The World Of Sports Viewed Through The Eyes Of A Yankees And Red Sox Fan

Friday, July 6, 2012

Linsanity: The Sequel

By: Mike Wagenman
After the three-year, $9 million signing of 39-year old veteran Jason Kidd, the New York Knicks still have their sights set on bringing in a second point guard to go alongside Kidd.  According to sources, the team is looking no further than their restricted free agent point guard Jeremy Lin.  Everyone remembers how “Linsanity” took the basketball world by storm last year as Lin put on a show night in and night out during his magical half-season.  However, the Houston Rockets have offered Lin a back loaded four-year, $28 million dollar deal, and Lin has accepted.  The Knicks have already said they will match any offer for Lin up to $1 billion, but have yet to make a move.  Fans and the media have mixed opinions about bringing Lin back to the Big Apple, but the right move would be to re-sign the Harvard alum.
This is a difficult decision for James Dolan and the Knicks front office, and they know all too well that their final decision will be scrutinized and evaluated based on the results.  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why some think the Knicks should part ways with Lin.
Firstly, Lin was an undrafted rookie who bounced around between five teams in three different leagues before landing on New York’s bench.  Since he arrived in New York, he only played in 35 games, and only started in 25 of those games.  Granted, he had great success, but that is a very small sample size, especially for a nearly $30 million deal. 
Secondly, he had a knee injury that landed him on the bench in street clothes for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.  Knee injuries are always a concern and have a tendency to re-occur more than injuries to most other parts of the body.  The Knicks would not be too pleased to have another Eddy Curry situation where they pay a player an exorbitant amount of money to wear a tie and not look overly bored on the corner of the bench.
Finally, Lin’s contract would be back loaded.  For those unfamiliar, that means he would get most of his $28 million in the final two years of his four-year deal.  With the hefty contracts of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler already on the books and seemingly not going anywhere, the Knicks could be in some financial trouble in a few years and may not have the cap space to bring in other solid players. 
The cons of re-signing Lin seem daunting, but the positives outweigh the negatives in this situation.
The Knicks will insist until they are blue in the face that this is strictly a basketball decision.  It’s not.  It is mostly based on on-court benefits, yes, but the off-the-court camaraderie that “Linsanity” brings to New York is unable to be overlooked.  The amount of Knicks and Jeremy Lin merchandise sold in the two months of “Linsanity” was incredible.  New York City and Madison Square Garden was littered with Lin shirts, hats, advertisements, signs, even masks.  Bottom line, the potential revenue that Lin could bring to the Knicks if the second coming of “Linsanity” is even half of what it was last year is huge.
Not to mention Lin’s heritage.  As an Asian-American basketball player playing in New York, where the Asian population is very high, vast amounts of people will latch on just because of what Lin represents.  It is national pride for a race that has not had many stars as far as basketball is concerned.  Just look at how Yao Ming became an international superstar even before he took the floor for the first time in Houston.  The Knicks would benefit greatly from having a consistent and loyal overseas market and fan base.
Moving on from the business aspects of re-signing Lin, let us finally take a look at why bringing him back to the ‘Bockers would reap benefits on the court for Melo and company.  On a team like the Knicks, a solid point guard is essential, possibly the most essential position on the team.  This is because they have so many scorers and shooters, and they need a player to get these guys the ball.  Lin already has experience playing with the current Knicks players, all be it limited experience.  But, it is better than none at all.  He had success scoring (14.6 points per game) and dishing assists (6.4 assists per game) and he made his team better (15-10 during his 25 starts).  He was a fan favorite in the Garden, and it was obvious that the Knicks fed off the energy from the home crowd.  Crowd intensity is key to any team’s success; there is no denying that.
Finally, bringing back Lin to play and practice with one of the NBA’s all time greatest point guards points to all kinds of improvements.  Kidd can mentor Lin on and off the court and make him a better all-around player and teammate.  Who better to learn from than an NBA champion, a five-time all NBA first teamer, a 10-time All-Star, a four-time defensive first-teamer, and five-time NBA assist leader?  Kidd could be the motor that keeps “Linsanity” going, and possibly even make him better.  Lin is still young, and has plenty of time to learn the greater facets of the game from Kidd.
The Knicks must make it a point to re-sign Jeremy Lin to play alongside Jason Kidd.  His marketability cannot be overlooked, and more importantly he can help the Knicks on the court and can improve from the teachings of Kidd.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Turning Singles Into Triples

By: Mike Wagenman
It is not often that a story from the single-A ranks of Minor League Baseball gets many reads.  However, this story is something different.  Billy Hamilton, shortstop of the Cincinnati Reds single-A affiliate Bakersfield Blaze, has gotten national attention recently for his torrid base stealing pace.  He is a former second-round pick of the Reds in the 2009 Draft out of Taylorsville High School in Taylorsville, Mississippi. 
Through 77 games, Hamilton has a total of 98 stolen bases.  That’s right, 98 stolen bases.  He has only been thrown out 21 times in his 119 attempts for an 82.3 percent success rate.  The fact that Hamilton has so many steals when opposing pitchers and catchers know he has the ability to steal on any pitch is astounding.  What may be even more astounding is the fact that he has had the opportunity to steal 119 bases in just 77 games.  That speaks volumes about his abilities as a hitter.
Hamilton is the leadoff hitter for the Blaze, and is hitting .327 (8th in the California League) with one home run, 29 RBI, and 9 triples (1st in the California League).  His on-base percentage is an incredible .416, good for 3rd in the league.  Hamilton’s .448 slugging percentage speaks to the style of game he plays, that of a singles hitter.  The high amount of singles he collects allows him to potentially steal second and third base nearly every time he reaches safely.
Stealing bases is nothing new for Hamilton.  Last season he became the 12th minor leaguer ever to steal over 100 bases in a season, as he finished with 103 for the Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League.  Hamilton’s speed changes games, and as they say, speed does not go into slumps.  Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus pointed out two incredible statistics about Hamilton’s speed.  First, as of early May, Hamilton was hitting .364 (8-for-22) on ground balls fielded cleanly by infielders.  He had eight infield singles and was only thrown out 14 times.  Second, Hamilton scored the game winning run in a game played on April 20th on a sacrifice fly to the second baseman.  Take a minute to absorb that.
Hamilton most likely will be promoted from A-ball sometime in the near future.  Scouts and Yahoo Sports have said that as the second-best prospect in Cincinnati’s organization and the 31st best in all of baseball, he could have a real chance at contending for the leadoff spot in the Reds lineup in 2013.  However, he will have to improve defensively, as he has eight errors at shortstop.

Sources:,, Baseball Prospectus

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Harper vs. Trout; Who's More Important?

By: Mike Wagenman
Two of the best young players in the major leagues are, without a doubt, Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels.  They are 19 and 20, respectively, and arguably have more potential than almost any prospect in the past decade.  While Harper’s every at-bat is national news, Trout is somehow flying under the radar out in California and seems undeservingly overshadowed.  Arguing over who is the better player between the two is like splitting hairs, and it is much too early on in their careers.  However, I posed the question “who is more important to the success of his respective team?” on Twitter a few days back, and got some mixed responses.  Here is a closer look.
Since being called up on April 28th and debuting against the Dodgers, Harper is hitting .280 with seven home runs, 20 RBI and a .361 on-base percentage.  All very stellar numbers for a rookie indeed.  However, the Nationals were 14-6 before Harper was added to the major league roster and are just 27-24 since.  Although it is still early, the Nats’ record does not indicate extreme benefit from Harper’s presence.  Some benefit, yes.  Harper also seems to be in the midst of a rookie slump; it looks as though opposing pitchers are figuring him out, as evident by his 0-7 with five strikeouts performance in a 14-inning loss to the Yankees.  He is hitting just .186 with an on-base percentage of .255 and 14 strikeouts in his past 11 games.  In those 11 games, Harper has not hit a home run and has only driven in one run. 
With Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman limited by injury, Adam LaRoche coming back down to earth, and the role players playing average at best, Washington has been counting on their 19-year-old outfielder to put the team on his shoulders and make his teammates better.  It is a tall task for anyone, let alone a rookie.  It is also no secret that the Nationals are driven by their pitching, with a league best 2.97 ERA and .220 batting average against.  Judging by the numbers and trends, it seems that the Nationals pitching is more beneficial than Harper.
On the flip side of the coin in Los Angeles/Anaheim, the Angels’ rookie has done nothing short of carrying his team.  Trout is leading the American League with a .338 batting average.  In just 51 games at the big league level, compared to around 70 for most other regular starters, Trout is first in stolen bases (21), sixth in OPS (.931), third in on-base percentage (.399), as told by Jake Dal Porto of Bustasports.  He is the leadoff man for the Angels, and is a true catalyst at the top of the lineup.  Opposing pitchers and catchers have been concerned about Trout on the bases, usually leading to mistakes, hits, and runs for the Angels. 
The Angels were a lowly 6-14 before Trout was called up, but are 32-19 since and have gained five games on the division leading Rangers.  While Harper is still a work-in-progress in the outfield, Trout is a legitimate Gold Glove candidate in the outfield.  He has just one error, and uses his speed to cover an incredible amount of ground.  He has made driving, running, and jumping catches all season long, saving runs for his team.  Trout’s constant presence on the bases has lead to a higher batting average for his teammates like Torii Hunter, Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, and Mark Trumbo, most of who were struggling to start the year.  Trout has proven to be a game-changer, and a guy that drives the Angel offense.
Although Bryce Harper has an infinite amount of talent and potential, it is clear that Mike Trout has done far more for his team.  Yet, somehow he still does not get the recognition he deserves.  His speed, hitting, and defense change games for Los Angeles.  Tune in to watch Harper and the Nationals take on the Rockies at 8:40 PM ET and Trout and the Angels take on the Orioles at 7:05 PM ET.

Sources: ESPN, Bustasports, SweetSpot Network

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mets vs. Yankees; Dickey vs. Sabathia

By: Mike Wagenman

Sunday night baseball.  Citi Field.  Mets vs. Yankees.  An important game for both teams, and a great pitching matchup for the fans.  Let’s take a closer look at tonight’s starting pitchers.
One starter has a 9-3 record, a 3.55 ERA, and 102 strikeouts, while the other has an 11-1 record, a 2.00 ERA, and 103 strikeouts.  The names attached to these statistics are CC Sabathia and R.A. Dickey, but who would have guessed the second cluster of numbers would be owned by Dickey?
So far in 2012, R.A. Dickey has been spectacular.  Some may even say he has been the best pitcher in major league baseball and deserves to start for the National League in the All-Star Game.  And why not?  He has the stats and consistency to back up the hype.  In fact, Dickey is one of five pitchers in baseball history to have 11 wins, an ERA of 2.00 or below, and a K/IP of 1.03 or better in his first 14 starts.  He is the first pitcher in 24 years to throw back to back one-hitters, and he currently owns a 42 2/3 scoreless inning streak coming into tonight’s bout with the cross-town rival Yankees.  Believe it or not, Dickey is just seven strikeouts behind Washington’s Stephen Strasburg for the MLB’s pitching triple crown.  “R.A.-dick-ulous” has a chance to prove himself as the real deal tonight against one of the strongest lineups in baseball and against one of the most proven aces in the past few seasons, CC Sabathia.
While Dickey has been nothing short of amazing in Queens, Sabathia has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride in the Bronx.  A 9-3 record may seem nice, but a 3.55 ERA from a number one starter is not so glamorous.  CC is coming off a complete game, two-earned-run win over the Braves, and is looking to carry that momentum into Citi Field tonight.  The Mets lineup isn’t exactly filled with the best hitters in the league, but it is a formidable one that has done just enough to win close ballgames all season long.  Sabathia needs to limit his mistakes early, and especially needs to lower the number of hits he gives up with less than two outs.  Those two points seem obvious, but also have proven to be the key downfalls of his poor outings.
To a casual fan of the game and on paper, the Yankees seem to be the favorites tonight.  That monster lineup, CC Sabathia on the hill, and a solid bullpen going up against an average Mets lineup and R.A. Dickey.  Not so fast, though.  R.A. Dickey and his hot streak may be too much for the Yankees to handle, especially at home where the fans have loved rallying behind the knuckleballer all season long and especially when the Yankees have been notorious for struggling against pitchers they are facing for the first time in a long time.  Sabathia has a 4.58 ERA on the road while Dickey is undefeated with a 1.20 ERA at home.  Factor in the return of shortstop Ruben Tejada (.305 AVG, .362 OBP) and reliever Ramon Ramirez for the Mets, and it sure looks as though the boys from Queens have the advantage. 
Tune in to ESPN at 8:00 PM as the Mets try to win part two of the 2012 Subway Series and as the Yankees look to win five of six over the Mets on the year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

MLB Fantasy Team - With A Twist

I'm a lover of the game of baseball, and a fantasy draft enthusiast. All of this led to the idea of crafting a Major League Baseball team entirely out of players 23 years of age or younger. The team I constructed includes players only 23 or younger (to date). I used a mixture of stats (hard stats and sabermetrics) and the all important eye-test.

First off, we'll get to the position players. The majority of the players are right-handed, with the exception of the first basemen and two outfielders.


Designated Hitter:
Jesus Montero (22) Seattle Mariners (R) 
Montero is off to a slow start in his first full year, but like the rest of these players he's very young and has an extremely high ceiling of potential. He has played a lot of DH, but can also play first base and catcher.

Salvador Perez (22) Kansas City Royals (R)
Wilin Rosario (23) Colorado Rockies (R)
Perez was injured prior to the start of the season, but he is no doubt a professional hitter. In limited time due to getting hurt, Perez has shown how good of a hitter he is. Even at the young age of 22, he is already one of the best offensive catchers in the league. 

First Base:
Eric Hosmer (22) Kansas City Royals (L)
Freddie Freeman (22) Atlanta Braves (L)
Freeman's numbers are better than Hosmer's numbers so far this season, but I believe that Hosmer is the better player and he will turn it around this year. Both players are very well-rounded, but their offense is their meat and potatoes.

Second Base:
Brett Lawrie (22) Toronto Blue Jays (R)
The Jays struck gold when acquiring Lawrie from the Brewers, and although he is very hot-headed, there is no doubting his skills on the field. He can hit for average, and has some pop in his bat. Lawrie has played mostly 3B with Toronto, but he can also play other spots in the infield including second base.

Third Base:
Will Middlebrooks (23) Boston Red Sox (R) 
Mike Moustakas (23) Kansas City Royals (R)
Moustakas has show spurts of how good he can be, but has been consistently inconsistent. Middlebrooks is among the leaders in almost every offensive category among rookies, and has a very respectable glove at the hot corner.

Starlin Castro (22) Chicago Cubs (R)
Elvis Andrus (23) Texas Rangers (R)
Starlin Castro is an amazing talent, a career .300 hitter, and is arguably the best shortstop in baseball (top 3 in my opinion). Andrus is no slouch either, but when put on a team with Castro he'd have to be the second option. 


The outfield gets a little tricky. My heart wants me to start Jason Heyward, but his defense of late has been lackluster, and has been very inconsistent at the plate. However, he and Harper can be switched pretty easily at this point and time. 

Left Field:
Bryce Harper (19) Washington Nationals (L) 
Jason Heyward (22) Atlanta Braves (L)
Harper has tremendous arm strength, is hitting just under .300 since being called up to the big leagues and has an OBP of .372. At the incredibly young age of 19, you really can't ask much more than that. The power numbers will increase as he plays more.

Center Field:
Mike Trout (20) Los Angeles Angels (R) 
Jason Heyward (22) Atlanta Braves (L)
Mike Trout has speed that is rarely possessed by anybody to play baseball. He can cover a lot of ground in the outfield, hit for average, steal bases, and has pop in his bat as well. If Trout can stay healthy he has the ability to be one of the most complete players to ever play.

Right Field:
Giancarlo Stanton (22) Miami Marlins (R) 
Jason Heyward (22) Atlanta Braves (L)
Power. Stanton has a lot of it. He hits homeruns that only a few can even try to mimic. His average in 2012 is just under .300; if he can keep his average up, while still having the same power numbers, it could be very scary for opponents. He also has a canon in the outfield to go with the offense.


Now for the pitching. There were two starting pitchers that got cut from the rotation and moved to the bullpen. Those two are Rick Porcello and Chris Sale. Porcello has struggled and would be the long relief option, while on the contrary, Chris Sale has been outstanding for the White Sox as a starter this year. Sale has great stuff and saw time in the pen before becoming a starter for the Sox this season. With lack of lefty options for the bullpen, Sale could bring a lot to this team in a set-up man role.

Starting Pitcher:
Stephen Strasburg (23) Washington Nationals (R)
Madison Bumgarner (22) San Francisco Giants (L)
Jarrod Parker (23) Oakland Athletics (R)
Matt Moore (22) Tampa Bay Rays (L)
Michael Pineda (23) New York Yankees (R)
For all of these pitchers the main key is staying healthy. Strasburg and Pineda have both already encountered major injuries. Strasburg has recovered and returned with great stuff, Pineda will try and do the same once he is healthy again. 

Addison Reed (23) White Sox (R) 

Relief Pitcher:
Rick Porcello (23) Detroit Tigers (R)

Julio Teheren (21) Atlanta Braves (R)
Drew Smyly (22) Tigers (L)
Kelvin Herrera (22) (R)
Chris Sale (23) White Sox (L)



1. Mike Trout CF (R)
2. Starlin Castro SS (R)
3. Bryce Harper LF (L)
4. Giancarlo Stanton RF (R)
5. Jesus Montero DH (R)
6. Eric Hosmer 1B (L)
7. Will Middlebrooks 3B (R)
8. Salvador Perez C (R)
9. Brett Lawrie 2B (R)

SP: Stephen Stasburg (R)

With the lack of lefties Harper and Hosmer were split up to balance the lineup. The lineup has decent speed throughout, with a lot in the top. Lawrie at the bottom helps turn the lineup over well, an of course the power in the middle of the lineup.

For a team of players all 23 and younger, this would certainly be a team to be reckoned with.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheFutureIs_Now


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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

AFC East Preview and Predictions

By: Mike Wagenman

New England Patriots

The Patriots are the epitome of a what an NFL franchise should be: great coaching, great ownership and management, excellence on the field, and smart and successful draft picks. The Patriots are among the Super Bowl favorites every year, and this year is no different thanks in part to their all-world quarterback Tom Brady, genius head coach Bill Belichick, and successful offseason. The Patriots are bringing back a more explosive offensive unit than the one that went 14-2 last season. They are looking to go farther in the playoffs than a divisional round exit to the Jets. The Pats bring back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and Danny Woodhead as far as running backs go, and drafted two more in California's Shane Vereen and LSU's Stevan Ridley. Both rookies have been impressive thus far in camp. New England also returns Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, two second-year pass catching tight ends, and they drafted Marshall's Lee Smith to serve as a blocking tight end. Their receiving core is extremely deep as well. Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, and Brandon Tate all return and will welcome in a true number one wideout in Chad Ochocinco. Six running backs, three tight ends, and five wide receivers, all as viable threats. Tom Brady also gets Logan Mankins back on the offensive line along with rookies Nate Solder from Colorado and Marcus Cannon from TCU. The one glaring hole for the Patriots last season was their defense, which, according to Jets linebacker Bart Scott, couldn't “stop a nose bleed.” I hate to say it, but Mr. “Can't Wait” had a point. The Patriots were ranked in the bottom five of most defensive categories, but they hope that rookie Ras-I Dowling from Virginia can sure up the secondary along with Pro Bowler Devin McCourty. New England brought in former Defensive Player of the Year Albert Haynesworth along with veteran Andre Carter to help Vince Wilfork penetrate the line up front. Jerod Mayo led the league in tackles last season, and if just one of the other young linebackers, preferably Jermaine Cunningham, can step up, the defense will drastically improve. The tough schedule (including the Jets twice, Chargers, Steelers, Eagles, and Colts) includes potent offenses that may be a bit tough to handle for the Pats defense. However, Tom Brady will get it done to bring home another AFC East title.

Season Prediction: 13-3, 1st Place AFC East.
Leading Passer: Tom Brady
Leading Rusher: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Leading Receiver: Wes Welker
Defensive Standout: Jerod Mayo (LB)
Other/Surprise Standout: Stevan Ridley (RB)

New York Jets

Not far behind the Patriots are the New York Jets. Gang Green always stands a legitimate chance to take down their opponents because they play an aggressive and impressive defensive game, led by head coach and defensive mastermind Rex Ryan. Although Ryan's antics may seem overdone and somewhat irritating, they do the trick to fire up the Jets. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has not proven himself as an elite quarterback yet, although he has won four road playoff games in two seasons. His regular season inconsistency (three more interceptions than touchdowns in his career) must change for the Jets to really consider themselves Super Bowl favorites. The Jets bring back much of the same squad from last season, especially on the defensive side of the ball which is key. Their defense is guaranteed to be a top 5, and their opponents' top receiver is sure to be stuck on Revis Island for most of the game. The Jets failed to address their one defensive problem from a year ago, however, and that was their pass rush. Most of their tackles in the backfield and their sacks were influenced by the secondary, whether it be from great coverage or from them blitzing. Ryan has faith that rookie lineman Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple can be a true force. He has to be, so he can replace Shaun Ellis and Kris Jenkins. The Jets offense was a bit lacking at times last season, thanks to a sub-par year from Shonn Greene. This season, LaDainian Tomlinson may show some age and may not be able to carry the load, so Greene must step up. Also, the offense relied mostly on quick slants and screens last season thanks to Sanchez's inaccuracy down the field. With the addition of 6'5” Plaxico Burress and slot reciever Derrick Mason, Sanchez has weapons to hit a few home runs. All in all, the Jets will be a good team and will snag a wild card spot. The loss of Brad Smith will hurt more than many people think, and the effortless attitude of Plaxico Burress may not sit well with Rex Ryan, but he usually finds a way to win, despite a somewhat difficult schedule.

Season Prediction: 11-5, 2nd Place AFC East.
Leading Passer: Mark Sanchez
Leading Rusher: Shonn Greene
Leading Receiver: Santonio Holmes
Defensive Standout: David Harris (LB)
Other/Surprise Standout: Jeremy Kerley (WR/KR)

Buffalo Bills

Yes, Buffalo is somewhere other than last place. The Bills haven't been very good for quite a while. Jim Kelly, where are you? Anyway, the Bills will actually improve and are relying on the Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick again this season, but he does not have many places to throw the football. Stevie Johnson had a monster breakout season in 2010, but now Lee Evans is gone. So, with Johnson as a true number one receiver whom defenses are aware of, a lot of double coverages will be thrown his way. Roscoe Parrish will probably be assuming the duties of number two wideout, although he is much more effective in the slot or returning punts. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will have to carry the load in the backfield, which, quite frankly, isn't all that bad. It's actually very workable. The addition of Brad Smith sparks some hope for Bills fans because he can do absolutely everything, and he did do absolutely everything against the Bills while a member of the rival Jets. He can throw, run, catch passes as a wide receiver, return kicks, and run the offense through the wildcat, not to mention he is very adept at all of those tasks. The Bills offensive line must improve, and that is the big x-factor. They have ample talent in Johnson, Parrish, Spiller, Jackson, and Smith, but those guys need room to operate and need time to get the football in their hands. Tackle Ed Wang is a real key. The Bills defense also must step up, so Buffalo used this offseason to acquire some man power to do so. Aside from rookie Marcell Dareus from Alabama, the Bills have a very makeshift defensive line. Their linebackers are very formidable however, especially now that they got rid of that disaster Aaron Maybin. Chris Kelsay is solid, although aging, and the same holds true for free agent signing Nick Barnett (former Packer). If those two can stay healthy, their veteran leadership can go a long way to helping the Bills win some games. Shawne Merriman has a lot to prove coming off countless injuries,but has shown glimpses of his Pro Bowl form from a few years ago with the Chargers. Linebacker Arthur Moats has emerged as the tackling machine, and a leader on the defense. Buffalo's secondary is actually very good. Jarius Byrd is a ballhawking free safety who intercepts a lot of deep balls, and they have four legitimate cornerbacks to help him. Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee, Drayton Florence, and rookie Aaron Williams have the ability to make big plays and lock down on some good receiving cores. The key for the defense is that they have to play together. They have a lot of pieces, but they must play together as a unit. Some age, some holes, and some lack of offense leave some question marks in Buffalo coming into the season, and make a playoff chance a bit of a long shot. A tough schedule also factors against the Bills, because I would love to put them at 7-9, but I just don't see them upsetting enough teams with a sub-par passing game. They will finish third in the AFC East.

Season Prediction: 6-10, 3rd Place AFC East
Leading Passer: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Leading Rusher: C.J. Spiller
Leading Receiver: Stevie Johnson
Defensive Standout: Marcell Darius (DL)
Other/Surprise Standout: Shawne Merriman (LB)

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have been underachieving recently, much thanks to their quarterback Chad Henne. He seemingly has lost all confidence in himself and looks like a deer in headlights in the pocket. In 2011, that must change from the outset if the Dolphins want any chance at a winning season. Miami drafted Mike Pouncey from Florida and signed former Cowboy Marc Columbo to help All-Pro Jake Long protect Henne. They also drafted explosive Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas in the second round and acquired former Heisman Trophy winner and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush to replace the departed Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the backfield. Thomas will be the feature back, and the sky is the limit for him, but with Bush's NFL struggles, Thomas will not have that veteran presence to teach him the tricks of the trade. The wide open and wildcat style of Tony Sparano, however will allow Bush to create his own lanes, but nothing compared to what he did at USC. Henne has Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall, Davonne Bess, and Brian Hartline as wide receivers and Anthony Fasano as his tight end, four very nice targets, but the problem is that he is almost incapable of delivering the ball to them. The Miami defense, like New England's is suspect. Linebacker Cameron Wake emerged as a dominant pass rusher and run stuffer, and the resigning of Jason Taylor (yes, again) will only help Wake improve. Too bad Taylor is nothing like the animal he used to be. The defensive line is lacking and the secondary is average at best, two spots that will really demoralize the Dolphins this year. Having to play the Patriots and Jets twice each, as well as San Diego, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Dallas, and even the Giants, plus the fact that they went a baffling 1-7 at home last season, will prove to be too much to handle for the Fish. They will miss out on the playoffs for another year, which will end Chad Henne's reign under center in South Beach.

Season Prediction: 4-12, 4th Place AFC East
Leading Passer: Chad Henne
Leading Rusher: Daniel Thomas
Leading Receiver: Brandon Marshall
Defensive Standout: Cameron Wake (LB)
Other/Surprise Standout: Davonne Bess (WR)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

AFC North Preview and Predictions

By: Mike Wagenman

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are seemingly a staple in the AFC playoff picture year after year, but since their Super Bowl victory over the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, Baltimore cannot seem to get over the hump en route to another championship. The Ravens are known for their stingy, hard hitting defense and efficient, but not extremely explosive offense. This year may be a bit different. The Ravens defense is still going to be one of the league's best, but the departure of starting safety Dawan Landry and cornerback Fabian Washington could prove to be huge losses. Defensive leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are a bit up there in age, but still can make a big difference for Baltimore. The offense will become more explosive than in recent years. Joe Flacco is another year older, wiser, and more experienced, and he has some proven weapons. Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans, and rookie Torrey Smith are Flacco's main targets and are three players who are electric and quick. The signing of running back Ricky Williams gives the Ravens a great change up back to spell Ray Rice. Throw in the 31st toughest schedule in the NFL (second easiest), and Baltimore will once again earn a spot in the AFC playoffs, as the AFC North champion.

Season Prediction: 12-4, 1st Place AFC North.
Leading Passer: Joe Flacco
Leading Rusher: Ray Rice
Leading Receiver: Anquan Boldin
Defensive Standout: Terrell Suggs (LB)
Other/Surprise Standout: Ed Dickson (TE)

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh is another team that seems to be in the AFC playoffs every season, along with Baltimore. These two teams create the Red Sox and Yankees of the NFL, as one always wins the division, and the other claims a wild card birth. The Steelers are known for their brick wall defense, but it is now the oldest defensive unit in the NFL. That age could provide the difference in an overtime game or a late season game, but they will still be skilled enough to shut down many of the league's great offenses. As long as safety Troy Polamalu is on the field, the Steelers have the upper hand. Pittsburgh's offensive skill players are poised to put up a lot of points. Two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has Rashard Mendenhall, who ran for 1,273 yards a year ago, and two of the fastest receivers in football in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger also has his two favorite target in Hines Ward and Heath Miller back, and a new veteran wideout, Jerricho Cotchery. The only concern for Pittsburgh is their offensive line. It was a problem last season, and they must do everything they can to protect Roethlisberger. The Steelers are the defending AFC champion, and will get the opportunity to repeat as they will make the playoffs again as a Wild Card.

Season Prediction: 11-5, 2nd Place AFC North.
Leading Passer: Ben Roethlisberger
Leading Rusher: Rashard Mendenhall
Leading Receiver: Mike Wallace
Defensive Standout: Troy Polamalu (SS)
Other/Surprise Standout: Antonio Brown (WR)

Cleveland Browns

The Browns are coming off a 5-11 season, and to the naked eye, that may seem very disappointing. However, the 2010 Browns season was actually very encouraging and points to a bright future in Cleveland. The Browns hung around with the big boys in most of their games, beating New England and New Orleans, and forcing the Jets into overtime before losing with no time on the clock. Colt McCoy, emerged as a true NFL quarterback, and although his numbers may not be incredibly impressive, he showed poise and awareness in the pocket. Peyton Hillis took the league by storm and quickly became a number one running back and a fan favorite, as evidence by the fans voting him to the cover of Madden 12. And the league's best X-Factor Joshua Cribbs can break a huge gain in the blink of an eye on any given play. Cleveland's defense wasn't its usual swiss cheese self, as defensive backs Joe Haden and T.J. Ward emerged as players that quarterbacks must be wary of. The Browns have a very tough schedule, playing Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice each, and visiting Indianapolis. They also have three upstart teams in Seattle, Jacksonville, and Houston on their schedule. The Browns do not have much of a shot at the postseason, but they do have the incentive to perform at a high level to keep their jobs under President Mike Holmgren, who has promised radical change and improvement.

Season Prediction: 5-11, 3rd Place AFC North.
Leading Passer: Colt McCoy
Leading Rusher: Peyton Hillis
Leading Receiver: Mohamed Massaquoi
Defensive Standout: Joe Haden (CB)
Other/Surprise Standout: Joshua Cribbs (WR/KR)

Cincinnati Bengals

It pains me to write about the Bengals. This season will be a mess inside Paul Brown Stadium. Quarterback Carson Palmer refuses to play for Cincinnati, and has threatened retirement. Running back Cedric Benson had yet another run-in with the law. Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, Cincy's two leading receivers from a year ago, are no longer on the team. Finally, their defense is terrible, and it will only get worse after the loss of Jonathan Joseph, one of the league's best lockdown cornerbacks. Andy Dalton or Bruce Gradkowski, whoever wins the quarterback job, will be at the helm and will have to stand behind an offensive line that would have trouble blocking the Cincinnati Bearcats defensive line. Their receivers are young, and aside from A.J. Green, all seem to be slot receivers at best. Cedric Benson has been fantastic for the Bengals, however, and if he can stay consistent, he may help the development of Dalton. Nate Clements is the number one corner on the defense and Manny Lawson was signed during the offseason, two capable defensive players but not enough to stop very many offenses. The Bengals will have a poor season, and have zero chance of making the playoffs. Hopefully for them, Green and Dalton can emerge as stars.

Season Prediction: 3-13, 4th Place AFC North.
Leading Passer: Andy Dalton
Leading Rusher: Cedric Benson
Leading Receiver: A.J. Green
Defensive Standout: Manny Lawson (LB)
Other/Surprise Standout: Jermaine Gresham (TE)