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Tyler Bray picked the worst time to miss four to six weeks with a fractured thumb on his throwing hand.
Bray, the Tennessee Volunteers' sophomore starting quarterback, sustained the injury when he hit his hand a Bulldogs' helmet in the Vols 20-12 loss to Georgia on Saturday.
Bray, who will be out for the minimum of a month, had started the 2011 season strong, with the only loss (until Georgia) coming at the hands of Florida in the swamp. And as conference play gets into full swing, Bray is going to miss the most important games against the top competition in the nation that a young quarterback needs to elevate his game. Those games are vital to the learning curve of an SEC quarterback. Especially one who's only in his second year.
Filling in for Bray will be Matt Simms, who started eight games last season. It will be interesting to see how the Vols respond to the loss of their starting quarterback. No one expects them to take down an LSU or Bama, as they're still in rebuilding mode.
The Vols have shown they've been able to beat lower-grade teams, but if they want to compete on the national stage once again, they're going to have to get a few wins against top competition.
But everyone will learn a lot about the heart and spirit of this team if they play hard and don't give up on the season. A win against either South Carolina or Arkansas, the last two ranked teams they play the rest of the season, will give Tennessee something important to build on for next year.
How Bray responds to so much missed time in his young career will remain to be seen for a couple of years.
The Texas Rangers aren't happy with a 1-0 lead in the ALCS, even if they just beat one of the hottest pitchers in baseball.
After disposing of Cy Young lock Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers 3-2 in a rain-interrupted first game of the ALCS, the Rangers are sending Derek Holland to the mound who already has an ALDS win under his belt in 2011, giving up just one run in five innings pitched in game 2 against the Tampa Rays.
Holland is coming off a great season, where he lead the American league in shutouts with four. He's has never pitched against the Tigers, who's potent lineup has posed a problem for pitchers all season.
In contrast, the Tigers are sending Max Scherzer to the mound to try and even the series at 1 game a piece. While Holland has no history against the Tigers, Scherzer has a record of 3-0 against the Rangers in six starts with a tidy 3.41 ERA against Texas.
Rick Porcello was originally going to start game two, but he put in some relief work on Saturday and Max talked Tigers manager Jim Leyland into letting him start after Max Scherzer tossed a few balls to see how his arm felt (he also pitched some relief) and it felt fine. Scherzer let Leyland know that he could go and Porcello was pulled and Max was slotted in.
"So I jumped the gun a little bit in giving the rotation," Leyland said. "I apologize for that."
What will remain to be seen is how Scherzer responds to the pressure of a much-needed win for the Tigers. It's not yet must-win terrotory, but if the Tigers go down 2-0, they will definitely be behind the eight ball. Scherzer pitched six strong innings in game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees, giving up no runs and striking out five.
If he can do that again, the Tigers will be in a great position to even the series. But shutting down a Yankees offense that had been inconsistent in the playoffs will be much different than keeping the powerful Rangers lineup off the board. The Rangers, who are stacked at every position can seemingly score at will when they get hot.
Will Scherzer handle the pressure against a stacked lineup on the road? He'll have to step up his game and continue his strong postseason play.
by Charlie Miller
With little hope in mid-September, the St. Louis Cardinals somehow have managed to find their way into the NLCS for the fourth time in eight years. Meanwhile in Milwaukee, the Brewers will play in the NLCS for the first time in their history. Back in 1982, the Brewers played in the ALCS and defeated the California Angels to reach the World Series.
This series could not be much more evenly matched. The two teams split their 18 games this season and know each other so well. Both feature big boppers in the heart of the lineup and pretty good, but not great, starting pitching. The only real difference lies in the bullpens. The Brewers’ dependable bullpen gives Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke comfort in knowing his team is 81-1 with a lead after eight innings. Setup men Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez in front of closer John Axford take the pressure off the Brewers’ starters to have to go more than six innings. The much-maligned Cardinals’ bullpen was shaky at best for much of the season. But there have been fewer better performances than the Redbirds’ relievers gave with six shutout innings in their Game 2 comeback win over Philadelphia.
Milwaukee has been the best team at home throughout the season, but rest assured, the Cardinals will not be intimidated. They just survived the Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt gauntlet and won Game 5 before a raucous crowd in Philadelphia. And since August 1, after both teams made final adjustments to their rosters, the Cardinals won seven of 12 meetings. No doubt this series will be a battle between these two familiar rivals of the National League Central.
The Cardinals’ offense, which led the NL in runs during the regular season, struggled with only 19 runs and two home runs in the five NLDS games.
Keys for St. Louis
The Cardinals must get quality innings from the bullpen. Manager Tony La Russa was able to play matchups and manage his way through some tough innings, especially in Game 2, against the Phillies. Unlike the Brewers. the Cardinals don’t have the consistent go-to guys late in the game. La Russa was a master at controlling matchups in the series with Philadelphia by mixing and matching his entire bullpen.
Keys for Milwaukee
As good as the Brewers have been at home this season, they lost both games at Arizona and didn’t look like the same team. So they must hold serve at home. It was also clear how much they rely on their stars, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. As the series with Arizona wore on, the Diamondbacks pitched around the two MVP candidates. Expect similar treatment from St. Louis, so the Brewers must have clutch performances from the supporting cast.
Cardinals to Watch
Albert Pujols is poised to break out this postseason. He hit the Phillies well enough to receive an intentional walk that loaded the bases with one out for Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday late in Game 5. Rafael Furcal will set the table and spark the offense. Look for Yadier Molina to provide a clutch bat.
Brewers to Watch
Expect Jerry Hairston, Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan to step up in support of Braun and Fielder. Hairston had a good series against St. Louis in late August and was clutch in the Arizona series. Hart drove in 15 runs in only 16 games against the Redbirds while Morgan ignited the offense with a .393 OBP. Hart, who has batted leadoff since Rickie Weeks went down with an injury, may be moved to the No. 5 spot to protect Fielder.
Milwaukee in 7
As the Giants coaching staff assured everyone that Manningham was still the starter, despite solid production form back up Victor Cruz, Manningham finds himself in a good position to have a great Sunday against a banged up Seahawks secondary.
The Seahawks, who are already the 16th ranked passing defense, will be without Marcus Trufant, the Hawks cornerback who would have most likely been covering Manningham. So Mario will have a chance to be super as he returns from a concussion. Not only will he have a chip on his shoulder to prove that he should be the starter ahead of Cruz, he'll be going up against a young back up all day long.
Look for Eli Manning to get him involved early and often. Manningham and Eli had a great connection last year, and Mario will most likely want to get that chemistry back on track.
And to make things even better for the Giants passing attack, change of pace back Brandon Jacobs is inactive, leaving the Giants ground game undermanned. All signs point to this being a big day for all of the Giants wide receivers, but with Manningham back in the lineup and with something to prove, look for him to give it a little extra in Week 5.
Start him with supreme confidence as I would expect 6 receptions, 75 yards and a touchdown.
Jacobs injured his MCL last week. The extent of his injury is unknown, but there should be more information available early next week to see if he only needs one week off, or if he'll be shelved for longer.
As always, bad news for one fantasy owner is good news for another. Ahmad Bradshaw owners should see an increase in production, as Bradshaw will carry the bulk of the load (as well as goal line chances) and get somewhere between 20-30 touches today against a pretty good Seahawks run defense.
Danny Ware will slide in as Bradshaw's primary bakc-up. He's worth keeping an eye on if Jacobs is out for an extended period of time. Or if Bradshaw gets dinged up today. Ware doesn't have much experience, but you never know where you can squeeze some unexpected production from in a fantasy season, especially as bye weeks start to rear their ugly heads.
And that means you should trade him immediately, because he will never be worth more than he is today. The Chiefs aren't going to do much on offense this year. Matt Cassel has shown that he probably won't be a starting quarterback next season if the Chiefs get one of the top two picks in next year's draft. And while Bowe will get some touchdowns here and there, the Colts small corners were no match for Bowe's size and skill.
If the Chiefs were playing the Colts every game for the rest of the season, I would say hold onto him. But they're not.
And Bowe's production will fall back down when he goes up against teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago and the Jets later in the fantasy football playoff weeks. Meaning, you'll get very little out of him when you need him the most.
So while Bowe will still put up some production for the rest of the season (the Chiefs will be losing a lot, so they'll be throwing a lot), but if you can find a fantasy owner who has stars in his eyes expecting Bowe to duplicate his insane production from the second half of last year, and will be willing to part with a first or second rounder for him, take that trade if you can find it.
Cedric Benson will probably be suspended by the NFL early next week. So enjoy him now.
Fantasy football owners are going to be very glad the NFL waited a couple extra weeks to suspend the Cincinnati Bengals running back, with Cinci going up against the hapless Jaguars in Week 5.
Originally it looked like Benson's suspension was going to take place a couple weeks ago, causing him to miss good match-ups against Buffalo and Jacksonville. Last week, Benson had a 100 yard game against the Bills, and he should do at least as much against the Jags, who give up 107 yards on the ground per game.
The one extra upside to Benson's play against Jacksonville, is that the Benglas have a pretty good defense. And they should keep the struggling (and let's just face it, really bad) Jaguars offense from putting up a lot of points.
If this game goes the way it should on paper, the Bengals will most likely have a somewhat comfortable lead going into the second half, which means they will pound it on the ground a lot. Which means a heavy dose of Cedric Benson. I would look for 125+ yards from Cedric and at least one score, if not two.
And since it looks like he'll be suspended for one-to-three games (the announcement could come early this week), this game should be anice one for him to go out on.
Also keep an eye on Bernard Scott, the Bengals back-up who will fill in for Benson when he is finally suspended. Scott won't do a whole lot, but week 5 starts the byes, which means you'll probably be scrambling to fill in for someone on a bye, and you could do worse than Scott. Just as long as you don't expect too much production out of him.
Aaron Hernandez looks like he'll be ready to play in week 5 against the Jets.
One half of the New England Patriots tight end tandem has missed the last two weeks with a sprained knee, but should be ready to suit up against the Jets in week 5.
Hernandez was able to practice Thursday for the first time since spraining his MCL in week 2, but more importantly he was able to follow it up and practice on Friday as well. The day after the first practice is always the true test to see if a player can return from injury.
And Boston area beat writers have said that they haven't seen Hernandez walking with a limp. Another great sign that he'll play. He will, of course, be listed as questionable for the game, and you should definitely check the inactive lists an hour and a half before game time, but if there are no surprise red flags, get him in your lineup.
Hernandez was having a Pro-Bowl caliber season after just two games, posting 165 yards receiving, 14 receptions and two touchdowns. If he can continue at half that pace, he will be one of your more productive players (when he's in the lineup.)
Rob Gronkowski owners should expect some decline in their production with Hernandez back int he lineup, but with Tom Brady throwing it all over the field, don't expect it to fall off too much.
—Oct. 10, 2011
Frank Gore should get the majority of snaps on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers running back has been nursing an ankle injury, but it looks like he'll play through it this week against the Buccanneers.
According to San Fran beat writer, Gore is expected to get 2/3rds of the carries with capable back-up Kendall Hunter getting the rest.
And Gore owners should be happy about that this week with the 49ers facing a sketchy Tampe Bay run defense. Through four games, the Bucs have given up 4 yards per carry and allowed just over 100 yards per game to opposing running backs.
Gore, coming off a game last week where he was also questionable going into the game against the Eagles, and he hung 127 yards and a touchdown on Philly's defense. He should be healthier this week than he was last week. So, you know he should be able to put up another monster day, as Gore is one of the best running backs in the league when he's healthy. He was limited in pracitce all last week, but that seems more precautionary than anything.
Put him in your lineups with confidence today, with an expectation of 15-20 touches, 90 yards and a score with a few receptions sprinkled in.
Rashard Mendenhall is a high draft pick playing like a late-round flyer in 2011.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back was a late first or early second round pick in a lot of leagues, and he hasn't come close to being worth that high price this season.
And his hamstring issues aren't making things easier for his owners. In week 5, Mendenhall will be one of the dreaded game-time decisions as the Steelers trainers will apparently be working on his hamstring up until the very last minute to see if he'll be able to play.
Here's a message for Rashard owners: Save yourself the headache and sit him anyway. Yes, even if he plays.
If Mendenhall was having a great season, we'd be giving you different advice. But his poor play, combined with the iffiness of his hamstring injury means he's not worth the roster spot this week against Tennessee's tough run defense.
Reason #1 To Sit Him Even If He Plays:
In four games in 2011, Mendenhall is averaging only 3 yards per carry, and has only found the end zone twice, ranking him as the 30th running back overall (my guess is you took him as the 8th or 9th back overall. Ouch.) Two touchdowns in four games isn't that bad, except when you consider that's he's supposed to be the feature back on a classically run-first offense.
Were his 370 carries last year too much for his body to bounce back from? It remains to be seens, but he's just not having the same production he did last year.
Reason #2 To Sit Him Even If He Plays:
And this week, the Titans defense is no slouch, ranking 8th overall against the run, giving up only 87 yards per game on the ground. So it's not like Rashard would have lit it up against the Titans even if he was 100% healthy.
To make matters worse, the Steelers have Isaac Redman playing much more spirited football, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. So why would the Steelers push Mendenhall and risk further, more serious injury when they have a back who can step in and carry the load and be just as dynamic as they thought Mendenhall would be? (Answer: They won't.)
As you can see, all signs point to starting someone else instead of Mendenhall this week. His upside is very low. I would start someone like Joseph Addai or Mark Ingram in his place without hesitation. You know what you're going to get with Rashard, but some of the upside gambles could pay off.
Chances are they won't do any worse than Mendenhall in week 6.
The cause of death is currently unknown, but the team site says they will issue a statement later today with more information.
Davis, who has been highly criticized in recent decades for making seemingly poor football decisions, was 82 years old. And while the Raiders had struggled in recent years, it should not be forgotten that his "Just Win, Baby" mantra in the 70s turned the Raiders into a very successful franchise. And even though he has taken a lot of flack in recent years, the Raiders have exceeded expectations this season and have one of the more exciting offenses in the NFL.
In his 48 years as owner of the Raiders, Oakland won 3 Super Bowl championships (Super Bowls XI, XV and XVIII) and had 28 winning seasons. Davis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. Loved him or hated him, you had to admit that he always wanted the best for the Oakland Raiders. He was George Steinbrenner before there was George Steinbrenner.
He was known for feuding with players and coaches and had a penchant for being an owner who made decisions that would override those of his coaching staff and GMs.
His death marks a very big turning point for not only the Raiders team, but for the league as well. With Davis at the helm and making unconventional decisions (like paying Nnamdi Asomugha much more than the market would have), the Raiders have had a ripple effect on the league.
It is unclear who will take over control of the Oakland Raiders, but much more information should be forthcoming. Davis has suffered from ill-health for a while.
Earlier this year, Al Michaels said that the Raiders would never win a Super Bowl as long as Al Davis was still alive and running the Raiders. We're guessing he feels a little bad for saying that now.
It will also be interesting to see how the Black Hole, the Raiders rabid and often insane fan base shows their support for Davis this weekend.
The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners have a long and storied rivalry. And today they renew that rivalry on the football field. So, we thought we'd let them battle it out in photos and post some of the best images of signs and insults through the years. Because at the end of the day, everyone wins when someone spends the time to create a sign or shirt that mocks a bitter rival. Isn't that really what college football is all about?
While the Sooners are expected to win handily, rivalry games are much harder to predict on paper. Click here to see our complete prediction for the Oklahoma Texas game. And scroll down to enjoy some good, old fashioned fan rivalry below.
Vincent Jackson is a must play every week he's in the lineup. But you probably knew that.
This week, Jackson, who's been struggling with a hamstring and strained abdomen issues for the last few weeks, should be good to go, but his match-up against the Broncos' Champ Bailey has some owners worried.
They shouldn't be.
V-Jax participated in all of San Diego's Friday practice and drills and looks like he will be on the field Sunday against the Broncos.
Normally, a match-up against the Broncos' top corner Champ Bailey would cause owners to downgrade a wide receiver. Bailey has a history of shutting down top wideouts, but he's coming off a hamstring injury of his own. Bailey hasn't played since the first week of the season and should be rusty trying to guard Jackson, one of the top receivers in football.
So if a shutdown corner and a star wide receiver both have hamstring issues, who wins? The smart money is on the wide receiver.
Last week Jackson played 22 snaps through pain and managed to post 108 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. And Norv Turner expects Vincent to play at least that many. Which means he'll probably be on the field for even more snaps this week than he was last week.
Vincent has at least been on the field for every game of the season. There's no way Champ will be himself and he'll have to shake off the rust of missing a month against one of the best receivers in the game, who's got one of the hottest quarterbacks throwing to him in a pass-first offense. That's a tall order for even Champ Bailey, who, it should be noted is 33 this season. His body won't bounce back the way it has in the past.
Will Champ be a little more hesitant than usual concerning his hamstring injury. Probably. And that's why I think Vincent Jackson will perform better than most fantasy football pundits think he will this week.
It should also be noted that the Chargers will be without Philip Rivers go-to-third down option Antonio Gates, leaving that many more targets on the table for Vincent. The only concern is that the Broncos anemic offense won't produce enough points the keep the Chargers throwing. But San Diego throws so much, that that should be too much of a worry.
Make sure you check the inactive lists on Sunday, but you can almost assuredly put Vincent Jackson in your lineup and not worry about him. He should play more snaps than last week and post solid numbers against a rusty and hesitant Champ Bailey.
Beanie Wells has been a fantasy football star this season. When's he's in the lineup, that is.
While Beanie has performed much better expected than his position this season (he's averaging over 5 yards a carry and has found the end zone five times in three games), he's also been a headache for his owners.
Two weeks ago, when the Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt had said all week that Beanie, who had tweaked a hamstring, was going to play. Then Sunday afternoon came around (Arizona was playing a late-afternoon game) and Beanie owners were scrambling to put in a back-up when news broke that he was sitting.
Then the same thing happened last week, with a much different result. All week, Beanie owners were wondering if he was going to play. Everything looked good, but they'd heard that before only to have to sit him.
Well, Beanie played last week and hung 138 yards and three touchdowns on the Giants.
And the rollercoaster ride continues this week, with the Cardinals officially listing Beanie as "Questionable", but it seems like all signs point to him playing. He has shown no ill effects this week and has missed no practice. And there have been no whispers that he is feeling anything other than good after his career day last week.
Our guess is that the Cards are just calling him questionable as a precautionary measure, given his history. It's still unclear (from a locker room standpoint) if it was a good decision for Beanie to take himself out of the game a couple weeks ago. But he went a long way in proving himself to his teammates with his performance against the Giants.
Will Beanie hang another 100+ yard and multi-TD game against a much better Minnesota run defense? Probably not, but Beanie is proving himself a must play this season when he's in the lineup.
Make sure you keep an eye on the inactive lists that come out Sunday at 10:30 eastern--thankfully the Cardinals are playing an early game at the Vikings. But it looks like all systems are go for Beanie in week 5.
Update, Oct 9, 7:46 am: Beanie has said that his hamstring is "99% normal." We'll take a chance that the 1% won't derail him. Get him in your lineups.
The AL East, with three 90-win teams, looked like the power division in baseball for most of the season. The Boston Red Sox had a ton of expectations after the free agent signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Gonzalez performed as expected, leading the BoSox in batting average, hits and RBIs. Crawford’s first season at Fenway was a disappointment, hitting a career-low .255. Boston fell apart in September, going 7-20 over the final month and missing the postseason. The New York Yankees led the American League in wins with 97 but could not come up with enough clutch hitting in the ALDS against Detroit. Tampa Bay was the surprise team that took advantage of the Red Sox demise, but the Rays were no match for the Rangers in their playoff division series.
That leaves the American League with a championship series of Texas and Detroit. The Rangers were solid across the board this season, finishing first in MLB in batting average and third in runs scored. But it may be Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux who deserves much of the credit for helping the Rangers to the second-straight ALCS. The staff finished fifth in the AL in ERA this year, and that was without 2010 trade acquisition Cliff Lee leading the way. Ron Washington’s club will have the home-field advantage against the Detroit and will be looking to get back to consecutive World Series.
Detroit caught fire down the stretch, hitting an MLB second-best .293 after the All-Star Break. Of course, the leader all season was ace flamethrower Justin Verlander. The obvious Cy Young winner and possible MVP candidate led the majors in wins (24), innings pitched (251.0) and strikeouts (250). Additionally, closer Jose Valverde converted all 49 of his regular-season save chances, plus two more in the ALDS win over the Yankees. With Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez leading a loaded lineup, the Tigers will be a tough out against Detroit. Game 1 is Saturday night in Texas.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Is going 8-3-1 against the spread a good thing? Because that is what happened last week, and I sure hope you got in on the action. I hit on my top four picks (Tech tied) as well as winning underdogs Northwestern, Arkansas, Washington and Michigan State. I have gone to the well multiple times with LSU, Alabama, Stanford and Georgia Tech this season, and Bama came through for me again last weekend.
As I dove into the Week 6 slate of college football action, I began to get a queasy feeling deep in my gut. There is not a lot to like this weekend.
Season Record ATS: 28-17-2 (8-3-1 last week)
Week 6's Top Picks:
UConn (+19.5) at West Virginia
The Huskies currently sit at 2-3 with losses to not-exactly-worldbeaters Iowa State, Vanderbilt and Western Michigan. UConn ranks 86th in the nation in scoring, and it appears hard to believe that it can score with WVU's 13th rated scoring attack. In fact, the Mountaineers have never lost to UConn in three meetings in Morgantown — scoring over 46 points per game in those wins. Geno Smith should have a field day after watching UConn give up 38 points and 479 yards to Western Michigan's Alex Carder last week. My Pick: West Virginia -19.5
Arizona State (-3.5) at Utah
The Utes, coming off an upset home loss to Washington in which they rushed for 17 yards on 23 carries, will be without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn. Instead, they turn to junior college transfer Jon Hays. The newcomer threw for 156 yards with one touchdown and one interception each in the second half. Arizona State has scored 78 points in its 2-0 Pac-12 start behind the powerful running of Cameron Marshall. The Sun Devils also held the Oregon State rushing game to 47 yards last week and will once again force the QB to beat them. The Utes' 91st-ranked pass defense will struggle against Arizona State, and Utah will start its Pac-12 existence 0-3. My Pick: Arizona State -3.5
Iowa (+4) at Penn State
The Hawkeyes have dominated this contest for the better part of a decade. They have won eight out of nine overall and five of the last six meetings in Beaver Stadium. Iowa, behind a very balanced offensive attack, have scored no less than 31 points in a game this season while Penn State has totalled 41 points against Temple, Indiana and Alabama (discounting the 34-point effort against Eastern Michigan). Iowa should win this game outright, so the four points are simply a nice little cushion. It doesn't hurt that Penn State is the only team in the nation 0-5 against the spread this fall. My Pick: Iowa +4
Louisville (-13.5) at North Carolina
The Cardinals are reeling after one of the worst BCS showings of the season. Louisville rushed for 60 yards on 29 carries in the 17-13 loss to Marshall last weekend. They are averaging just over 18 points per game to rank 105th in the nation in scoring. The Tar Heels are reaping the benefits of some of the most balanced offensive football in the nation (226 rushing, 230 passing last week). North Carolina has scored at least 28 points in three straight games and will ride tailback Giovani Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner against a Louisville team that will be simply overmatched. North Carolina -13.5
Texas A&M (-9.5) at Texas Tech
The Red Raiders have won seven of the last eight meetings in Lubbock and are sporting one of the nation's most potent offenses. Tech is fourth in the nation in scoring at 47.25 points per game and seventh nationally at 525 yards per game. Texas A&M on the other hand is staggering around the ring after two second-half uppercuts to the jaw by Oklahoma State and Arkansas. The Aggies have allowed an alarming 948 yards passing in the last two, so look for Seth Doege and his plethora of talented skill players to keep this one close. No one wants to lose the last conference game ever played with the Aggies. Texas Tech +9.5
Boston College (-20.5) at Clemson
The Tigers have won three straight games over Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Eagles have yet to beat an FBS opponent in 2011. With losses to Duke, UCF, Wake Forest and Northwestern, Boston College should pose no threat to the Tigers. They rank 99th in total offense and 98th in scoring offense, while Clemson is clicking on all cylinders. Tajh Boyd is playing brilliant football with 13 total touchdowns and only one interception over his last four games. BC lost 25-7 on its last trip to Death Valley, and this weekend should be even worse. My Pick: Clemson -20.5
If you are still feeling lucky:
Illinois (-14) at Indiana
Illini are getting to the quarterback, and Hoosiers are not protecting him. Illini big.
East Carolina (-11) at Houston
The Pirates are 100th in scoring defense this fall and should not slow Houston. Take the Cougars and the over.
Auburn (+10) at Arkansas
There is just no point in ever betting against Auburn — ever again. High-scoring, close game.
Michigan (-7) at Northwestern
The Wolverines have allowed a total of 10 points in three games. This team is starting to look shockingly like a Michigan football team.
Georgia (-1.5) at Tennessee
The Vols will not be able to run the ball — at all. The Dawgs are just the better team.
Florida (+13) at LSU
Jeff Driskel making his first career start in Death Valley? No thanks. Geaux Tigers.
4-0 Against the Spread: Georgia Tech (4-0-1), Rutgers, Stanford
4-1 Against the Spread: Alabama, Arkansas St, Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida, Marshall, Michigan, Temple, UTEP, Washington, Western Michigan, Wisconsin
3-1 Against the Spread: Baylor, Georgia (3-1-1), Kansas State, Missouri, Navy, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Texas, Texas Tech, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State
0-5 Against the Spread: Penn State
0-4 Against the Spread: NC State (0-4-1), Oregon State
1-4 Against the Spread: Arizona State, Boston College, Central Michigan, Colorado State, UConn, Kent State, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, UCLA, Tulane, Virginia, Virginia Tech
1-3 Against the Spread: Air Force, Florida State, Louisville, Maryland, Miami (Fla.), Miami (Ohio), Oregon State, Purdue, Rice, South Carolina (1-3-1), Texas A&M, TCU (1-3-1), Troy
Other Week 6 Content:
Mitch Light's Top Ten Match-ups of Week 6
Steven Lassan's Oklahoma-Texas In-depth Preview
Athlon Picks Every Game of the Week 6 Slate
Athlon's Editors Debate the Red River Rivalry
Week 5 Biggest Storylines and Upsets To Watch
— by Mark Ross
In 2009, the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series title, far and away the most of any major league baseball franchise. They have returned to the postseason the past two years, this season as the top seed in the American League by posting the second-most (97) wins in all of baseball.
But following last night's 3-2 ALDS Game 5 loss to the Detroit Tigers in Yankees Stadium, the team with the highest payroll in the game is left to ponder an early postseason exit for the second year in a row.
While most teams would love to make the playoffs three years in a row, let alone be just two years removed from winning the World Series, this is the Yankees we're talking about where success is measured by one thing — championships.
Look no further than what team president Randy Levine told ESPNNewYork.com earlier today, "We are the Yankees... When you don't win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year." So with this season already labeled a failure, the focus now shifts to next season and what will the 2012 Yankees look like.
Starting at the top, general manager Brian Cashman is in the final year of his contract. Cashman has been the Yankees' GM since 1998, overseeing four championship teams during his tenure. However, he's also had to weather a fair amount of criticism and take the brunt of the blame when the team has fallen short of its expected goal, such as this year.
It remains to be seen if Levine and the other team executives think it's time for a change in the front office or not, although it should be pointed out that Levine has expressed his desire to re-sign Cashman. Complicating things is the fact that Cashman's name has already been suggested and bandied about for other GM jobs that are open or could come open, most notably the one belonging to the Chicago Cubs.
No matter what happens in the front office, it certainly appears that manager Joe Girardi will be back in 2012. Girardi, who just finished his fourth season as the Yankees' skipper, has a 384-264 record in the regular-season and a 18-10 mark in the postseason. His Yankees team have participated in the past three postseasons, highlighted by the World Series title in 2009. Girardi is signed through the 2013 season and there don't appear to be any signs that a change in the dugout is forthcoming.
As for the product on the field, the Yankees entered the 2011 season with a team payroll of more than $200 million, the highest in the league. The next highest payroll belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies, whose players' salaries totaled around $30 million less than that of the Yankees.
A high team payroll is nothing new for the Yankees and despite another early postseason exit it's not going to change next year. The Yankees currently have more than $150 million committed in salary for the 2012 season, thanks to the lucrative, long-termed contracts belonging to the likes of Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
In fact, these six players alone account for more than $108 million in salary, which is more than the entire payrolls for all but nine TEAMS this past season, according to figures provided by USA Today.
To be fair, Teixeira (.248, 39 HR, 111 RBI), Jeter (.302, 84 R, 61 RBI) and Rivera (1.91 ERA, 44 saves) did their part all season, while the same can not be said for the oft-injured Rodriguez (.276, 16 HR, 62 RBI in just 99 games) and erratic Burnett (11-11,. 5.15 ERA). And then there's Sabathia.
The left-hander had a fine regular season (19-8, 3.00 ERA, 230 Ks in 237 1/3 innings), but he was ineffective in the postseason (6.23 ERA in the ALDS) for the second straight season. What's more, Sabathia, who signed a seven-year, $161-million contract with the Yankees in December 2008, has an opt out clause that if exercised, would make him a free agent this offseason.
While it seems highly unlikely that he would walk away from a guaranteed $92 million over the next four years, Sabathia, who turned 31 this season, may be viewing this as his final opportunity to sign a substantial contract. If he does opt out, there's no reason not to think that the Yankees would do everything they can to re-sign him, but outside of Texas Rangers' left-hander C.J. Wilson, there's not a lot of marquee pitchers among this offseason's potential free agent crop. So if the Yankees do end up re-signing Sabathia, he certainly won't come cheap.
Outside of Sabathia becoming a potential free agent, the only other significant free agent on the Yankees' current roster is Jorge Posada. Early indications are this is the end of Posada's career in pinstripes as the 40-year-old hit just .235 with 14 home runs and 44 RBI in 344 at bats and played a grand total of 16 games in the field, 14 of those coming at first base.
Posada's catching days are long past him as Russell Martin became the starting backstop this season and the Yankees have Teixeira entrenched at first and don't lack for DH options. They also have Jesus Montero, the organization's top hitting prospect, waiting in the wings. Montero, who will turn 22 in November, hit .328 in limited action after being called up in September and figures to be the Yankees' primary DH headed into next season, while spelling Martin behind the plate on occasion.
The infield for next season is already set with Rodriguez (3rd), Jeter (ss), Teixeira (1st) and Robinson Cano (2b). Cano is arguably the Yankees' best all-around player, which is saying something on this star-studded roster. Cano has hit .302 or better the past three seasons and averaged 103 runs, 27 home runs and 104 RBI during the same span. He also has totaled six home runs and 15 RBI while batting .333 the past two postseasons.
Cano, who will turn 29 in November, made $10 million this season and has a $14 million club option for next season and a $15 million club option in 2013. Considering Jeter, who will turn 38 next June, and Rodriguez, 37 next July, will be paid a collective $92 million the next two seasons, it's safe to assume that Cano isn't going anywhere in the immediate future.
Despite the offensive numbers that Cano and Teixeira each put up this season, the best season at the plate by a Yankee came from center fielder Curtis Granderson. In his second season in pinstripes, Granderson led the majors in runs (136), was second in home runs (41), third in RBI (119) and also stole 25 bases. The 30-year-old is one of the top candidates for AL MVP and even if he doesn't win, a top-five finish in the voting seems all but certain, which would raise his 2013 club option from $13 to $15 million.
Granderson should be joined in the outfield next season by Brett Gardner, who for the second straight season showed he can be a productive everyday player. Gardner batted .259 with 87 runs scored and tied for second in the majors with 49 stolen bases this season. The 28-year-old Gardner is arbitration-eligible and positioned for a significant raise from his roughly $500,000 salary this season.
The biggest question related to the outfield is who will round out the starting trio? Nick Swisher has given the Yankees three steady, consistent years at the plate and in the field and has a $10.25 club option for next season. The Yankees may choose to decline the option on Swisher, who will turn 31 in November, and look to free agency for his replacement.
The Yankees may also look to get younger on their bench as both Eric Chavez (turns 34 in December) and Andruw Jones (35 next April) are free agents. With Jeter and Rodriguez getting older, the need to find younger, productive bench players becomes even more important so Girardi can give his veterans the rest they need throughout the season.
Whatever the Yankees' decision-makers decide do in the outfield and with their bench, it doesn't look like they will be joining in the sweepstakes for either of the marquee free agents that will be out there this winter — Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. As has already been mentioned, the Yankees are set at first with Teixeira and, even though they can afford it, don't need another high-priced DH.
Besides, if the Yankees are going to spend any significant amount of money this offseason it's going to be where it's needed most — pitching. If Sabathia does choose to opt out of his contract, re-signing him will be become their no. 1 priority. Outside of that, there figures to be a lot of turnover on the pitching staff.
Sabathia was far and away the Yankees' best starting pitcher, which only further reinforces the amount of leverage he holds as he decides whether to opt out or not. Burnett for whatever reason just hasn't been able to put it all together during this three seasons in pinstripes. Even though he's owed $33 million the next two seasons, the Yankees may even explore trading him to someone else just to be rid of him.
If that happens, at best the Yankees will have to eat a significant amount of his contract or what's more likely, take back another bad contract/team's headache (the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano perhaps?) in the process.
To give a better assessment of the state of the Yankees' starting pitching, look no further than the fact that if not for a 24-year-old rookie and two under-the-radar free agent signees, there's a chance they may not have even made the postseason.
Should Sabathia opt out and the Yankees are unable to re-sign him, at least they have Ivan Nova. The rookie from the Dominican Republic made 27 starts this season, finishing second on the team with 16 wins. A strong candidate to win AL Rookie of the Year honors, Nova figures to be a key piece to the Yankees' rotation for years to come.
After Nova, the next biggest surprise regarding the Yankees' rotation was the performances of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Signed to minor-league contracts in January and February respectively, the duo worked their way into the starting rotation and combined to make 51 starts with 311 innings pitched, 20 wins and a 3.82 ERA. While they may not have been spectacular, the 38-year-old Colon and 35-year-old Garcia were reliable and certainly justified their collective $2.4 million salary.
The only other Yankees' starting pitcher to make more than two starts this season was Phil Hughes. The right-hander entered this season looking to build of off his 18-win campaign from a year ago, but he struggled with injuries throughout the year and made just 14 starts. And even when he did pitch, the results (5-5, 5.79 ERA) were not impressive.
Hughes, who turns 26 next June, was long believed to be one of the future cornerstones of the Yankees' rotation. Now, following his injury-plauged, highly ineffective 2011 season, there doesn't appear to be any guarantees that Hughes will even be a part of next season's rotation.
The bullpen, headlined by Rivera, the future Hall of Famer who turns 42 in November and is showing no signs of slowing down, is in considerably better shape compared to the starting rotation headed into 2012. A big reason for this is the emergence of David Robertson.
Headed into this season Robertson figured to be used as a situational or middle-innings reliever with Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano, the Yankees' big free-agent acquisition, tagged as the setup men. However, Soriano went on the DL in the middle of May and Chamberlain went down in June with a torn elbow ligament, which forced Robertson into a more prominent role.
Robertson showed he was more than up to the task as he finished the season with a 4-0 record, 34 holds and a miniscule 1.08 ERA in 70 games pitched as the primary setup guy. Compared to Soriano, who went 2-3 with 23 holds, two saves (in five opportunities) and a 4.12 ERA.
To put it another way, Soriano, who signed a three-year, $35 million deal in January, made more than $254,000 for every inning (39 1/3) he pitched this season, while Robertson made a little more than $460,000 for the entire season or less than $7,000 for every inning he pitched. The 26-year-old Robertson is another of the Yankees' arbitration-eligible players headed for a big raise next season, a raise he rightfully earned.
Ironically enough, Soriano can, like Sabathia, opt out of his contract this offseason. However, given the injuries he battled this season, his lack of production and the fact he would be walking away from a guaranteed $25 million over the next two years, that development seems highly unlikely.
While Robertson, Soriano and Rivera can be assured of their roles in the bullpen next season, the same cannot be said of Chamberlain. The big righty underwent Tommy John surgery in June and even if he is able to return at some point next season, it's unclear where he would fit in.
What is clear is that there figures to be some new faces in the Yankees' bullpen next year and you can never rule out another marquee free agent signee like Soriano. Among some of the names that could be available this winter are Heath Bell, Rafael Betancourt, Ryan Madson and, wait for it Yankee fans, Jonathan Papelbon.
Whatever pitching additions the Yankees make, they do have some promising pitching prospects on the horizon, headlined by left-hander Manny Banuelos and righty Dellin Betances. Cashman made it very clear throughout this season he had no desire in including Banuelos or Betances in any potential trades as he viewed each player a key part of the Yankees' future.
The same can be said for Montero, who certainly appears to figure prominently into the Yankees' plans in 2012 and beyond. And given the state of the starting pitching, Banuelos and Betances may not be far behind.
What remains to be seen, however, is if these three and any other new players that may be added are ready for the spotlight and high expectations that comes with wearing the world-famous pinstripes. After all, with the Yankees, success is measured with one thing, championships.
And considering how hard it's going to be for everyone in the Yankees' organization, not to mention their fans, to watch another team hoist the World Series trophy in a few weeks, 2012 and the next chance at championship no. 28 can't come soon enough.
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Race: Hollywood Casino 400
Location: Kansas City, Kan.
TV: ESPN (2:00 p.m. EST)
June Winner: Brad Keselowski
Specs: 1.5-mile tri-oval; Banking/Turns: 15°; Banking/Tri-Oval: 10.4°; Banking/Turns: 15°
Race Length: 400.5 miles/267 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 180.856 mph (Matt Kenseth, 2005)
Race Record: 138.077 mph (Greg Biffle, 2010)
From the Spotter’s Stand
Brian France is doubling down on Kansas Speedway, bringing a second Cup race to the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Kansas City, an annual late September or early October stop since 2001. And with a sparkling new casino, the hope by NASCAR and its track operating wing, International Speedway Corp., is that Kansas will draw in more fans despite its cookie-cutter configuration and penchant for aero-racing.
In June, Bard Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe rolled the dice in a high-stakes game of fuel strategy and hit the jackpot, outlasting Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin.
Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, led a race-high 152 laps after starting on the pole. However, the fuel mileage wasn’t as kind to the Las Vegas native, and he slid to ninth at the finish.
Last year, Greg Biffle made winning at Kansas look like easy money, taking the checkers by 7.638 seconds ahead of 2008 winner Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and two-timer (2006, ’09) Tony Stewart. In his past four stops in K.C., Biffle has two wins and a pair of thirds.
Crew Chief’s Take
“As with many of the circuit’s 1.5- and 2-mile ovals, bump stops on the shocks play an important role at Kansas. A team must find an optimal setting for the bump stops or the car will be negatively affected by being too low — which drags the splitter and affects handling — or too high — which gets air under the car and results in a lack of front-end downforce. Kansas is a simple track, which means there are probably more teams that can win there than at most places.”
Looking at Checkers: Kurt Busch sat on the pole and led 152 laps before fuel mileage bit him to the tune of a ninth-place finish.
Pretty Solid Pick: If Greg Biffle has a win in him this season, this is where he’ll get it.
Good Sleeper Pick: If it comes down to fuel mileage, Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't a bad pick.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Not that he’d be on your squad anyway, but Joey Logano averages a 26.8-place finish here.
Insider Tip: Brad Keselowski won the June race here on fuel mileage. It’ll likely come down to that again.
Classic Moments at Kansas
Kansas Speedway has been the site of many oddball finishes, and with its traditional date in the Chase, it’s often had championship ramifications. The 2006 Banquet 400 is no different.
Jimmie Johnson has led 105 laps on the day and leads late when fuel mileage comes into play. Johnson surrenders the lead with four laps remaining to Tony Stewart, who runs out of gas on the backstretch of the final lap. However, with pit stops ongoing, Stewart has a nearly 20-second lead over Casey Mears and coasts the final half-lap to win with an empty fuel cell.
Johnson’s title hopes appear to take a fatal hit when he is caught speeding on pit road while coming in for a splash of gas and two tires. His 14th-place finish finds him 165 points out of the Chase lead. He rebounds, though, averaging a third-place finish over the final six races to win his first Cup.
The winless Miami Dolphins took their worst loss of the season when quarterback Chad Henne was sent to the injured reserve with a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder. The fourth-year quarterback suffered the season-ending injury on a half-hearted scramble following a botched handoff to Lex Hilliard during a busted play in the first quarter of a 26–16 loss at San Diego.
“It’s really disappointing,” said embattled Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. “The kid’s got a lot invested in this thing with this team.”
The 6’3”, 230-pound 26-year-old was a second round pick (No. 57 overall) out of Michigan in 2008. But after posting a 13–18 career record as a starter — including an 0–4 start this season — and throwing 31 TDs and 37 INTs for a 75.7 passer rating, the South Florida sun has likely set on Henne’s career in Miami.
Where is Earl Morrall when you need him?
These are not Don Shula’s Dolphins. While Henne was clearly no Bob Griese, the backup plan is nowhere near the quality of Morrall — who famously went 11–0 as a starter subbing for Griese on the 1972 Dolphins squad that finished with a perfect 17–0 record.
Following a Week 5 bye, Matt Moore will become the 16th different quarterback to start for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season. Veteran Sage Rosenfels and practice squad rookie Pat Devlin are also options. But Moore is the new man in Miami.
“It’s Matt’s job. We’ve got to get Matt ready to go,” said Sparano. “He’s a confident guy; a little different swagger to him when he gets in the huddle.”
Moore will be 16th different quarterback to start for Dolphins since Marino retired following the 1999 season. The 6’3”, 203-pound Moore arrived in Miami this season with a 7–6 record in 13 career starts for Carolina. The fifth-year pro brings a Henne-like 16 TDs and 18 INTs along with a 73.5 passer rating in his career.
Moore’s not the worst option in the world; but with a little offseason planning, the Dolphins could have had a much better situation at quarterback:
Matt Hasselbeck, Titans (via free agency, Seahawks)
The recently-turned 36-year-old was recruited to Tennessee by first-year coach and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike Munchak based primarily on the selling point of the team’s O-line — especially left tackle Michael Roos. The Fins are one of the few teams in the NFL with a better blindside blocker than Roos, as former No. 1 overall pick and three-time Pro Bowler Jake Long is arguably the best in the league.
Hasselbeck has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,152 yards, eight TDs and three INTs for a 104.7 passer rating and a 3–1 record for the Titans — proving he can still get the job done (if he has his blindside protected).
Vince Young, Eagles (via free agency, Titans)
This was a perfect match. V.Y. may not be able to throw a five-yard crossing route, but he sure can unload a 50-yard bomb — perfect for Brandon Marshall, who is a rich man’s Kenny Britt. Young also brings a winning track record (30–17 as a starter) and an exciting boom-or-bust style that fits the city of Miami. A one-year rental of Young offered high reward in exchange for little risk.
Ryan Mallett, Patriots (via NFL Draft, Arkansas)
Miami traded its third- (No. 79) and seventh-round (No. 217) picks to Washington for the No. 62 overall selection, which was used on Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas. Quarterback, however, was a more pressing need than running back for the Dolphins. And the 6’6”, 238-pounder with the million-dollar arm and ten-cent head was worth the risk in the third round — or at least Bill Belichick thought so at No. 74 overall. The Fins did their research but did not pull the trigger on the Hog with the cannon right arm.
“I have spent a lot of time with him,” said Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. “He’s a nice young man, very talented kid, got a bright future.”
David Garrard, Free Agent (via Jaguars)
The Jaguars cut Garrard just days before kickoff of the 2011 season. Following Henne’s injury, Garrard (39–37 record as starter) worked out for the Dolphins, along with fellow free agents Trent Edwards (14–19) and Brodie Croyle (0–10). Reportedly, Miami was willing to sign Garrard for veteran minimum (roughly $800,000; with $425,000 counting against the cap). The 33-year-old Garrard, however, wanted no less than $1 million and negotiations broke down.
With several other teams in need of an upgrade at quarterback — namely the Colts — there will still likely be a Garrard sighting in the NFL this season.
Andrew Luck, 2012 NFL Draft (via Stanford)
Maybe this was the plan all along. “Suck for Luck” to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, then draft the most pro-ready passer since Peyton Manning. After all, Hasselbeck, Young, Mallett and Garrard — even Henne, for that matter — were stopgap, band-aid solutions, at best. Luck is a franchise quarterback worthy of being the heir to Marino, albeit a decade late.
On second thought, Henne’s injury might turn out to be the best thing to happen to the Dolphins since Marino fell all the way down the board to the No. 27 overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.
Oklahoma started the college football year as a favorite to play in the BCS Championship Game. Texas entered the 2011 season just looking to be Texas again and rebuild from a 5-7 campaign that led to a shakeup of Mack Brown’s coaching staff. The Sooners have been solid so far in going 4-0 as expected, while the Longhorns have rebounded well by winning all four of their games. The Red River Rivalry is always highly anticipated, and this year’s version should be excellent with two undefeated teams. Texas has won four of the last six in the series and beating the Sooners would signal that the ‘Horns are right back to national prominence. Bob Stoops knows his Sooners must play well at the Cotton Bowl to achieve OU’s conference and national goals.
Who Wins the Red River Rivalry?
This year's Red River Rivalry will be closer than expected, but the outcome will be exactly what everyone is predicting pregame — Oklahoma over Texas. There are just too many playmakers on the Sooners' roster, starting with quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles — who is 13 catches away from breaking the NCAA all-time receptions mark. Mack Brown Texas Football just doesn't have the passing game to field a balanced attack; the revolving door of Case McCoy and David Ash won't get it done against an OU defense anchored by defensive end Ronnell Lewis and linebacker Travis Lewis. Big Game Bob Stoops already aced his first test of the season at Florida State, expect Oklahoma to win the top prize at the State Fair in Dallas this weekend.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I like Oklahoma to knock off Texas in Saturday’s Red River Rivalry matchup. There’s no doubt the Longhorns are going in the right direction after last season’s disappointing 5-7 record. However, I’m not sure the combination of quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy is ready to win this game. Also, Texas’ young secondary will be challenged by Oklahoma’s passing attack, which is one of the best in college football. Even though Texas was down last season, it still hung tough against Oklahoma. The Sooners can’t afford to give the Longhorns any breaks in the turnover department and if they can jump out to a big lead, I’m not sure Texas can rally from 14 points down. Although the Longhorns may fall short on Saturday, it’s a great learning experience for a team primed for a run at the conference crown in 2012.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I still think you have to go with Oklahoma, but it would not shock me to see Texas pull off the upset. The Sooners’ defense has battled through injuries and inexperience, and I can see them causing some problems for the young Texas quarterback duo of David Ash and Case McCoy. The Longhorns’ defense has looked solid under new coordinator Manny Diaz, but it will be a challenge to keep up with the fast-paced OU offense. Texas must play ball control/time of possession football with freshman running back Malcolm Brown and keep the potent Sooners’ duo of quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Ryan Broyles off the field. Because of Jones’ experience in big games, I’ll take the Sooners to win another tight game in the Red River Rivalry.
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
I like the Sooners to win. The Texas youth and inexperience at key positions (Case McCoy, Malcolm Brown, Jaxon Shipley) will have one of two effects on the game: 1) The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters will be completely overwhelmed with the magnitude and atmosphere of one of the single greatest college football events and Oklahoma rolls big. Or 2) What you don't know can't hurt you. The youthful Longhorns will be completely oblivious to the importance of the situation and will play with blinders on - keeping the game close for four quarters. I don't think the outcome of the game will be any different either way - the Sooners winning - but if the Kids are, in fact, All Right, Texas will cover the 10-point spread.
- by Ralph Vacchiano
The usual suspects are all lurking out there for anyone tempted to make a switch. Bill Cowher is always rumored to be on the verge of returning to coaching, even though he seems comfortable in the CBS studio. So is Jon Gruden, despite looking cozy in the ESPN Monday Night Football booth.
Maybe they aren’t realistic options until 2012. Still, they are incredibly tempting targets even this early in the season for teams already looking towards the future. And for some teams, they have to already be thinking about next season and the possibility of a coaching change.
In fact there are a few coaches whose seat is so hot right now, they’ll be lucky to make it all the way to Week 17 …
1. Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are not only 0-4, but they’ve now lost QB Chad Henne (shoulder) for the season and Sparano hasn’t had any luck figuring out how to get production out of their big offseason acquisition – RB Reggie Bush. Speaking of luck, they sure do look like the early favorites in the race for QB Andrew Luck and the first pick of the 2012 draft. Considering ownership nearly replaced Sparano last year, his tenure might be reduced to a matter of days.
How hot is his seat: Red. Fire-engine red. Red-hot chili peppers red.
Names to watch in the future: It’s a good bet they’ll want to make a big splash and if they get Luck they might have their pick of top college coaches to lure South … that’s if they can’t land one of the two biggest fishes in the sea, of course. Could be a very interesting spot for Cowher or Gruden. There will be a lot of money here.
2. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams
Things looked so promising when his team went 7-9 last year and nearly won the weak NFC West. But now, even though the division still stinks, his Rams are all-but out of it at 0-4. He has been unable to get much out of his offense, despite the presence of promising young quarterback Sam Bradford. Much more damning is the fact is that he was billed as a defensive genius, yet the Rams’ defense is one of the worst in the league. Because of injuries and a frugal organization, he could be spared (he makes about $3 million per season). Then again, this is the third year of his four-year contract, so it wouldn’t cost a lot to make a change.
How hot is his seat: Redder than the face of his former boss, Tom Coughlin, when the temperature was minus-22 in the 2007 NFC championship game.
Names to watch in the future: Don’t expect the Rams to be players for a big name. They’ll go the unproven assistant route. Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer might be a name to watch. He could be good to work with Bradford. Same goes for Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. And, for that matter, the same goes for former Giants coach (and current UFL coach) Jim Fassel, who is hardly “unproven” but wouldn’t cost a ton either.
3. Jack DelRio, Jacksonville Jaguars
If the Jaguars weren’t so cheap, they probably would’ve pulled this trigger years ago. The move to get rid of QB David Garrard on the eve of the season probably sealed DelRio’s fate. Plus, they might need an offensive mind to work with their quarterback of the future, Blaine Gabbert
How hot is his seat: No hotter than usual, but it still has to hurt.
Names to watch in the future: Forget the big names, and think small salaries. Schottenheimer makes some sense, though they’re more likely to find a completely unknown name to pull out of thin air.
4. Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs
They have been such an enormous disappointment coming off a 10-6 season. There is talent here, though, and a decent chance they’ll rebound to at least mediocrity. Already, though, in usually quiet Kansas City there’s been some murmuring about replacing Haley and maybe even GM Scott Pioli. The latter isn’t going to happen, and it’s a good bet that Pioli won’t pull the trigger on Haley either … unless this thing really gets a lot worse.
How hot is his seat: Uncomfortable, but not scalding … yet.
Names to watch in the future: You would think that if Pioli did ever pull the trigger he might want someone off the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Like Eric Mangini, maybe? It wouldn’t make sense, but for a not-so-successful coach he’s already had more lives than anyone thought he would. Better choices would be former Ravens coach Brian Billick or Fassel to take advantage of an offense loaded with talent.
5. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
The natives were growing restless with Reid already, though he’s been one of the finest coaches in the NFL for more than a decade. There comes a point where everyone runs his course, though, and Reid might be reaching that point. The Dream Team has been a colossal disappointment so far, and if they go down in flames they both may decide to part ways. It’s a classic, be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario for Eagles fans, but it might be closer to happening than it ever has been in the past.
How hot is his seat: Warm. But he can take the heat.
Names to watch in the future: If any job is going to coax Cowher or Gruden to come out of the TV studio, this is it. It’s a team loaded with talent and ready to win.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Complete Week 5 NFL Fantasy Rankings
Week 5 Start & Sit: Quarterbacks
Week 5 Start & Sit: Running Backs
Week 5 Start & Sit: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Week 5 NFL Byes: Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami
Start These Running Backs:
Joseph Addai, Indianapolis (Kansas City)
Don’t be fooled by the 41 yards on 11 carries last week from Addai. The Bucs forced Curtis Painter to beat them (and he nearly did). If the Colts expect to win any games this season (which they may not want to do, actually), then the ground game will have to feature prominently. And the Kansas City Chiefs haven’t stopped many rushing attacks as they rank 26th in the NFL against the run allowing 130 yards per game. They are also giving up an NFL-worst 31.5 points per game. Play Addai and feel good about it.
Willis McGahee, Denver (San Diego)
The former Bill and Raven promised big production during the summer months. Then he asked for the football more. It appears that not only was he right but that John Fox is going to give him what he wants. Certainly, a banged-up Knowshon Moreno has helped open the door, but McGahee has charged through it with renewed vigor. All but four of his 69 carries this season have come in the last three weeks, and while San Diego isn’t a great match-up, the Chargers did give up 28 points and nearly 150 yards rushing in Denver last season.
Arian Foster, Houston (Oakland)
This one may seem too obvious, but Foster looks like he is officially back. And Oakland looks ripe for the fantasy running back’s picking. The Raiders were gashed on the edge last weekend by Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the tune of 183 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. With Andre Johnson out for this one, expect Foster to get a boatload of touches.
Deep Week 5 RB Plays:
Issac Redman, Pittsburgh (Tennessee)
Even if Mendenhall plays, it is likely to be the fresher, healthier Redman who figures to get the bulk of the carries.
LaDainian Tomlinson, NY Jets (at New England)
Rex Ryan has vowed to return to the ground, and it won’t just be Shonn Greene who gets touches.
Stevan Ridley, New England (NY Jets)
With Danny Woodhead not practicing and Bill Belichick’s desire to rotate backs, look for Ridley to get 10-14 touches.
Thomas Jones, Kansas City (at Indianapolis)
The Colts have been unable to slow anyone's ground game and Jones could benefit.
Sit These Running Backs:
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay (at San Francisco)
Blount has looked the part of weekly fantasy starter this fall. But against the Colts a mediocre fantasy week was salvaged by a late long touchdown run. And that was against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. This week, the Bucs travel across four time zones to take on the NFL’s No. 4 rushing defense in the Niners. They are allowing 74 yards per game on the ground and have yet to surrender a single rushing touchdown to anyone. You may have better options.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (Tennessee)
After battling a bad hamstring issue all week, the Steeleres running back does not look like he should be anywhere near your line-up this week. The Titans have been stingy on defense — they rank as the No. 8 rush defense in the league at 87.8 yards per game. The Steelers offensive line has looked terrible thus far as Mendenhall is averaging just over 40 yards per game this season when healthy. Look for Redman to get plenty of work.
Ryan Grant and James Starks, Green Bay (at Atlanta)
This looks like the definition of a timeshare now that Grant has returned to the playing field. The Packers have no loyalty to any one particular running back. This game also has passing game written all over it as Green Bay is No. 2 (71 ypg) in the NFL in rushing defense and Atlanta is No. 10 (97.3 ypg).
Mike Tolbert, San Diego (at Denver)
In full PPR leagues, Tolbert still offers some value as he caught eight passes over the last two weeks. But his role continues to shrink with the emergence and improved play of Ryan Mathews. Tolbert has 10 carries in the last two games while Mathews has had 37 over that same span. If he does not reach paydirt — which he has done one time since week one — he offers little value to the traditionally scored fantasy league.
Before the season started, Bruce Feldman wrote a great piece about Texas' new Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz. Apparently, Manny Diaz is a coach that very much believes in digging into the numbers and trying to look at coaching defense from as many angles as possible.
Diaz, who didn't play college football, was apparently very taken with Michael Lewis' book Moneyball. Since reading the book, Diaz has tried to utilize any and all available statistics to evaluate his defenses and his approach to measuring his defenses.
If you are not familiar with the book, now a major motion picture as well, Moneyball details how Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane was able to use statistical analysis to turn a low-budget, mid-market team that had become a cellar dweller into a perennial playoff contender. Since the book appeared in print in 2003, virtually every major league baseball franchise has started to use statistical analysis to help run their organization. Feldman goes into detail in his article about the different and unique statistics Diaz uses to help evaluate the success of his defenses. In the spirit of Moneyball and Coach Diaz' inner stat nerd, let's see how his CBTN stats look:
|Coach||School||Yrs. Coached at School||CBTN Rating||CBTN Stars||WP%||WP% in Previous Five Years||Avg. Recruiting Rank|
|Manny Diaz||Miss. St.||1||74.17||69.23%||38.33%||N/A - Too Few Years|
For some perspective on the job Diaz has done, let's look at some numbers of his predecessors at MTSU:
|Coach||School||Yrs. Coached at School||CBTN Rating||CBTN Stars||WP%||Avg. Scoring Defense|
|Bradley Dale Paveto||MTSU||1||27.75||45.45%||24.45|
So, the average CBTN Rating for MTSU's Defensive Coordinator's over the previous five years to Diaz' arrival was 33.32. This compares to Diaz' CBTN Rating of 46.22 rating in his four years as DC at MTSU. In other words, Diaz had a nearly 39% positive impact on MTSU's defense. Now that week 5 is in the books for this year, let's look at how Diaz is doing at Texas thus far compared to last year:
|Coach||School||Year||WP%||Avg. Scoring Defense||Scoring Defense National Rank||Total Defense|
So far so good in 2011. Texas may have indeed found a gem when they hired Diaz to replace Will Muschamp. However, looking at the schedule, some major defensive challenges await in the form of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma St., and Baylor. We'll wait and see if this next stretch of games moves his numbers closer to Muschamp's mediocre 2010 numbers (by Texas standards), or if he can stay the current course. To see more our proprietary Defensive Coordinator Rankings for active and inactive Defensive Coordinators, please visit our CBTN Ranking's Page.
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Complete Week 5 NFL Fantasy Rankings
Week 5 Start & Sit: Quarterbacks
Week 5 Start & Sit: Running Backs
Week 5 Start & Sit: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Week 5 NFL Byes: Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami
Start These Wide Receviers:
Julio Jones, Atlanta (Green Bay)
The first-round pick is starting to assert his authority in opposing secondaries. Seventeen catches for 242 yards in over his last two games says so despite Jones still awaiting his first trip to paydirt. The Packers defensive backs are banged up and are ranked only ahead of the Patriots in pass defense. Look for Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing game to equal or exceed Green Bay's 335 yards allowed per game.
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay (at San Francisco)
The Niners have been great against the run, ranking fourth in the league by allowing less than 75 yards on the ground per game. Josh Freeman is coming off his best game of the season and will be needed to throw it plenty if the Bucs expect to get the win. Look for Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker to have decent games as well.
Santonio Holmes, NY Jets (at New England)
The story is overdone at this point. New England ranks last in the NFL in pass defense by allowing nearly 370 yards per game. Rex Ryan has vowed to get back to the ground game — and they will — but Mark Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball this weekend too. Holmes has been a disappointment thus far in 2011 and has only seven receptions in the last three games. If there is going to be a breakout performance, it's going to come against the rival Pats and their atrocious secondary.
Marques Colston, New Orleans (Carolina)
The injury-prone wideout was eased back into the line-up last weekend with one reception for eight yards. Against Cam Newton, expect a more active day for the Saints' top pass-catcher in a game that could easily get into the 30s. Tone down your expectations for Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson.
Deep WR Plays:
Plaxico Burress, NY Jets (New England)
If fully healthy, all Jets pass catchers should post useful fantasy totals.
Sidney Rice, Seattle (at NY Giants)
The Seahawks finally have a vertical threat with Rice back in the line-up. And Tavaris Jackson is coming off his best game...maybe ever.
Michael Jenkins, Minnesota (Arizona)
This could be a high-scoring game in the Metrodome and Jenkins has built a nice rapport with Donovan McNabb.
Sit These Wide Receivers:
Eric Decker, Denver (San Diego)
Brandon Lloyd demanded the football and he got it with an 8-catch, 136-yard performance against a struggling secondary in a blowout loss. It's only a matter of time before Lloyd gets more redzone targets. The Chargers' secondary has been playing excellent football, however, allowing less than 200 yards passing per game. Look for John Fox to target the slightly less effective defensive line with the ground game and for the Chargers to stymie Kyle Orton — and therefore Mr. Decker.
Mario Manningham, NY Giants (Seattle)
The match-up shouldn't scare fantasy owners much at all; however, not-so-Super Mario is clearly not on the same page as Eli Manning. Or let me rephrase that, Manningham isn't on Manning's page — which is the only one that matters. There needs to be a consistent connection before he returns to must-start status.
Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, New Orleans (Carolina)
With Colston back and getting those slot, seam and redzone targets, and with Lance Moore playing quality football, there is almost instantly less room on the field for either Meachem or Henderson. They both have similar skill sets as vertical threats, so they will likely rotate more often than not. This has antacid tablets written all over it.
Deion Branch, New England (NY Jets)
Not getting targeted at all. As in, games without catches. Stay well away.
Start These Tight Ends:
Dustin Keller, NY Jets (at New England)
The Jets passing attack should be very successful and Keller could come up huge.
Rob Gronkowski, New England (NY Jets)
Public Service Announcement to Gronk owners: Forgive and forget. He will bounce back nicely.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit (Chicago)
Getting plenty of looks over the last two (17 receptions) and should be needed against athletic front seven.
Deeper TE Plays:
Greg Olsen, Carolina (New Orleans)
James Casey, Houston (Oakland)
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Complete Week 5 NFL Fantasy Rankings
Week 5 Start & Sit: Quarterbacks
Week 5 Start & Sit: Running Backs
Week 5 Start & Sit: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Week 5 NFL Byes: Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Baltimore, St. Louis, Miami
Start These Quarterbacks:
Mark Sanchez, NY Jets (at New England)
The Jets quarterback posted his worst fantasy output of the season last week, completing only 11-of-35 passes for a season-low 119 yards and no touchdowns. However, in two of his last three meetings with New England, Sanchez has thrown three touchdowns and no picks. After four weeks, the Patriots are last in the NFL in pass defense at 368.8 yards allowed per game through the air. Sanchez could easily be a top 12 passer this weekend.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta (Green Bay)
The Falcons passer has had an interesting season. He has topped 300 yards twice but has one TD and one INT total in those two games. He has only one game with more than one touchdown, and that was a four-TD explosion in Week Two that featured only 195 yards passing. In three career games against Green Bay, Ryan has failed to reach 200 yards, but with the injuries to the Packers secondary, revenge on the mind and what should be an inability to run the ball, the Falcons passing game should be flying high this weekend. Ryan has 621 yards over his last two weeks, and the Packers are 31st in the NFL against the pass. Fantasy owners can expect that yards per game average to continue this weekend.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at San Francisco)
It took a large 26.18-point fantasy performance against the lowly Colts to elevate Josh Freeman to No. 19 overall in the fantasy rankings. Needless to say, his start to 2011 has been disappointing (or expected, depending on your preseason take on Freeman). The Niners are fourth in the NFL against the run at 74.0 yards per game, so expect Freeman to have to throw it around against the 27th-rated passing defense (284 ypg). In his only meeting with the Niners, Freeman threw for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the 21-0 win last fall. Expect him to carry last weekend’s fantasy momentum into this Sunday’s action.
Deep Week 5 QB Plays:
Matt Cassel, Kansas City (at Indianapolis)
Colts allowing 254 yards/game passing, and he is coming off best game of 2011 (260-1-0)
Curtis Painter, Indianapolis (Kansas City)
281-2-0 isn’t a bad line for your first career start, and no one has allowed more passing TD than the Chiefs (10).
Tavaris Jackson, Seattle (at NY Giants)
Posted a 319-3-2 line last weekend, and Giants secondary is decimated by injuries.
Sit These Quarterbacks:
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (Tennessee)
Big Ben was walking around in a boot all week, and the Titans have been rather stingy on defense. They rank seventh in the NFL against the pass at 212 yards allowed per game and have intercepted more passes (5) than touchdown passes allowed (4). The Steelers offensive line has been an absolute sieve thus far in 2011, and Big Ben has been sacked nine times and fumbled four times in three career games against the Titans. And with Reshard Mendenhall far below 100 percent, the entire Black and Gold offense could struggle this weekend.
Matt Schaub, Houston (Oakland)
It’s a fairly simple equation: Matt Schaub minus Andre Johnson equals fantasy mediocrity. In 2011, Schaub is averaging only 240 yards per game – his worst per-game average since his first season in Houston back in 2007. This is partly because the Texans boast the NFL’s No. 4 rushing attack now that Arian Foster is back to full strength. Oakland is leading the NFL in rushing and just allowed the Pats to roll up 185 yards on the ground. Expect a lot of handoffs in this contest of running backs Foster and Darren McFadden.
Jay Cutler, Chicago (at Detroit)
As is typical in a Mike Martz scheme, protecting the quarterback is low on his priority list. Cutler has been sacked 15 times — second only to Sam Bradford’s 18. And the Detriot Lions have a nasty front line that has nine sacks and helped with seven interceptions. Cutler entered last weekend averaging 38 attempts and 286 yards per game. He attempted only 17 passes for 102 yards and no touchdowns in a 34-point game against Carolina. Matt Forte was featured prominently and could be once again this weekend. On the road against a swarming front seven doesn’t sound like a recipe for fantasy success this weekend.