Hello once more from the wide world of sports. Yes football season has just started and maybe one day I will get to finish my AFC Preview (probably not because I am just too lazy to analyze the remaining 16 teams). However, with the NY Football Giants effectively embarrassing the Washington Redskins last night in East Rutherford, I would like to present you the ten most compelling story lines for the upcoming season and my thought provoking/dead-on/genius analysis.

1. What will Brett Farve do in Jets green?

Nobody really knows what to expect from Farve. Will he be the Brett from last year when he led the Packers to a 13-3 record with a berth in the NFC Championship game or the gunslinger from 2005 and 2006 who had a 38:47 TD to INT ratio and looked more finished than grandma’s overcooked Christmas turkey? I believe he will be a mixture of the two. The Jets will be better, maybe even compete for a playoff spot, but nothing really beyond that. And really, its not what he does during the season, its what he does after that is important for THE Brett Farve Network/ESPN.

2. Can Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers to the playoffs?

Ladies and Gentleman, YES HE CAN! Aaron Rodgers, if you remember was a pretty good quarterback at Cal and was expected to be a top ten pick. He then fell to the Packers and was lucky enough to rot on the bench for a few years until he was ready. Well, he is now ready. Look for the mountain man to put up good numbers this year as he leads the Packers back to the NFC Championship game (which he will also lose).

3. Can the Patriots go unbeaten again this season?

No. I can not be more emphatic in my answer. I have always believed in Karma and I trust that the Football G-Ds are going to seek revenge on the New England Patriots for running up the score and cheating their way to glory. They are still the best team in the AFC East, but the gap has closed significantly. And lets be honest, this team is a ticking time bomb. Lets look at the checklist: Over-inflated ego head coach (check!), celebrity QB (check!), aging defense (check), and one crazy drama driven receiver (CHECK!). The Giants exposed the Patriots in the Super Bowl for having an offensive line that was prone to pressure. And this rattled Tom Brady. I think teams are going to realize that giving him time to pick you apart is a bad idea. As long as you limit his throws to underneath routes to the TE’s and Wes Welker, they are beatable because this team is one-dimensional on offense (paging Laurence Maroney). Also, Randy Moss is a head case waiting to happen. Once he stops catching all of those touchdowns, he is going to go into crazy Randy Moss mode. I can’t wait to see/hear/read about Bill Simmons crying about the downfall of the Patriots (and Sports guy, how about you write about something other than your Boston teams. I thought you were supposed to be a national columnist.)

4. Will the Cowboys actually win a playoff game this year?

No, they won’t. Tony Romo, while a nice quarterback, doesn’t seem to have the testicular fortitude to will his team to a tough late season victory. They have the greatest collection of talent south of the Mason-Dixon line and yet they assume that because they are so good, they should just be handed the championship. Gentlemen, you must earn this trophy. That is why teams who play hard every game win it (Steelers and Giants come to mind). They will be good again, but they just aren’t tough enough to win games in the playoffs.

5. Will the New Orleans Saints turn into the 2006 Saints because of Hurricane Gustav?

I think the better question is will the Saints home field be under attack every hurricane season and force them to turn into football nomads? I believe the Saints will be much better this year. I really like their skill position players and their division is up for grabs. They will probably have a season similar to the 2006 post-Katrina season, so, yes, they will turn into the 2006 Saints.

6. Why are the Giants getting no respect after winning the Superbowl last year?

Because everyone thought that last year was a fluke. That they were lucky to be there. However, they proved them wrong but are still getting the same treatment this season. This year the experts see the loss of Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to injury are too great to overcome. I say hogwash. This team is loaded at running back and the defensive line. Eli Manning is ready to make a jump to elite status and Plaxico Burress is a top five wide receiver. By the end of the season, the pundits will all be saying how the Giants came out of nowhere again this year. Maybe then they will stop underestimating the number one team from New York.

7. Will any teams flirt with losing all 16 games?

Yes and they will be the Falcons, Dolphins, Ravens, and St. Louis. Each of these teams has glaring holes and so many issues that I could not possibly name them all, so I will just same one from each team. The Falcons and Ravens are starting rookie quarterbacks (more on that later) who are going to wish they had never been drafted. St. Louis has one of the worst head coaches of all time in Scott Linehan and the Dolphins just plain suck. Now, if any of you have watched the show, this past episode, I called my colleague Justin Fensterman an idiot (among many other things) because he said the Dolphins had a chance at making the playoffs. Theoretically, yes they do, but in reality, where most of us live, they have no chance in hell in winning more than 4 games this year. None of these teams will win more than 5 games this year and the Falcons and Dolphins will battle it out again for who is the worst team in all of football.

8. Which rookie quarterback is going to have a better season: Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco?

While neither of these players are going to be very good this year, I believe that Matt Ryan is going to have a better year statistically and Joe Flacco will win one or two more games (I know, I’m taking the middle ground, sorry). Both are going to throw more interceptions than touchdowns and have a completion percentage hover around 55 percent. But Matt Ryan also has better receivers (Roddy White is better than all of the Ravens wide outs put together) and Michael “Burner” Turner is going to have a breakout year. He is in a better position to play a little better than Flacco right now. Long term, lets just hope they don’t develop David Carr Syndrome.

9. How much will Peyton Manning’s removed bursa sac affect his game?

I don’t really know because I’m not much a medical guy. But if he says he is fine, I am going to take his word for it. I think that he is the best quarterback in the game and I am still picking him in fantasy drafts. What concerns me more about the Colts is the injury bug that still hasn’t left them. Now Jeff Saturday, their all-pro center is out and its going to be tough to replace him. However, Peyton will be fine and I look forward to the Colts reclaiming their status as the class of the AFC.

10. How crazy is Chad Ocho Cinco?

Britney Spears Crazy. Who changes their name from Chad Johnson to Chad Ocho Cinco? He has literally gone into the deep end. But I feel bad for him. He obviously does not have the pysche to withstand the daily pressures of playing football and being held to certain expectations. There was a reason the Bengals didn’t trade him this summer: nobody wanted his crazy ass on their team. And the only team that did want him would only have taken him if he changed his last name to Jones to fit in with the rest of the roster. Folks, stay away from Chad Ocho Cinco. He is crazy!

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND:

1. Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton: Which one is starting in midseason? Kyle Orton.

2. WIll Wade Phillips lose his job after this season? Yes.

3. Playoff Picks? AFC: Patriots, Cleveland, Indy, San Diego, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh. NFC: Cowboys, Packers, Saints, Arizona, Giants, and Eagles.

4. Championship Picks: AFC: Indy over Jacksonville. NFC: Packers over Giants

5. Superbowl Pick: Indy over Packers

6. Will Brett Farve retire at the end of the year? Undoubtedly.

BEARD

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NFC South:  My question to the world, how will Jeremy Shockey handle New Orleans?  I see some major problems brewing.  However, I do like the outlook of this division, with this divisional race coming down to the wire.

New Orleans Saints (9-7):  After a dissapointingyear where they went from national darlings to underachievers in a matter of seconds, they are back again with an easy schedule and lowered expectations.  Fantasy Pick:Drew Brees has established himself as a top-5 quarterback in New Orleans and the addition of Jeremy Shockey should only help him as defenses can no longer key on Marques Colston.  I look for Brees to have a huge year, lets say 4000 yards passing, 35 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.  Burning Question:  The Saints took two huge gambles this offseason by trading for MLB Jonathan Vilma and TE Jeremy Shockey.  Both are All-Pro players when healthy but both players are coming off of major injuries.  Will they be ready in time to contribute and if they do play, will it be at their formal exceptional level?  I say yes to both.  Final Outlook: The Saints will be back in the playoffs this year and their high flying offense will scare some better teams but they will be knocked out in the first round.  Sean Payton is just not that good of a coach and Reggie Bush is not tough enough to be the running threat that he could be.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8):  This team surprised many last year after making it to the playoffs and even expected to win their home game.  This year is different though.  Jeff Garcia is a year older and there is too much controversy surrounding this team and its quarterbacks.  Fantasy Pick:Joey Galloway has shown that he is a consistent deep threat despite his advanced age.  He’s a good third wide reciever in a shallow league and a decent number two in a very deep league.  Quarterback Controversy:  So many questions surround this teams quarterbacks.  They currently carry 5 and at least two are on the way out.  Chris Simms is not on speaking terms with the organization and they are holding him hostage.  Brian Griese is a capable backup but not very valuable on this team.  Starter Jeff Garcia has recently thrown himself into the Brett Favre controversy by claiming he would demand his release if Favre landed in Tampa.  This team is a mess mentally.  Final Outlook: Tampa will tease its fans with a frustrating season in which they go on hot and cold stretches.  The defense will be excellent again but it won’t be enough to disguise a painfully average offense.  However, if Favre ends up in Tampa, everything changes.

Carolina Panthers (7-9):  The Panthers are a team that always confuses me.  When I think that they will be good, they are bad.  When I think they are bad, they do good.  This offseason, they did little to improve upon a team that had a weak running game, no QB depth, and no second reciever.  They are in quite a predicament.  Fantasy Pick:  Steve Smith, the Panthers star reciever is out for the first two games due to suspension.  However, he is worth a look as your number two reciever.  But don’t overvalue him and pick him too high (between rounds 4 and 6), look for him in round 8 or so.  Coaching Hot Seat:  John Fox came into Carolina as the next big thing and he has taken them to a Superbowl but time is not on his side.  If the Panthers do not win this season and make the playoffs, Fox will be asked to pack his bags.  Final Outlook:  I always like this team but I just don’t see it this year.  Quarterback Jake Delhomme is coming off a major injury (and hes getting up there in age), there seem to be some chemistry issues surrounding the team, and there is no reliable secondary offensive weapon for Delhomme to use, whether it be a running back or a wide receiver.  Until they figure out who their secondary playmaker is going to be, they are not going to be very good.

Atlanta Falcons (3-13):  With the Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino eras finally erased from memory, Falcons fans can look forward to another season of just plain old sucking.  There is very little to be excited about here.  Fantasy Pick:Michael Turner signed a big contract in the off-season to come here to be the starter.  Does he have what it takes to carry this offense?  I believe he has the skills to become a pretty good starter but this team has so little going for it that its going to be tough for him to find room to run because teams are most likely going to stuff the box against the Falcons.  He is still worth a flier as your third running back and could even surprise a few with a good season, try 1050 yards and four touchdowns.  Impact Rookie:Matt Ryan was picked at number four with the idea that he would be the franchise quarterback that this team desperately needs.  However, in order to keep him away from the David Carr syndrome (I just made that up and here is the definition: fear of getting pummeled by big and athletic defensive linemen.  Symptoms: The loss of confidence, happy feet, and throwing in front of receivers).  I didn’t think he was the best quarterback in the draft but he’ll be a player, but he needs to ride the pine for a little to ensure his success.  Final Outlook: The Falcons are not going to be very good this year.  They know it and we know it.  However, their defensive front seven is pretty good and should keep them in most games.  They’ll be competitive, but won’t win many games.

NFC West:  Perhaps the worst division in football, all of these teams will struggle to make it .500.  None of them are a threat to make any noise (especially the proverbially overrated Seattle Seahawks).  I do expect to see Seattle fans come out in droves to support their only half decent team.

Arizona Cardinals (9-7): Now you may be thinking, this guy is obviously an idiot if he is picking the Cardinals to win the division.  A closer look at the other teams in this division I believe they are the strongest one (even though one key injury would destroy them).  Fantasy Pick: You can’t go wrong with either Anquan Boldin or Larry Fitzgerald so I recommend them both.  I expect to be above 85 catches, 1300 yards, and 9 touchdowns.  That looks pretty good to me and should be in your top 5 of wide receivers.  Quarterback Controversy:  Is this the year that Matt Leinart finally realizes that he’s Matt freakin’ Leinart and he’s letting the fumble king Kurt Warner make him look silly?  I believe it is.  A man can only party and date supermodels for so long (who are we kidding, I could do that for the rest of my life).  But he steps up and wins this battle.  Final Outlook:The Cardinals showed a lot of promise last season and in Ken Whisenhunt’s second season, look for them to make an even greater step forward.

Seattle Seahawks (8-8): The team that I find to be consistently overrated finally loses its stranglehold on the division.  No more Shaun Alexander and an aging team finally shows that it just isn’t that good.  Fantasy Pick: Matt Hasselback has shown that he is a consistent quarterback who you can rely on for 3400 yards and 24 touchdowns.  Mark him down for that again.  Free-agent Bust:Lets be honest here, Julius Jones was not welcome back in Dallas.  He is a soft runner who can not be a starter in this league.  How can the Seahawks expect him to come in and take charge of this situation.  Letting go of Shaun Alexander was the right thing, but find someone who is better, not worse.  Final Outlook:Mike Holmgren’s last season will be one to forget.  They play six playoff teams from last season, including the two who made it to the Super Bowl, the tough NFC East, and the much improved AFC East.  Getting to .500 should be considered a good year.

San Francisco 49ers (6-10): What happened to the 49ers?  They used to be one of the best run organizations in the NFL with fantastic players and coaches.  Now they are stuck with Mike Nolan and a three-headed quarterback from hell.  Enjoy your season 49ers fans.  Fantasy Pick:The only redeemable thing that 49ers have for it going on offense is Frank Gore, RB.  However, with Mike Martz running the offense and Gore coming off an injury plagued season (I was personally crushed by him last year), I see him rushing for about 1100 yards, 500 yards receiving, and 9 total touchdowns.  But buyer beware.  Quarterback Controversy:  With Shaun Hill, Alex Smith, and J.T. O’Sullivan all battling for the QB position, this is a battle that could last all of preseason.  I recently read that J.T. O’Sullivan has the inside track right now but they have too much money invested in Smith to not play him.  When will teams learn the lesson to NEVER take option quarterbacks with the first overall pick.  He is a system quarterback who had one good season.  Idiots.  Final Outlook:  The 49ers will improve over last season when the pressure of playoff expectations crushed them.  Gore and Vernon Davis will be healthy but beyond them, there is very little to like on offense.  Defense will be good though with tackling machine Patrick Willis leading the way.  They are still a few years away or until they get a legitimate QB.

St. Louis Rams (4-12):  Scott Linehan is perhaps the worst coach in the NFL, consistently getting outcoached.  He makes Brad Childress look like a genius.  Fantasy Pick: Steven Jackson is a top 5 fantasy talent but this holdout has me worried a little bit.  But he does have Marc Bulger throwing the Torry Holt, which always helps open up the running game a little.  Pick him high and have confidence that he can lead you to victory.  Impact Rookie: Chris Long has everything you want in a high draft pick: Pedigree, success at a big time program, and a good attitude.  He’ll become a good all-around defensive end this season, maybe even winning defensive rookie of the year, and make a Mario Williams like leap next season into stardom.  Final Outlook:  I want to believe the Rams will win more games.  The more I look at their roster, the more I like it (except for CB and WR where there is no depth behind Torry Holt).  But I remember that Scott Linehan is the coach.  He automatically takes away a couple of wins because he is just so bad.  There are quality guys out there who are ready to take over a franchise.  Fire him and this team will be much better.

 

Part Three to come very soon or when I have time at work to write it

    Wow, its been way too long since I’ve posted here and to make up for it, I am going to release my  NFL Preview over the next couple of days.  I know, ludicrous.  Let the insanity begin:

NFC Preview (teams are listed in predicted order of finish):

NFC East:  This is by far the toughest division in all of football with each of these teams capable of winning the Super Bowl or least getting there.  I see at three of these teams making the playoffs with all four of them finishing at or above .500

Dallas Cowboys (13-3):  The team with the most talent west of Foxboro got better in the offseason with the addition of Pacman Jones and Zach Thomas and the promotion of Marion Barber to starter.  Fantasy Pick:  While T.O. and Romo are givens, Jason Witten comes in as my top rated tight end because he is going to draw the double teams away from T.O. on the outside and destroy opponents down the middle of the field.  I expect a huge year.  Position of Concern: Wide Reciever, after releasing Terry Glenn, the Boys only have one reliable reciever and a bunch of unknowns.  Patrick Crayton was decent as a number 3 be does he have what it takes to be a number two?  After him you have even more questions.  Will the recievers lack of experience ground their vast air attack?  Final Outlook:  The Cowboys are obviosly the class of the NFC and have the talent and coaching to gather the number one seed.  However, Tony Romo’s history of choking in the playoffs will not be forgotten as the Cowboys lose another divisional playoff game.

New York Giants (11-5):  The defending Super Bowl Champs have seen a lot of players exit from their championship team.  With the addition of only rookies and role players, will this team take a step back?  Fantasy Pick: I really like Brandon Jacobs and always have.  If he stays healthy this year expect top-10 fantasy numbers from him (like 1800 total yards and 12 touchdowns).  He’s bigger than some defensive ends and will play to contact.  Gotta love that in a running back.  Impact Rookie:  First round pick Kenny Phillips has been flying around camp laying the smackdown.  Pencil him in as the Giants free safety for the next 5-10 years.  Final Outlook:  While they won’t win the division, I like them getting to the playoffs as the top wild card entry and fighting their way to the NFC Champsionship Game. 

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6):  The Eagles have the potential to win the Super Bowl this year or finish below .500.  It all depends on whether or not McNabb is healthy enough to lead this team.  Fantasy Pick:  Brian Westbrook led the league last year in yards and I see no reason he won’t do it again this year.  If i’m drafting in the 4 or 5 position in the first round, I’d think long and hard about grabbing him.  Free-Agent Bust?:  Asante Samuel came from a system that primarily used zone, which allowed Samuel to play an area and wait for the balls to come his way.  Now in Philly, hes going to be primarily a man corner and does he have the skills to justify that massive contract and locker room resentment that Lito Sheppard holds towards the organization?  I don’t think so.  Final Outlook:  This will be the final playoff team and will surprise a few teams when they get there.  I see them reaching the NFC Championship game and maybe something more.

Washington Redskins (8-8): New Coach Jim Zorn has a daunting task of replacing Redskins coaching icon Joe Gibbs.  However, this Quarterback Guru has been busy teaching his stable of quaterback to run his offense.  Fantasy Pick:  Chris Cooley is a guy that I would highly recommend.  He catches everything thrown to him and is always reliable for 800 yards and 6 touchdowns, which is easily attainable when your two best red zone options are rookie wide recievers.  He’s my 5 TE off the board so keep an eye on him.  Burning Question:  What will Jason Taylor’s impact be on the Defense?  The Taylor trade was important on two fronts: they found a great replacement for Philip Daniels and kept him away from the G-Men.  However, they are playing him out of his normal position of LE, but he will still have an impact, but not really add wins to this team.  Final Outlook:  This team just has too many questions and not enough answers to justify a finish better than 8-8.  Jason Campbell still hasn’t proven that he is a winner or can put up the numbers desired from a franchise QB.  Clinton Portis is hurt again and will he be ready for opening day?  Also, how will Zorn handle himself late in the season when his decisions are questioned by the media?  Give them one more year and then they’ll have something. 

NFC North:  The “Drama Division” as I like to refer to it now, has seen the Packers hog all of the media attention while the other teams lurk in the shadows, waiting for all the distractions to destroy the team.  Watch out for Minnesota, if Tavaris Jackson can figure out how to play quarterback, they could be good.

Green Bay Packers (9-7):  I hate Brett Favre.  There I said it, now I can get on with my life.  If I didn’t know any better, I would be led to believe that the Packers are the only team in the NFL.  Fantasy Pick: Greg Jennings, the third year wide reciever is going to explode into stardom this year.  I expect at least 1100 yards recieving and 6-10 touchdowns.  I’d pencil him in as an elite No. 2 reciever/borderline number one.  Burning Question:  How is Aaron Rodgers going to respond this media circus that Brett Favre has created?  Is he the player that fell in the draft or the player who showed enough flashes of brilliance during the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game to lead them to the promised land.  He’s sat enough and now is the time to let him prove it, no matter what number Four thinks.  Final Outlook:  This is still the best team in a week division and Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the division.  They also have a running game to complement Rodgers growth and a defense that features the best press corners in the NFL.  That alone guarantees them a spot in the playoffs. 

Minnesota Vikings (7-9):  While most experts are drooling over the Vikings because of Year Two of A-Pete and the addition of Jared Allen, I still see a team with a bad coach, bad recievers, and a bad quarterback.  Fantasy Pick:  There is nobody worth drafting on this team except Adrian Peterson and he is going to go a couple spots too high.  With all of the hype surrounding him, I see him as a sell high candidate who can give a pretty nice return in a two for one deal.  Free-Agent/Trade Bust:  While this trade was widely hailed throughout the the NFL, I feel like the Chiefs came out on top in the Jared Allen trade.  He is a player who went after his own stats (sacks) and sacrificed run stopping.  In a division that is short on QB prowess, will he live up to lofty standards…I don’t believe so.  Final Outlook:  This is the most overrated team in the league.  They have major holes at all of the offensive skill positions except for running back.  They have a coach that is overmatched and lost.  They will be a major dissapointment and will miss the playoffs.

Detroit Lions (7-9): The Lions dropped ego-maniac/offensive coordinator Mike Martz and his pass happy scheme in favor of something that suits bulldog coach Rod Marinelli.  Lets see if this is the answer to the prayers of Lions nation.  Fantasy Pick:  Roy Williams always has put of monster numbers and he will again this year.  He is the only thing certain on a roster full of questions.  Impact Rookie:  RB Kevin Smith was drafted with the idea that he would give the running game some stability.  Even though he led the nation in rushing last year and is coming into they same system that was run at UCF, he has a lot of wear and tear on him (450 carries last year, over 30 a game) and did not come out of a big time program.  I believe he wins the starting job but doesn’t set the world on fire.  Final Outlook:  The Lions will not be very good again, but they won’t be horrible.  There first priority is to find a franchise QB because Jon Kitna is just a stopgap option.  Two questions though: Will Rod Marinelli last the season and is this the year that Matt Millen finally loses his job?

Chicago Bears (5-11):  The Bears have all sorts of problems on offense, mainly a lack of playmakers.  The defense should rebound from a poor year but they can’t score for the team.  Fantasy Pick:  Chicago DEF/Brian Urlacher.  Urlacher should become a top-5 defense again now that (hopefully) everyone is healthy.  This is more a statement that I would stay away from everyone on this roster, even Devin Hester.  Quarterback Controversy:  Kyle Orton vs. Rex Grossman does not really inspire much confidence but I believe that Orton gives them a better chance to win right now.  He seems to better understand what needs to be done on offense in order to put his team in position to win the game.  Grossman has more talent but it just doesn’t translate on the field.  Final Outlook:  The Bears believe they will be back but I just don’t see it.  Too many holes on offense and top pick Chris Williams has not practiced with the first team offense yet and Matt Forte was a bit of a reach in the second round.  Will he be the answer at RB?  I don’t really think so.

Part Two of Four Coming Tomorrow

  Now that the season is over and free agency has begun, it seems that the biggest story of the NBA off-season so far is Elton Brand and his betrayal.  I know you are all waiting for my opinion on the NBA draft and free-agency so far, but I’m going to wait to discuss that.  However, a story, that in my opinion that has not gotten enough coverage is not just a sports story, but the story of how a city, an ownership group, and the NBA has ripped off the fans of Seattle.  To better tell this story, I asked a friend of mine from Seattle to write down some feelings:

“July 2, 2008 brought closure and heartbreak. The NBA franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics and the City of Seattle reached a buyout settlement of $45 million on the final two years of the team’s lease contract at Key Arena. This stunning move ended a two year long saga and struggle between the two parties. This period of uncertainty, initiated by the sale of the team by Starbucks owner Howard Schultz to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in 2006, finally ended with the Sonics seeing a sad end to their professional basketball history as the team officially completed its relocation to Oklahoma City.

Bennett’s intentions were clear when he purchased the team just two short years ago, and the way the situation was handled leaves a Seattle sports enthusiast like myself genuinely sickened. Now I have a been a hard-core Sonics fan ever since I moved to Seattle in 1994 and I’ve never had any other professional basketball team to cheer for.  To me, the Sonics were the one. It pains me to read articles about the move and all the good that has come from it. How can anyone in the city of Seattle, outside of those in the politics, who are in it for the money and seemed to have devalued loyalty, benefit from such a move? The team that I have dedicated so much of my time going to games and cheering loudly for was swept away by a big shot owner whose blatant apathy towards the fans and established basketball tradition of Seattle represents the sad reality of the business end of pro sports: People are in it for the money. Bennett felt that the Sonics would lose an estimated 60 million over the next 2 seasons if they stayed in Key Arena, and tried to convince the public that this was an absolute last resort move. A man from Oklahoma City buys the team and says he will keep it in Seattle, only if he can net large sums of money. Anyone who buys that has lost the ability to process information logically.  It was a win-win situation for the apparently shrewd businessman Clay Bennett, and it looks as though he has certainly won.

The promise of a new team and subsequent financial penalty to Bennett if a team, either from expansion or relocation, is not brought to Seattle by 2013 does little to suppress the pain from a loss like this. The city may take some of the money back, but Bennett has already stripped the city and loyal sports fans of, among other things, its basketball pride and its lone men’s sports world championship. (Yes, the Supes won the NBA Finals in 1979 and no; the Seahawks and Mariners have never won a championship in their respective sports). I may not have been there to watch you capture this title, but I was intently watching in 1996, at the tender age of 7, when the Sonics almost blew a 3-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz in the conference finals, then squeezed out a four point win in game 7 to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 1979. I loved that group of players; they were my heroes. “The Glove” Gary Payton, “The Reign Man” Shawn Kemp and “Mr. Sonic” Nate McMillan. To me and all other Sonics fans, that magical ride to the Finals showed just how much the Sonics meant to us. Unfortunately, the Sonics were simply outmatched that year by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, who were working on their fourth championship in six years, finishing off a season where they set the NBA wins record and had the best player of his era and perhaps of all time, Michael Jordan. I cried when I saw the final seconds tick away of your magical march to the top.

 Bennett’s futile “attempt” (if we can even call it that) to keep the team was unrealistic and destined to fail from the start. Several requests by Bennett and co-owner Aubrey McClendon for local and state governments to fund a $500 million arena complex in Renton, Washington, a city hardly capable of housing such a metropolitan and people-attracting establishment. After their requests expectedly failed, Bennett began his determined mission to relocate to Oklahoma City. Approval from the NBA and its owners was needed, and David Stern and the rest of the NBA owners, minus Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban who voted against it, agreed that this was the right move for the NBA. The final move necessary to move the team came on July 2, 2008, and Bennett’s famous quote “We made it” angers me the more I hear it.

This series of negative events leading up to the relocation leaves a black mark on all of the memories of the Sonics that I have. Clay Bennett should hold all the guilt in the world to the sports fans of Seattle, like he owes us all something in return. The NBA team of Oklahoma City does not yet have a name, but if you were to ask me, I would suggest the Oklahoma City Criminals.”

 

…It truly is pathetic.

 

BEARD

Instead of dedicating a column to just the finals, as I’m sure one of my colleagues will, I’ve decided to talk about a few things.

First, I just want to bask in the glory of the Celtics winning it all.  I believe my analysis was One-Hundred Percent correct, and Paul Pierce as my Finals MVP was a no-brainer.  Thank You very much. 

The two things I did not expect was to Ray Allen find his shooting stroke and become the most consistent player on either team offensively and then for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to effectively render the Lakers useless because Kobe was taking 25 shots and only scoring 25 points.  By keeping him from the line, it forced Kobe to take more shots than he wanted, limiting the touches for the other players around him.  There is a reason that the Lakers did not score as much in this series than they did in any other.  Everybody’s scoring was down and that is the great team defense that the Celtics played.  The same as Football, Defense Wins.  Period.

I also have to give props to Doc Rivers on a masterful coaching job (did I just really say that?).  He stuck to what he knows, and that is motivation.  I don’t believe I saw the Celtics run an offense except for the high screen and roll (that the Lakers could not defend) and Ray Allen running around 50 screens.  I think he showed that he is not as bad of a coach as I and others make him out to be, but actually a middling coach who can rise up to the occasion and outcoach lucky bastards who have the two greatest players of their generation playing for them (Shaq and MJ, there is a reason that Kobe has not won without Shaq and Shaq has won without Kobe.  Why doesn’t anyone give Shaq the props he deserves and proclaim him the player of the period of time after MJ?  Kobe just isn’t good enough to win it without him, and he never will, the same with Phil…he is never going to win another championship with Kobe).  Doc just flat out bent Phil over and said, “I am your daddy!”  Memo to Phil: it’s ok to make in-game adjustments like taking out Lamar Odom because he can’t stretch the floor and playing a line-up that consists of Fisher, Vujacic/Radmonovic, Kobe, Farmar/Walton, and Gasol/Turiaf.  That is what I would’ve done.

Yet, the real reason that the Celtics won (last point about this game, I promise) was not because of the play on the court, but the comraderie off the court.  The difference in the desire can be seen in the bench players and those in street clothes.  Every possession, the Celtics bench was standing, cheering, and into the game, as if they were playing.  I can’t count the times I saw Brian Scalabrine or Eddie House jumping up and down and cheering on their teammates.  The same goes for Sam Cassel.  Everybody bled for each other and represented what it truly means to be a team.  I can only hope this continues because it was a treat to see it and all high-school and younger kids should take notice.

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In addition to the Celtics taking the NBA Championship, the second team in New York fired its coach.  By second team, I mean the Mets.  And I just gotta say I think this is one of the biggest mistakes that the Mets could have made.  I can understand maybe firing Rick Peterson because the pitching staff, mainly the bullpen is not performing up to par, but the Mets were just beginning to get on a roll by winning 3 out of 4 and get some positive momentum.  They had something to play for (Randolph’s Job) and were motivated to make sure that he kept it.  Now they have nothing to play for and if last nights game was any indication of things to come, it does not look good.  I was actually discussing this with my father the other day and we both came to the conclusion that Mets are going to struggle to finish .500.  I just don’t seem them being competitive unless they turn the switch on now.  I can only hope I am dead wrong.

Also, what a classless way to handle the entire situation.  Sometimes, I wish it were possible to fire an ownership group.  The Wilpons seem to be just as clueless as Jimmy Dolan over at MSG on the correct tact and timing to fire coaches.  The Wilpons jumped the gun way too early and have a history of leaking things to the press.  This became such a bad situation that I feel happy for Willie that he finally has this monkey off his back and can now focus on getting a job with an organization that will value his class and great baseball mind.  I only hope he does not land in the NL East.

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The other major sports event of the past week or so was the PGA US Open that was an instant classic.  I’m gonna be honest, I’ve become so inundated with Tiger Woods that I hope he loses every tournament, but I know he is going to win if he is within one or two strokes on the last nine holes.  Yet, while I enjoyed watching Rocco Mediate, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, and a few others battle it out over the five days, I almost wanted to punch my computer screen on Monday while I watched the playoff at work (by the way…kudos to IBM, NBC, and ESPN for putting the stream up for free and in wonderful quality.  Why can’t all sports do that?  Was that so hard?).  The reason: the fabulous announcers that NBC employed kept telling me how much of a classic this was, how great Rocco Mediate was, and how even greater Tiger Woods was (in addition to how mentally tough he was…give me a break.  Yeah I’m sure he learned mental toughness on the links as a child.  I think that was dumbest thing I have ever heard…even if it was said by his dead father – no disrespect to Earl Woods).  Broadcasters, and this happens in every sport, please learn to shut up and stop ramming the same 3 talking points down my throat.  SILENCE IS GOLDEN!  Learn from that proverb.  Its not awkward unless you make it that way.

By the way…Rocco Mediate, where have you been all my life and why isn’t mic’d up all the time when he is playing.  He was so funny and insightful…much more so than those so called “expert” broadcasters.

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And finally, some things to watch this week now that the Never Ending Basketball Playoffs are over:

Euro 2008: Jump on the Netherlands Train and watch them take the tourament by storm.  They are so dominant offensively that it doesn’t matter that there goalkeeper is really old and that their defense is middling.  I see them beating Portugal in the finals (really, I just want to make fun of Ronaldo again)Watch them and the rest of the tournament this week on the ESPN Channels and ABC.

NBA Draft: On June 26th, the world will finally have the answer to Beasley vs. Rose.  Watch the NBA draft…if you havn’t had enough yet.  Hopefully our draft expert J-Fense will come out with a final mock draft with the correct pick of Michael Beasley going to Bulls. 

MLB:  Interleague play is heating up.  This weekend features marquee match-ups like Philadelphia vs Texas (the two best offenses in Baseball) and the three best inter-city rivalries in Baseball: The Cubs vs the White Sox, the Angels vs the Dodgers, and the Subway Series aka the Mets vs the Yankees. 

Should be a great week or so of sports.  Enjoy!

Also, I’m going on vacation for the next two weeks so unfortunately this massive column is going to have to tide you over until I get back from relaxing.  Until then…

BEARD

 

With Summer upon us and the never ending Basketball Playoffs almost over (what…you thought this would be a basketball column after last nights amazing comeback by the Celtics?  Don’t waste your time here and read a much funnier account of anything that I could do), America’s Pastime takes front and center in the sports world. Just recently, I have started watching a couple of games a week, mainly New York Mets games unfortunately. And I must say, this season just seems weird. Everything seems upside down. The Florida teams are over five-hundred and contending for division leads and the two Chicago teams are now at the center of the baseball universe by having the two best teams in baseball. Big name stars such as David Ortiz, Jake Peavy, Travis Hafner, Rafael Furcal, Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano, and Albert Puljos have or are currently on the disabled list. Big market teams like the New York Mets, the Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the Dodgers are all struggling and underwhelming fans.

But disappointment should be expected, because if everything played out the way it was expected, why would people watch?

But I have been struggling more and more to find a reason to watch baseball this season. The game just seems slow and boring. Now that the Yankees are finally playing down to their pitching, there is nobody to hate anymore (even though Hank is doing his best George Steinbrenner impersonation).  The injuries are piling up and every pitcher seems to be unable to grasp the concept of holding a lead (or at least every Mets reliever…all three of them who came in after Johan Santana pitched seven shutout innings yesterday afternoon, let in a run, with Billy Wagner blowing his third straight save by giving up two runs in the ninth.  I thought he was supposed to be good.  What gives?)

And yet it goes deeper than that…

I know this article is probably 3-6 months too late (I don’t even remember when the Mitchell Report came out, it just seems so long ago, but still so present), but after the steroid scandal rocked the baseball world, the sport just hasn’t been the same for me.  Baseball lost so much credibility after the steroids scandal, I just don’t know anymore if my boyhood heroes were clean, and that bothers me. 

I remember watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battle it out for the home run record in the summer of 1998 and believing that these two players were not just ordinary human beings but super-humans capable of extradorinary feats of stregnth (sort of like Frank Costanza’s perfect world model for the Festivus celebration). 

This story always stuck in my mind.  My parents went away on a vacation when I was in Middle School to Paris and when he came back, the first thing he told me was that when he was in the airport, multiple people came up to him and asked him for his autograph thinking he was Mark McGwire.  Now, my father is not nearly as big as McGwire but his face looks similar and he was wearing a Cooperstown shirt (for all those who don’t know what Cooperstown is, its the Baseball Hall of Fame).  I always thought that was so cool and my father and I joked about it constantly. 

Now though, after it was revealed that McGwire possibly used steroids (and its not like his testimony in Congress was reassuring), that story embarrasses me because it connects my father to a disgraced baseball player and a dark time in the sport. 

The titans of baseball just don’t seem legitimate.  I mean, look at these guys.  They’re almost as big as football players, and in some cases, much bigger (I’m talking to you C.C. Sabbathia).  Maybe its the evolution of the athlete, but I don’t buy it.  Thats the thing I used to like about Baseball, these average looking guys would go out and destroy people with their intensity and sheer talent.  Now, the talent level is down, the testerone level is up, and the average fan can no longer connect to the star player on their team.  These guys are no longer average joe’s just playing some ball but highly pampered athletes with designer drugs. 

Mr. Selig, please do something!

But I guess baseball will come back strong.  There have always been scandals.  Pete Rose gambling on games, the White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, and the Cocaine scandal of the 1980’s are just a few. 

Still I don’t know if baseball can recover from this and remain credible. 

BEARD

PS- And in a theater near you this summer: the NBA where “Scumbag ex-refs have more credibility than the Commish Happens”… I mean WOW, who would’ve thought that David Stern would’ve screwed this up?  Really?  You can’t do better than this?  Scumbag ex-ref is embarrasing you!  You gotta focus and keep your eyes on the prize!

So I was one for two in my predictions but I still feel very about both analyses. Before we get to the Finals preview, a few thoughts about some goings on in the NBA.

1- The officials really screwed the Spurs in the Western Conference. That no-call on Derek Fisher in Game 4 doomed the Spurs to lose Game 5. I believe the Spurs go on to win that game if Barry goes to the line and the Spurs, with the series tied at two, go into LA feeling pretty good and probably taking Game 5. That game alone gave the conspiracy theorists more than enough amunition to last them the year.

2- The draft is coming up and my man J-Fense just wrote an interesting article about what the Bulls should do with the first pick. However, I could not disagree more with him. Hinrich has shown that he can be all-star caliber point guard and Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah have shown to be nothing more than athletic, defense orientied power fowards. I believe the Bulls must draft Beasley. He instantly upgrades their presence in the post which helps a jump-shooting team more than a point guard. If the Bulls think it through, a player who commands a double team in the post to open up outside shots for Gordon, Hinrich, Noicioni, and Hughes is more valuable than a point guard who passes to players on the wing who can not create their own shot. John Paxson, please take Michael Beasley.

3- While the firing of Flip Saunders was not much of a surprise, it disappoints me that he is the one held accountable for the actions of Rasheed Wallace. Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com wrote an article claiming that Saunders did not have the respect of his players and only McDyess played hard consistently. Well I say that is a bunch of crap and the coach should not be to blame if his players are unprofessional cry-babies. And Rasheed Wallace is the ringleader and the one to blame. Wallace has a tendency to be a malcontent and let his emotions get the better of him. I actually think Saunders did a good job of coaching in the series, it was just his most important player (sorry Chauncey and Rip) played like he didn’t care.

Now, onto the preview…

GUARDS: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

The point guard matchup here is the most important one in the series and the most intriguing. You have young Rajon Rondo who has become more important to his team than Ray Allen and the wily veteran Derek FIsher. If Rondo can play solid defense on Fisher (something he was not able to do in the Pistons series [did anybody see the way Billups abused him in Game 6?]), then I feel like the Celtics can call it a day because there is no way they are stopping Kobe. Rondo needs to keep grabbing boards, leading the break, dishing the rock, and making smart decisions (seems easy right?).

In all reality though, it doesn’t really matter what the other Lakers do because it all revolves around Kobe Bryant. He averaged just under 30 points a game in the Spurs series and that was considered a masterful job by Bruce “Dirty Mo-Fo” Bowen. Are you kidding me? There is nobody on the Celtics who can matchup with Kobe like Bowen could and the only one who gets a look off the bench who could handle him is James Posey. Is Doc Rivers going to sacrifice offense for defense and sit Ray Allen like he did in the fourth quarter of Game 6? I don’t think so, he’s not that good of a coach. And that mini-resurgence we saw from Ray-Ray was just a mirage. I can’t see him really being a factor in this series with Kobe matching up against him (very different from Rip Hamilton).

FORWARDS: ADVANTAGE CELTICS

This is where the Celtics have a huge advantage. Paul Pierce vs. the useless European that is Vladimir Radmonovic. Phil Jackson, in an effort to limit Kobe’s minutes vs. Pierce, has decided the likes of Radmonovic, Luke Walton (who should be starting and another reason why Phil Jackson is one of the most overrated coaches in the history of basketball, but that is for another time), and Lamar Odom. Only one of those three has a chance at holding Pierce up and that man belongs on KG (can you guess who?). Maybe Coach Jackson is trying to coach down to Doc Rivers’ level, I just don’t know. But expect Pierce to have a monster series offensively and to struggle defensively on Kobe (at least I hope Doc doesn’t put Ray-Ray on him).

Power Forward is another position where the Celtics have a huge advantage. KG is the heart and soul of this team and plays with enough intensity to light up the entire city of Los Angeles for 2 weeks straight. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom plays with the intensity of a wet noodle, has a penchant for missing key free-throws down the stretch, and disappears from games for quarters at a time. I also believe he is going to struggle on KG or Perkins because one is too skilled and the other is just way too big for him to handle (and by big I mean fat).

CENTER: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pau Gasol is the most important Laker. This team revolves around Kobe but he is the moon to Kobe’s sun. He is perfect for this offense because he passes, shoots, and is foreign ( I don’t really know if that is important or not, I just wanted to say that). Kendrick Perkins on the other hand has the ability to be dominant for a half and then disappear for the next game and a half. He also has a tendency to let his emotions get the better of him and is susceptible to technical fouls. However, I’m higher on Perkins than most for the simple reason is that he does what he is asked of: rebound, defend, and clean up the garbage around the rim. He fits into the flow of his team and doesn’t mind being the fifth option. His humility is refreshing for a player drafted out of high school while his English skills are sort of scary (I don’t think he can handle words with more than three syllables, but who cares because neither can I).

COACHING: ADVANTAGE JACKSON

While I hate Phil Jackson and believed he has lucked into two of the greatest situations ever (MJ and Kobe + Shaq), Doc Rivers is still the worst coach in the NBA not named Isiah Thomas (can we still make fun of him? I think I still can because he is a moron and morons deserved to be ridiculed). The triangle offense is effective, even if nobody exactly knows what it is and he sticks to his rotation, which can’t be said for Mr. Rivers (does he run an offense?)

BENCH: ADVANTAGE EVEN

I truly believe the Celtics have a better bench, but you never know what Doc Rivers is going to do with his talent other than misuse them. The problem is the Celtics have too much talent on the bench, which could be confusing for a mere mortal. However, the rotation should consist of Eddie House, James Posey, Leon Powe, and PJ Brown. Sam Cassel can not handle being a backup and a bad one at that and Glen “Big Baby” Davis needs another year of seasoning to understand the nuances of playoff basketball. Each of those four adds energy and understands their roles on the team. PJ Brown also adds experience while Eddie House, at least from what I’ve seen, is just excited to be there.

Phil Jackson has the lesser talent, but gets more out of his players by sticking to a consistent rotation. Jordan Farmar has played inconsistently but is still getting minutes because he is a winner and Jackson does not want to mess with his confidence. Sasha Vujacic adds European toughness, as does Ronny Turiaf (is that possible?) while Luke Walton is the perfect player for this offense and should be playing 30 minutes a game but I’ll settle for him getting 20 and giving the Lakers a huge weapon off the bench.

X-FACTOR: RAJON RONDO PG, CELTICS

This one was tough to pick, but if Rondo can supplant Ray Allen as the third most important Celtic for all the right reasons, then this series is the Celtics for the taking. However, if he is the third most important Celtic for the wrong reasons (poor shooting, bad defense, and turnovers), then consider the Celtics French Toast.

KEY MATCH-UP: KOBE VS. PAUL PIERCE

While they may not play many minutes against each other, the two best scorers in this series will go a long way towards determining which team wins. If Kobe can outscore Paul by ten or more points, Kobe will add another MVP trophy to his hardware.

PREDICTION: CELTICS IN SEVEN

While most experts are proclaiming the Lakers to be the best in all the land, I think the Celtics have way too much talent to lose. Throw in home court advantage with the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule that punishes the lower seed, I’d look for the Celtics to win and Paul Pierce to take home the MVP Finals with a spectacular performance that will remind people why he is the only remaining Celtic left from the last decent Celtic team.

BEARD