty much the entire package...
 
Alomar strrreeetched out to rob a basehit - standard procedure for him
Of course all of that speaks to what a dynamic offensive threat Robbie was, but Alomar made his name on the defensive side of things...new and "modern" ways of evaluating defenders with advanced defensive metrics show that Alomar was actually not a very good defender...I call on you to ignore any of that and just recall your memories...there is no formula, no metrics, no info when it comes to your memories...can any stat on earth show you that Robbie was an average defender?!?!  I bet it can't...even looking at these advanced metrics I still cannot be swayed even slightly that Alomar was not as good as I ever saw at his position...but for me the real testament to Robbie's brilliance would be to ask any pitcher that took the mound with Robbie as his 2nd baseman and ask them if they literally thanked God again and again for the human vacuum at 2nd that protected them from base hits up the middle, that protected them from base hits sneaking into right field past the first baseman, that turned seemingly impossible double-play after double-play...sometimes stats tell the accurate story, every now and then stats do not do us any justice, and any stat that takes away from Robbie's D seems invalid to me as I know what I saw day-in/day-out for 5 years as a Jay, and years after that too
To be Inducted a player needs to recieve 75% of the votes tallied by the voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America...in 2010 (Robbie's first year of Hall eligibility) Alomar recieved 73.65% of the 75% needed to get in...this year he recieved 90% (I still ask what the other 10% are smoking/thinking/doing)...As a Jays fan, and as a passionate baseball fan I remain outraged at the 2010 Induction votes that kept Robbie out 1 year...For any Hall Of Fame voter who left Alomar off the ballot last year shame on you...the consensus thinking is that this was a result of the spitting incident with Umpire John Hirshbeck in 1997...if so then I really say shame on you voters...A) why do you think it is your duty here to have some sort of moral stand on an incident that happened 13+ years ago?!?!  and B) is there anyone out there holding you to your mistakes of the past and not allowing well deserved honours to be bestowed to you?!?!  and furthermore C) have you done any research into the aftermath of that incident?!?!  Both men should be praised for the work and support each has done for the other persons charities over these 13+ years...a TON of good came out of that incident and to have so much good come from that is a testiment to both Alomar and Hirshbeck as friends, but really speaks to who they are as quality people...

Robbie celebrates after hitting THE HR
My fav Roberto Alomar moment is likely one we all have as a fav, or at least one we all remember fondly...October 11, 1992 Game 4 in the AL playoffs vs the Oakland A's...Jays lead the series 2-1 but the A's used a 5 run 3rd inning off Jack Morris to have a 6-1 lead going into the 8th inning...the Jays would rally for 3 runs in the 8th to make the score 6-4 Oakland...the 8th inning rally was snuffed out when the A's brought in the unhittable Dennis Eckersley and Eck struck out Ed Sprague to end the rally...Eck pumped his fist at Sprague and the Jays dugout...I have personally had Devon White, Rich Hacker (third base coach for that team) and Pat Hentgen tell me the story of that moment and I get shivers every time...they all speak about as complete calm and confidence the team had even as Eck was showing them up to end the top of the 8th...they all said the team grabbed their gloves and headed out to defend thebottom of the 8th, and to a man all were saying "we are going to get this guy"...the guy of course was Dennis Eckersley and the get came courtesy of Robbie's game-tying 2 run HR off of Eck in the 9th that sent the game to extra innings (the celebration pose at home plate as he watched the ball disappear into the right field bleechers  is pictured here, and is also the silhouette for his clothing line Second 2 None... http://www.second2nonewear.com/ )...the Jays would score in the 11th to win Game 4 with a 7-6 final and take a commanding 3-1 series lead...2 games later the Jays were in their first ever World Series and Robbie was a major part of that...thank you Robbie!

The MLB Hall Of Fame is the Hall Of Fame and as a Jays fan this year is particularly special as Gillick and Alomar will have the Induction Ceremony get a great Canadian feel to it


Robbie at the mic after Spencer's speech in St Marys
 Robbie was already inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall Of Fame (located in St Marys Ontario...BIG UP to St Marys Ontario!!!) and his Induction speech was written and given by Spencer Miller..Spencer is the host of the weekly sports show I am on called Sounding Offf with Spencer Miller (on thatchannel.com live every Thursday from 4-5pm or you can check the podcasts) and as a longtime Alomar friend he is also doing the Cooperstown speech which is awesome...

Finally there will be a Blue Jays player in Cooperstown and I am so proud and excited...CATCH THE TASTE!!!

craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wild Card Weekend Sunday games

Baltimore @ KC...The Chiefs are a surprise entry into the 2010 Super Bowl tourney...we looked at this team in depth early in the year and we marvelled at the young talent, plus the fact that they got to play not only AFC West teams, but their crossover Division was the putrid NFC West (they went 4-0 vs the NFC West)...the Chiefs re-established Arrowhead as a top stadium as far as home field advantage goes...7-1 at home this year with the only loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 game vs Oakland...there is some issue here with these #'s though...only once (Week 1 vs San Diego) did the Chiefs beat a team with a winning record...at a gaudy 12-4 the Ravens certainly qualify as a team with a winning record...despite the Steelers losing Big Ben Roethlisberger for games 1 through 4 Pitt still finished with an identical 12-4 record, but had a better Division record at 5-1 than did Baltimore at 4-2 (Week 2 loss @ Cincy and Week 13 loss to Pitt are the reasons Baltimore is even playing on Wild Card Weekend instead of at home resting as the #2 seed)


Ngata and Lewis...aggressive...good
 Sporting a robust 167 yards per game on the ground the KC Chiefs are the best rushing attack in the NFL...they will meet the top 5 rush D of the Baltimore Ravens...this is strength vs strength...the Ravens strength is Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dawan Landry up the middle vs what KC brings to the table which is great RB play from Jamaal Charles (1,467 yards) and Thomas Jones (896)...Baltimore has their running game as a weapon too with Ray Rice, but they need the passing game to get re-established...

QB Joe Flacco has 24 TD's vs just 5 INT's in his last 14 games, but the last 3 games have seen him throw for well under 200 yards each time...Flacco is at his best when he is spreading the ball throughout talented players like Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Derrick Mason, and when he gets Ray Rice catches too then the Ravens can really move the ball...For KC the receiving threats are not nearly as deep...Dwayne Bowe might be the best WR on Arrowhead field this Sunday, but the drop off after him is significant...Chris Chambers has been in and out of the starting spot and has had very little production...rookie TE Tony Moeaki is respectable, but his 3 TD's tie him with Jamaal Charles for second on the team...Bowe is first with 15 TD's...you see what I mean about drop off...add to that the fact that Bowe and fellow Pro Bowl Guard Brian Waters will not practise this week due to illness, and may not even be able to play on Sunday

Ultimately I believe that the Ravens will do a good enough job vs the KC running attack to force situations - plural - where Chiefs QB Matt Cassell (27 TD's...7 INT's) will have to make a play...that seems like a recipe for a forced pass that gets deflected by the ball-hawking Ravens D and ends up in the hands of Ed Reed...Jamaal Charles has never faced a D that will be as ferocious as this Ravens D will be this Sunday...as a result I can see the Ravens D forcing multiple fumbles too

Prediction...Baltimore 27 KC 13



Aaron Rogers vs Mike Vick
 Green Bay @ Philly...now I am just writing these blogs in order of game time, but could it be that the best is saved for last?!?!  Two intriguing teams square off Sunday night...the redemption story of Michael Vick and the Eagles (10-6) vs the last team to qualify for the playoffs, the Green Bay Packers (10-6)

Vick had a Pro Bowl season, but there is concern with his play as the League may be catching up to Vick...witness the #'s...0 INT's during his first 7 games when he was the toast of the NFL, but 6 INT's in the last 5 games, plus his completion percentage has dropped each of the last 4 weeks...we saw how marvelous he was in the last 7 minutes of that New York Giants W, but we saw how pedestrian he looked on Tuesday Night Football vs the Vikings...Vick rested his thigh bruise that he sustained in that Vikings game as he sat out the meaningless Week 17 game vs Dallas...he is vowing to be 100%, and more good news for Eagles fans as it appears that WR DeSean Jackson and CB Asante Samuel will be "good to go" according to Head Coach Andy Reid

On the other side of the ball we have Aaron Rodgers...Rodgers missed a game this season due to concussion or he would have amassed 4,000+ passing yards for the third straight year...that concussion was a result of Rodgers scrambling for several yards then sliding poorly and getting the brunt of a second hit (this one was to the back of his head) as he hit the ground awkwardly...the O-Line did a measurably better job in 2010 keeping Rogers upright than in 2009...sacks were down from 50 to 31...they face an Eagles D that is not as vaunted as units past...middle of the pack in most categories, but just #21 in the NFL for points allowed...Rogers lost his running game Week 1 in a 27-20 win @ Philly when RB Ryan Grant was lost for the season with a wrecked ankle...they also only got 5 games from stud-in-the-making TE Jermichael Finley...but Rodgers has rhythm and timing with Greg Jennings (1,265 Rec yards plus 12 TD's), plus the ageless Donald Driver to go with James Jones and Jordy Nelson...


Green Bay may not have an answer for LeSean McCoy

This looks like a game where the team whose big play guy makes the big play wins...for me that is DeSean Jackson vs Greg Jennings...both outstanding WR's...both Pro Bowlers...both game-changers...both will have their hands full as Jackson will have Charles Woodson to contend with, while Jennings has to deal with a healthy Asante Samuel...I see a potential wash here, but Philly canstill add LeSean McCoy (leading rusher and leading receiver for the Eagles) and of course Vick as guys who can beat you in multiple ways for big plays...

Prediction...too much big play potential for Philly...Eagles 27 Packers 17

Saturdays games are in the blog below... craig.ballard@hotmail.com

Wild Card Weekend...Saturday games


Sean Peyton & Pete Carroll
 New Orleans @ Seattle...on paper this is about as big a mis-match as is even possible for a playoff game in any sport...the Seahawks are the NFC West champs and are the only playoff team ever with a losing record (7-9), while the Saints won 11 games but thanks to the 12 W's by Division foe Hotlanta the Saints go marching in to the playoffs as a Wild Card team...

Defending Super Bowl Champs vs worst Division Champ ever...

No playoff team allows more yards per game than do the 'Hawks...no team in the NFC allows fewer yards per game than do the Saints...

No playoff team allows more points per game than do the Seahawks...

Seattle rushes for a horrible average of 3.7 yards per carry...both teams were bad at scoring TD's via the running game (Seattle 13 rushing TD's while New Orleans a terrible 9 rushing TD's)...the Saints got #1 RB Chris Ivory back last week, but an injury has now ended his season, and late word is the season is also over for RB Pierre Thomas leaving RB Reggie Bush and RB Julius Jones to carry the ball...New Orleans rushed for 94 yards per game (4th worst in the League) while Seattle gets only 89 rushing yards per game (2nd worst in the League)

The passing game is where the separation of these two offenses really gets big...Drew Brees vs either Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst...Brees and the Saints complete passes at a higher completion rate than any team in the NFL, while the Seahawks are in the bottom third of most passing categories (bottom 5 in several categories)...

Seattle WR Mike Williams is an under-the-radar great story in 2010 IMO...former Detroit 1st round pick in 2005 (#10 overall...remember the Matt Millen years in Detroit when he drafted WR after WR in the 1st round and only Calvin Johnson worked out?!?!) leads the 'Hawks with 65 catches for 751 yards after being out of the NFL since 2007...Williams was a star at USC under current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and he has found success in Seattle

The Saints spread the ball around with Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees...Marques Colston got 1,000+ receiving yards and Lance Moore and Robert Meachem get their share of catches too...add TE's Jeremy Shockey and Jimmy Graham, plus of course Reggie Bush and Devery Henderson and we see a lot of options for the uber talented Brees to spread the football too...

The Saints Secondary is a top 5 unit, while the Seahawks is bottom 5

This is the game in Wild Card Weekend where all the trends/stats/rosters significantly favour one side....Seattle's crowd gives them a great home field advantage as they cause more false starts for their opponents than any other stadium, but that is unlikely enough to de-rail the Saints attack...


Prediction...New Orleans wins 34-13




Loudmouth Jackass vs calm...cool..collected
 New York Jets @ Indianapolis...rematch of last years AFC Title game...a game that the Colts won to get into the Super Bowl, yet the Jets remember that they led the game at halftime only to get Peyton Manning-ed in the 2nd half...

As per usual the loudmouthed jackass Rex Ryan is making statements etc that put him as the lead story in a Jets game, but Ryan will not throw a pass, rush for any yards, or make any tackles so let's look at the people who are actually important here... 

Peyton Manning vs Mark Sanchez...no team threw for more yards than the Colts, while only the KC Chiefs had less passing yards than the Jets amongst AFC playoff teams in 2010...

Manning usually is amazing at passing the football, but this season he was amazing with names like Dallas Clark Anthony Gonzalez, and Austin Collie out of action...Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon have been good, bordering on great for Manning, and the team has had contributions from Practise Squad players like Jacob Tamme, Blair White, plus little used guys like Donald Brown, Javarris James, Brandon James, and Mike Hart...

The Jets made upgrades to their WR unit by adding Braylon Edwards during 2009, and then trading for Santonio Holmes in 2010...they also added LaDanian Tomlinson to add a RB for Sanchez that is adept at catching the check-down passes out of the backfield...that talent goes with TE Dustin Keller to give Sanchez options and weapons...the main issue with the passing game on Saturday is likely the health oh Mark Sanchez's throwing shoulder...

The Jets D does not resemble the shut-down unit they were in 2009, but the stats are still promising as they rank #3 in total yards allowed...#6 vs the pass and #8 sacks...all of that bodes well vs the Colts who have a poor running game (only Washington, Arizona, and Seattle had worse running attacks in 2010) and as we know will rely on Peyton to carry the day...

Only the KC Chiefs have a better running game than the Jets (for teams who made the playoffs) while no playoff team defended the run as poorly as the Colts did...


Super Bowl III rematch...Broadway Joe Super Bowl
 The Jets were very good with 40 Sacks, while the Colts got a middle-of-the-pack 30 Sacks...but the Colts only allowed their QB to get sacked an amazing 16 times (best in the NFL...by contrast the worst was Chicago who allowed 56)

My prediction here is the team with the fewest dropped passes wins the game...I will predict that Indy will have fewer dropped passes and thus win the game...Prediction - 23-16 Colts win

Sunday's games to soon follow... craig.ballard@hotmail.com