Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/2012-fantasy-baseball-deep-sleepers
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— by Mark Ross, published on March 8, 2012

When it comes to fantasy baseball, you pretty much know what you’re getting in players like Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Roy Halladay, and other sure-fire lottery picks. However, only one owner in a given league can lay claim to each of these fantasy studs.

With 30 teams and 25 players on each roster come Opening Day, there’s more than enough supply to fill out a roster. Here are some names at each position that you won’t find on Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 that may be worth a look later in your draft as well as some that you may want to keep your eye on once the season starts.

Note: Players are listed at the position(s) they are currently eligible. Some of these players may gain eligibility at additional position(s) once season starts, depending on your league's eligibility requirements.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

Catcher:

Late-Round Target
Wilson Ramos, WAS, C
Washington acquired Ramos as part of the trade that sent Matt Capps to Minnesota in July 2010. In 2011, all the 24-year-old backstop did in his first full season with the Nationals was hit .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 113 games. He should get even more plate opportunities this season and a .270-20-80 line is entirely possible.
Other candidates: J.P. Arencibia (TOR, C), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL, C), Geovany Soto (CHC, C)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Ryan Doumit, C, MIN
Doumit is known more for his bat than his glove, which has limited his opportunities. However, when he has been given the chance to play, he's produced. In 2008, he posted a .318-15-69 line along with 34 doubles and 71 runs scored in just 116 games. Injuries have been an issue for Doumit, who played in just 77 games last year for the Pirates, but now he’s in the American League with Minnesota so he should get a fair amount of at bats as the Twins’ DH. He’s also another Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau injury away from even more plate opportunities.
Others worth considering: Devin Mesoraco (C, CIN), Sal Perez (C, KC)

First Base:

Late-Round Target
Gaby Sanchez, MIA, 1B
In 2010 and '11 Sanchez scored the exact same number of runs (72) and hit the same number of home runs (19) each season. He also finished each season with  roughly the same number of hits, doubles and RBIs. He has been steady, but not spectacular, so the question becomes is .270-19-80 his ceiling? Perhaps not considering he posted a .293-13-50 line, along with 22 doubles and 46 runs scored in the first half of 2011 before cooling off considerably (.225-6-28) after the All-Star break. If anything, he’s certainly worth late-round consideration and could become a steal should he take that next step in 2012.
Other candidates: Carlos Lee (HOU, 1B/OF), Justin Morneau (MIN, 1B), Mark Trumbo (LAA, 1B/OF)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Mitch Moreland, 1B/OF, TEX
Moreland was bothered by a wrist injury the second half of last season that greatly hampered his production at the plate. After hitting 11 home runs in the first half, he managed just five in his final 56 games. He underwent surgery on the troublesome wrist in late November and should be good to go by Opening Day or shortly thereafter. Texas ended up passing on free agent Prince Fielder, so the starting job at first base should still be Moreland's, which also guarantees him a spot in the Rangers’ potent line up.
Others worth considering: Brandon Belt (1B/OF, SF), Mike Carp (1B/OF, SEA), Lucas Duda (NYM, 1B/OF), Adam LaRoche (1B, WAS)

Second Base:

Late-Round Target
Jemile Weeks, OAK, 2B
Rickie, Jemile’s older brother, most likely will be the first Weeks sibling drafted this year, but that may not be the case in 2013. Jemile more than held his own after making his major-league debut last June, batting .303 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 22 stolen bases and 50 runs scored in 97 games. Oakland’s offense will probably be among the worst in baseball next season, but Weeks should still serve as a valuable source of steals and runs scored, just the sort of production you are looking for in a middle infielder taken late in the draft, no?
Other candidates: Danny Espinosa (WAS, 2B), Aaron Hill (ARI, 2B), Ryan Roberts (ARI, 2B/3B)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Johnny Giavotella, 2B, KC
Giavotella got his first taste of the majors last August and is penciled in as the Royals’ starting second baseman in 2012. A career .305 hitter in the minors with good plate discipline, Giavotella did a little of everything (20 R, 9 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 5 SB) in his 46-game debut. Over the course of a full season, he could be a sneaky source for runs and possibly stolen bases.
Others worth considering: Jose Altuve (2B, HOU), Mike Aviles, (2B/SS/3B, BOS), Alexi Casilla (2B/SS, MIN)

Shortstop:

Late-Round Target
Stephen Drew, ARI, SS
Drew produced a .278-15-61 line in 2010 and was on his way to even bigger numbers in 2011 before a broken ankle ended his season shortly after the All-Star break. At the time, Drew was on pace to score more than 80 runs and drive in more than 80 with about 40 doubles. It remains to be seen if Drew will be ready to go on Opening Day, but even if he isn’t any shortstop capable of hitting more than 20 home runs (21 in 2008) is someone worth monitoring.
Other candidates: Jhonny Peralta (DET, SS), Marco Scutaro (COL, SS)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Zack Cozart, SS, CIN
Cozart got off to a hot start (.324, 2 HR in 11 games) after making his major league debut last summer before suffering a season-ending elbow injury on July 23. He ended up having Tommy John surgery, but is expected to be the Reds’ starting shortstop come Opening Day. A .270 hitter in the minors, the 26-year-old has also shown decent power and speed, as he hit 17 home runs and stole 30 bases in AAA in 2010.
Others worth considering: Mike Aviles, (2B/SS/3B, BOS), Willie Bloomquist (SS/OF, ARI), Alexi Casilla (2B/SS, MIN), Jed Lowrie (SS/3B, HOU), Tyler Pastornicky (SS, ATL)

Third Base:

Late-Round Target
Mike Moustakas, KC, 3B
Moustakas was brought up from the minors about a month after Eric Hosmer, but didn’t enjoy the same kind of early success as that of his fellow left-handed hitting teammate. In June and July, Moustakas hit just .198 with one home run and 10 RBIs. He started figuring things out in August (.283) and really turned it on in September, batting .352 with four home runs in his final 22 games. Hosmer will most likely post better overall numbers for the Royals in 2012, but don’t be surprised if Moustakas out-homers him. The former No. 2 overall pick hit 10 in 55 games in AAA prior to his call up last June.
Other candidates: Chipper Jones (ATL, 3B), Martin Prado (ATL, 3B/OF), Ryan Roberts (ARI, 2B/3B)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Ian Stewart, 3B, CHC
Last season (.156, 0 HR, 6 RBI in 48 games) was an utter disaster for Stewart no matter which way you look at it. He now gets a chance to start over in Chicago and new Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum has told everyone willing to listen that Stewart is his everyday starter at the hot corner. Stewart is not going to hit for a high average, but he could be a sneaky source for power as he clubbed 25 home runs two years ago for the Rockies and now calls Wrigley Field his home ballpark.
Others worth considering: Pedro Alvarez (3B, PIT), Mike Aviles, (2B/SS/3B, BOS), Mat Gamel (3B, MIL), Jed Lowrie (SS/3B, HOU), Brent Morel (3B, CHW)

Outfield:

Late-Round Target
Mark Trumbo, LAA, 1B/OF
Trumbo is a little behind the rest of his teammates this spring training thanks to a stress fracture in his right foot. He’s also trying to make the transition to third base, a move necessitated by the signing of Albert Pujols. Whether it be third, first, the outfield or DH, the Angels are going to do whatever they can to get Trumbo’s bat in the lineup as soon as he’s ready to go. Last year Trumbo finished second in the voting for AL Rookie of the Year as he led the Angels in both home runs (29) and RBIs (87). Anyone who has the ability to go 30-100 and play multiple positions is worth taking a chance on late.
Other candidates: Melky Cabrera (SF, OF), Jeff Francoeur (KC, OF), Torii Hunter (LAA, OF), Carlos Lee (HOU, 1B/OF)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Jose Tabata, PIT, OF
Before a quadriceps injury in June ruined his season, Tabata was off to a respectable start (.265, 39 R, 14 SB, .351 OBP in 71 games). He’s still just 23 years old and if healthy, should maintain his starting spot in right field and near the top of the Pirates’ line up. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this spring and once the season starts.
Others worth considering: Alejandro De Aza (CHW, OF), Brandon Belt (SF, 1B/OF), Mike Carp (SEA, 1B/OF), Chris Heisey (CIN, OF), Bryan LaHair (CHC, OF), Cody Ross (BOS, OF), Alfonso Soriano (CHC, OF), Denard Span (MIN, OF), Eric Thames (TOR, OF)

Starting Pitching:

Late-Round Target
Derek Holland, TEX, SP
C.J. Wilson is gone and Yu Darvish is getting all of the hype, but Holland could end up being the Rangers’ ace this season. A 16-game winner in 2011, Holland was at his best after the All-Star break. He went 9-1 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in the second half of the season and went 2-0 in four postseason starts, including 8 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis. If he can build off of his second half performance and improve upon his numbers at home (4.69 ERA, 1.56 WHIP in 16 GS in ‘11), he could be an extremely valuable fantasy contributor.
Other candidates: Jhoulys Chacin (COL, SP), Doug Fister (DET, SP), Jaime Garcia (STL, SP), Jeremy Hellickson (TB, SP), Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE, SP), Ervin Santana (LAA, SP), Max Scherzer (DET, SP)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Carlos Zambrano, MIA, SP
No one needed a change of scenery more than Zambrano, who will get another chance in Miami pitching for his friend and fellow Venezuelan, Ozzie Guillen. His volatile temperament is well documented, but this is also a guy who’s only 30 years old and once won 18 games. He may not throw as hard as he used to, but he has averaged more than six innings as a starter in his career with a 3.57 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. He still has the talent to go along with his temper, but if he’s able to harness the former while controlling the latter for his new team, he could pay big dividends for both the Marlins’ and your fantasy rotation.
Others worth considering: Erik Bedard (PIT, SP), Zach Britton (BAL, SP), Clay Buchholz (BOS, SP), Trevor Cahill (ARI, SP), R.A. Dickey (NYM, SP), Phil Hughes (NYY, SP), Jonathan Niese (NYM, SP), Jarrod Parker (OAK, SP), Brad Peacock (OAK, SP), Johan Santana (NYM, SP)

Relief Pitching:

Late-Round Target
Jordan Walden, LAA, RP
Walden may have led the majors with 10 blown saves last season, but he also was successful 32 other times and he’s just 24 years old. Walden struck out 67 in 60 1/3 innings and if he improves his command (26 BB) chances are his other numbers (2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) will go down. One stat that’s likely to go up this season is his saves total as the Angels improved their offense by signing Albert Pujols and also could get Kendrys Morales back. A 40-save season is not out of the question.
Other candidates: Rafael Betancourt (COL, RP), Kyle Farnsworth (TB, RP), Carlos Marmol (CHC, RP), Joe Nathan (TEX, RP), Joakim Soria (KC, RP)

For Even Deeper Leagues
Andrew Cashner, SD, RP
Cashner started last season as a starter for the Cubs and promptly lasted all of 5 1/3 innings before suffering a rotator cuff injury that sidelined him until September. He was sent to San Diego in the Anthony Rizzo trade and although his future with the Padres may be as a starter, he will most likely work out of the bullpen this season. A power arm with 58 strikeouts in 65 innings, Cashner could end up as either the setup man for Huston Street or possibly the Padres’ closer should Street stumble.
Others worth considering: Grant Balfour (OAK, RP), Javy Guerra (LAD, RP), Kenley Jansen (LAD, RP), Jason Motte (STL, RP), Addison Reed (CHW, RP), Sergio Santos (TOR, RP)

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Who are some players that may be worth a late-round flier in your fantasy baseball draft?</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:02
Path: /nfl/colts-set-to-release-peyton-manning
Body:

— by Mark Ross

Peyton Manning's last pass in an NFL game came on Jan. 8, 2011. It also represents his final game as an Indianapolis Colt as the team is set to release its long-time quarterback.

The official announcement ending Manning's 14-year career with the Colts is expected to come in a press conference this afternoon. The decision to release the former No. 1 overall pick and four-time NFL MVP coincides with the $28 million roster bonus Manning was due come Thursday.

Besides not paying the roster bonus, the decision to release Manning also means the Colts are not picking up the four years remaining on his contract, making him a free agent. That contract is the five-year, $90 million extension Manning signed last July, just days after the NFL lockout ended. Now, less than eight months later, Manning is looking for a new team. 

Make no mistake about it, the Colts' decision to release Manning is all about the future, both Manning's and the franchise's. Manning has had three different surgeries on his neck in 19 months and will turn 36 in less than three weeks. Although he has been medically cleared to resume his career and is reportedly making progress to that end, it remains to be seen if he is physically capable of playing in an actual game.

Meanwhile the Colts are in full rebuild mode following last year's 2-14 disastrous season with a new general manager and head coach in place. The team's focus now shifts fully and entirely to the upcoming draft. Just like they did with Manning 14 years ago, the Colts hope they will be selecting their next franchise quarterback on April 26 when they are expected to take either Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III with the No. 1 overall pick.

For now, Manning has made it clear he fully intends to be under center come Week 1 of the 2012 NFL season. So the question then becomes which uniform will he be wearing this fall? What sort of market exists for a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who took his team to the playoffs 11 times in 14 seasons? Let's take a look.

For starters, forget about teams who already have established quarterbacks on their roster. As good as Manning has been in his career, teams like Green Bay, New England, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Dallas are already in pretty good shape at quarterback. So you can forget about any dreams of the Manning brothers playing together in the Big Apple.

Then you have teams who either appear to be fully committed to their current starter, like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, or those who think they already have their franchise quarterback on their roster, like Carolina, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

That still leaves 16 teams, or half of the NFL, technically still in the running. Here’s how those teams stack up:

Nice Idea But…

Buffalo Bills
Current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension in October, which includes $24 million in guaranteed money. Ironically enough, Fitzpatrick struggled after signing his extension, throwing just 12 touchdown passes with 17 interceptions in his final 10 games with the Bills going 2-8 in that same stretch. That said, the Bills already have invested a lot in Fitzpatrick and appear to be fully committed to “The Amish Rifle”

Denver Broncos
This is just what Tim Tebow and Denver needs, another quarterback controversy. While Tebow’s NFL future is anything but certain, he has earned his standing as the Broncos’ starting quarterback headed into training camp. The last thing he needs is another Hall of Fame quarterback to worry about. He’s already got that in his boss, Broncos Executive Vice President of Operations John Elway.

Houston Texans
Houston would have to appeal to Manning if anything because the Texans are ready to win now and he would be guaranteed two shots each season against Irsay and the Colts. However, Matt Schaub is the entrenched starter and is expected to be fully recovered from last season’s foot injury by the time training camp starts and the Texans also have capable backup Tyler Yates on their roster.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder in the first round of last year’s draft and handed the starting reigns over to him in late October. The rookie went 2-8 in 10 games as the starter, while the Vikings finished with a 3-13 mark overall. Despite Ponder's struggles in his first season, the team appears to be committed to him moving forward, not to mention the fact that it has plenty of other holes to fill on the roster. The bottom line: this Vikings team does not present the same opportunity to Manning that it did to Brett Favre back in 2009.

Oakland Raiders
The Raiders already have a 30-something quarterback on their roster, Carson Palmer, and they paid a hefty price to get him. Oakland sent a 2012 first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round pick in 2013 (that could end up being a first-rounder) to Cincinnati last October to get Palmer, who played adequately (13 TDs, 16 INTs) in 10 games for the Raiders. Oakland also is a team in transition as Dennis Allen was hired in January as the Raiders’ seventh head coach in the past 10 seasons.

Tampa Bay
Josh Freeman had a disappointing 2011 season following a breakout 2010 campaign during which he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs. His touchdown passes fell from 25 to 16, while his interceptions increased dramatically from just six in 2010 to 22 last season. However, Freeman is just 24 years old and will enter just his fourth season as the Bucs’ starter this fall. New Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano will lean heavily on Freeman as he makes the transition from the collegiate head coaching ranks to the NFL.

Tennessee Titans
It reads like a fairy tale – former University of Tennessee star returns to his adopted home state to lead the Titans back to postseason glory, no doubt some of that coming at the expense of his former team and division rival, the Colts. Titans and UT fans can dream all they want, but it’s not going to happen. For one, the Titans already have a 36-year-old quarterback on their roster in Matt Hasselbeck. More importantly, they also believe they have their franchise quarterback of the future waiting in the wings in Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft.

Now You’re Talking:

Cleveland Browns
Although he is signed for two more years, Colt McCoy’s future in Cleveland is uncertain at best. While Manning would appear to be an upgrade, the Browns will probably look to the draft to find their future franchise quarterback. With two picks, Nos. 4 and 22, in the first round, Cleveland is seemingly in prime position to select Baylor’s Robert Griffin III early or wait for either Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill or Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler later. Besides, I’m not sure Manning’s that thrilled about having to play the Ravens and Steelers twice each season.

Kansas City
Yes, Kansas City was a nice landing spot for Joe Montana in 1993, but I don’t see history repeating itself. The current incumbent is Matt Cassel, who is under contract through 2014 and the Chiefs have already invested a good deal of money in him. This is a team looking to establish its identity under new head coach Romeo Crennel and bringing in a new quarterback does not appear to be part of his plan.

New York Jets
Peyton and Eli in the same city? I can just hear the New York media types and football pundits everywhere salivating at the sheer thought. However, I suggest you go ahead and wipe that drool from your mouth because I don’t see this happening. For one, that would mean the departure/demotion of the Big Apple’s current favorite whipping boy, Mark Sanchez, who is signed for two more years and put up his best numbers yet last season. Second, I don’t think Peyton longs to play in New York and he is certainly aware of the ramifications that would come with it, for him personally and his family as a whole.

San Francisco
This appears to be an appealing destination because the 49ers are a team on rise under the leadership of head coach and former Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh. However, Manning doesn’t seem to fit what Harbaugh is looking for in a quarterback, as Alex Smith made plays with both his arm and his legs last season. Smith is a free agent, but even if he does not return, the 49ers still have 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick on their roster.

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting:

Arizona Cardinals
Why it could work: Two words – Larry Fitzgerald. Just the thought of Manning throwing to Fitzgerald is enough to get anyone, other than Arizona opponents, excited. Manning has played with some Hall of Fame-caliber wide receivers in Indianapolis, most notably Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but Fitzgerald tops them all. Arizona being in the NFC West also presents an opportunity to possibly return to the playoffs right away. And don’t forget that Kurt Warner had a decent five-year stretch in the desert after arriving in 2005 at the age of 34.
Why it won’t happen: Two other words – Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July and then promptly signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract, $21 million of it guaranteed. Kolb is signed through 2016 and even though he struggled last season (9 TDs, 8 INTs in just nine games), the Cardinals have a lot invested in him and it’s probably too soon to simply cut ties.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Why it could work: Blaine Gabbert (50.8 completion rate, 12 TDs, 11 INTs, 65.4 passer rating) struggled mightily in his first NFL season with the Jaguars, so Manning would not only represent an upgrade under center, he also could help develop his young backup. New head coach Mike Mularkey comes from an offensive background and spent the past four seasons working with and developing Matt Ryan in Atlanta.
Why it won’t happen: The Jaguars are several years away from competing for a playoff spot. Besides a new head coach and uncertainty at quarterback, the Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill, including wide receiver, and it remains to be seen if the team’s long-term future is even in Jacksonville. This is not the ideal situation for Manning to resume his NFL career.

Miami Dolphins
Why it could work: The Dolphins hired Joe Philbin as their new head coach in January. Before landing his first NFL head coaching job, Philbin served as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator for five seasons working first with Favre and then Aaron Rodgers, who won a Super Bowl in 2011 and was the NFL MVP last season. The only quarterback under contract right now is Matt Moore, the Dolphins have an appealing target to throw to in Brandon Marshall, and an All-Pro, franchise left tackle in Jake Long.
Why it won’t happen: The weather may be nice in South Beach, but I don’t see Manning taking his talents there should the opportunity present itself. The Dolphins play in AFC East, the same conference that the Patriots and Jets are in, and both teams appear to be ahead of them from a competitive standpoint in both the present and immediate future. The Dolphins have a new head coach taking over and appear to be a team in transition. I don’t think Manning will want to take his lumps at the hands of Tom Brady/Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan under these circumstances.

Seattle Seahawks
Why it could work: Seattle’s current quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks, like the aforementioned 49ers and Cardinals, play in the NFC West and could potentially be back in the playoffs with Manning at the helm. Owner Paul Allen doesn’t lack for money and seems like the type who would be willing to spend it for someone like Manning to make his team better.
Why it won’t happen: Earlier this week the Seahawks took care of some important business when the team re-signed running back Marshawn Lynch. Even with Lynch entrenched in the backfield, however, Seattle has some question marks at wide receiver and this just doesn’t feel like a fit for Manning. And if you’re into conspiracy theories there’s also this: head coach Pete Carroll may be looking to “tank” this season so he will be in prime position to draft Matt Barkley, his former quarterback at USC, in 2013.

Washington Redskins
Why it could work: Whenever Redskins owner Dan Snyder is involved you never rule anything out. This man has shown time and time again that money is no object when it comes to getting who he wants. Albert Haynesworth anyone? The Redskins clearly have a need at quarterback, as John Beck is the only one under contract. Mike Shanahan is no stranger to coaching Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks (Elway) and desperately wants to win after posting an 11-21 mark in his first two seasons in Washington.
Why it won’t happen: The Redskins may be targeting the aforementioned Griffin or another quarterback in the draft, looking to land their next franchise signal-caller instead of trying to win now with Manning. Snyder’s free-spending days also may be a thing of the past. Otherwise, the Redskins appear to be the one of the best possible landing spots for Manning should he become a free agent.

NFL teams can sign free agents beginning at midnight ET on March 13. All indications at this point are that Manning fully intends to play for another team, arguably making him the most sought-after player on the market. At the very least, he will be the most-watched player as free agency plays out, which is saying something considering he didn't even throw a single pass last season.

Teaser:
<p> A look at possible fits for Peyton Manning, who is expected to be released by the Colts and become an unrestricted free agent</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 20:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /mlb/fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-outfield
Body:

— by Mark Ross, published on Feb. 29, 2012

Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?

Using Athlon Sports’ consensus Top 150 as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers to keep an eye on and some possible busts to be wary of when it comes to drafting your fantasy teams this season.

Note: Outfield includes all players who have OF eligibility. Ranking in the Top 150 is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked in the Top 150.

Athlon Sports Fantasy Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | SP | RP

2012 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Sleepers:

Michael Cuddyer, COL, 1B/2B/OF (No. 120 overall)
Cuddyer, who also has eligibility at two different infield positions, put together a pretty solid 2011 season (.284, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 11 SB) and his numbers should get a boost this season as he moves from the Twins to the Rockies. Besides the home park advantage (switching from Target Field to Coors Field), the Rockies' line up packs more offensive punch than the Twins. Colorado finished tied for seventh in the majors in runs last season, while Minnesota was 25th.

Andre Ethier, LAD, OF (No. 150 overall)
Ethier was bothered by knee pain throughout much of last season and ended up having surgery on his right knee last September. If the knee was the reason behind the precipitous drop in his production (11 HR, 62 RBI) in 2011, he could be a late-round steal. Three seasons ago, Ethier posted a 31-106 season, along with 92 runs scored and 42 doubles.

Corey Hart, MIL, OF (No. 93 overall)
Hart missed the first three weeks of the season, but he still managed to finish it with 26 home runs, 80 runs scored and a .285 average. In the second half alone he posted a .297-16-37 line with 49 runs scored. Hart, who spent most of last season batting leadoff, could move down in the order and get the chance to drive in more runs, especially with Prince Fielder now in Detroit. If that happens, a repeat of his 2010 campaign (.283-31-102) is not out of the question.

Adam Jones, BAL, OF (No. 92 overall)
In 2011, Jones posted the best all-around season of his short career, batting .280 with career highs in home runs (25), RBIs (83) doubles (26) and stolen bases (12). If he can cut down on his strikeouts (113) and find ways to get on base more (.319 OBP), his numbers, especially runs scored (68) will get better. Improved plate discipline combined with Jones’ talent and tools, could very well translate to a .280-30-100 season with some speed thrown in for good measure.

Kendrys Morales, LAA, 1B/OF (UR)
If healthy, and that’s a rather large “if,” Morales could put up huge numbers in an Angels lineup that now includes Albert Pujols. In 2009, Morales broke out in a big way with a .306-34-108 season and was on pace for similar numbers in 2010 (.290-11-39 in 51 games) before breaking his ankle celebrating a walk-off home run. He hasn’t played in a game since May 29, 2010, but if he’s able to prove he’s ready during spring training, he could pick up where he left off almost two years ago.

Logan Morrison, MIA, OF (No. 142 overall)
Morrison gets more attention off the field, thanks in large part to his active Twitter account, than on it, but this may be the season that changes that. Morrison hit 23 home runs and drove in 72 in 123 games last season. A career .290 hitter in the minors, Morrison could be in for a huge 2012 if he can improve upon his .247 batting average from 2011.

2012 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Busts:

Michael Bourn, ATL, OF (No. 65 overall)
In the case of Bourn, it’s all about over-paying or over-drafting for one or two categories. Bourn will steal bases, as he has averaged 58 swipes the past three seasons, and score runs (94 in 2011), but don’t expect him to do much more. He has 13 career home runs in six seasons and his .294 batting average in 2011 was 31 points higher than his career .263 mark prior to that. Put the whole package together and I don’t see a player you necessarily want to draft in the seventh round.

Nelson Cruz, TEX, OF (No. 54 overall)
Will Cruz ever play a full season? That’s the question fantasy owners have been asking for the past three years as the Rangers’ slugger has tantalized with his power (33 home runs in 2009, 29 in ’11) and all-around talent (.318 average in 2010, 20 SB in ’09), but has yet to put it all together. He’s played no more than 128 games in any of the past three and his batting average dropped 55 points last season compared to 2010, while his strikeouts increased by 35. His potential alone is worthy of a fifth/sixth round selection. However, to this point, the overall production and reliability just hasn’t been there.

Josh Hamilton, TEX, OF (No. 32 overall)
Hamilton, whose history of injuries and off-the-field issues is well documented, has played in more than 133 games in season just once. In 2008, he played in 156 games and put up MVP-worthy numbers (.304, 32 HR, 130 RBI). The only other time he played in at least 133 games was in 2010, when he won the AL MVP with a .359-32-100 campaign. Otherwise, he has played in 90, 89 and 121 games his other three seasons. If you draft Hamilton in the fourth round, you are hoping for the 2008 and ’10 seasons and not the other ones. The fact that you don’t know which one you are getting is more than enough reason to let someone else take him that early.

Desmond Jennings, TB, OF (No. 58 overall)
I like Jennings and fully believe he will develop into a fantasy stud, I just don’t think it will happen this season. After all he has a grand total of 311 plate appearances in his career. He was called up in late July last season and after a hot start (.333, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB in 37 games), he struggled mightily (.160, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 SB) in September. Although I have no doubt he will get there, perhaps as early as next season, I think it’s a little early to call Jennings a top 60 overall player in 2012.

Michael Morse, WAS, 1B/OF (No. 79 overall)
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: Morse clubbed 31 home runs, drove in 95 and hit .303 in his first full season. So by calling him a “bust,” I’m not saying he’s going to pull an Adam Dunn this season and bottom out, but I am concerned that he won’t put up similar across-the-board numbers. You can’t ignore his low OBP (.360) and ugly walk-to-strikeout ratio (36:126). The power will probably still be there, but don’t be surprised if the average dips and he profiles more along the lines of a Mark Reynolds (No. 113) when looking at the complete package.

Other Fantasy Baseball Content:

2012 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: The Big Board
2012 Fantasy Baseball: First Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Shortstop Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Third Base Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Outfield Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Catcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Starting Pitcher Rankings
2012 Fantasy Baseball: Relief Pitcher Rankings
2012 MLB Fantasy Closer Grid
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitching
2012 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Closers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2012
2012 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers

Teaser:
<p> Who are the biggest sleepers and busts to watch out for on the fantasy diamond?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 07:08
All taxonomy terms: Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/where-will-peyton-manning-play%20
Body:

— by Mark Ross

Peyton Manning wants to resume his NFL career. The question of whether or not he’s healthy enough or physically capable of has to be answered first. But for the sake of argument, let’s say he is. The question then becomes what uniform is No. 18 wearing in 2012.

Manning is under contract with the Indianapolis Colts having signed a five-year, $90 million extension last summer. As part of this contract, he’s due a $28 million roster bonus on March 8. Without getting too deep into the specifics related to Manning’s contract and this roster bonus, the important part is this: should the Colts decline to pay Manning his bonus he becomes a unrestricted free agent.

What sort of market exists for a quarterback who will be 36 years old by the time the 2012 NFL season rolls around? Here’s a look at some possible fits should Manning decide to give another uniform a try.

For starters, forget about teams who already have established quarterbacks on their roster. As good as Manning has been in his career, teams like Green Bay, New England, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Dallas are already in pretty good shape at quarterback. So you can forget about any dreams of the Manning brothers playing together in the Big Apple.

Then you have teams who either appear to be fully committed to their current starter, like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia, or those who think they already have their franchise quarterback on their roster, like Carolina, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

So even though new Rams head coach Jeff Fisher may have once worn a Manning jersey to a fundraiser while he was still coaching the Titans, don’t expect the two to come together in St. Louis, not with former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford under contract.

That still leaves 16 teams, or half of the NFL, technically still in the running. Here’s how those teams stack up:

Nice Idea But…

Buffalo Bills
Current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension in October, which includes $24 million in guaranteed money. Ironically enough, Fitzpatrick struggled after signing his extension, throwing just 12 touchdown passes with 17 interceptions in his final 10 games with the Bills going 2-8 in that same stretch. That said, the Bills already have invested a lot in Fitzpatrick and appear to be fully committed to “The Amish Rifle”

Denver Broncos
This is just what Tim Tebow and Denver needs, another quarterback controversy. While Tebow’s NFL future is anything but certain, he has earned his standing as the Broncos’ starting quarterback headed into training camp. The last thing he needs is another Hall of Fame quarterback to worry about. He’s already got that in his boss, Broncos Executive Vice President of Operations John Elway.

Houston Texans
Houston would have to appeal to Manning if anything because the Texans are ready to win now and he would be guaranteed two shots each season against Irsay and the Colts. However, Matt Schaub is the entrenched starter and is expected to be fully recovered from last season’s foot injury by the time training camp starts and the Texans also have capable backup Tyler Yates on their roster.

Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings drafted Christian Ponder in the first round of last year’s draft and handed the starting reigns over to him in late October. The rookie went 2-8 in 10 games as the starter, while the Vikings finished with a 3-13 mark overall. Despite Ponder's struggles in his first season, the team appears to be committed to him moving forward, not to mention the fact that it has plenty of other holes to fill on the roster. The bottom line: this Vikings team does not present the same opportunity to Manning that it did to Brett Favre back in 2009.

Oakland Raiders
The Raiders already have a 30-something quarterback on their roster, Carson Palmer, and they paid a heavy price to get him. Oakland sent a 2012 first-round draft pick and a conditional second-round pick in 2013 (that could end up being a first-rounder) to Cincinnati last October to get Palmer, who played adequately (13 TDs, 16 INTs) in 10 games for the Raiders. Oakland also is a team in transition as Dennis Allen was hired in January as the Raiders’ seventh head coach in the past 10 seasons.

Tampa Bay
Josh Freeman had a disappointing 2011 season following a breakout 2010 campaign during which he led the Buccaneers to the playoffs. His touchdown passes fell from 25 to 16, while his interceptions increased dramatically from just six in 2010 to 22 last season. However, Freeman is just 24 years old and will enter just his fourth season as the Bucs’ starter this fall. New Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano will lean heavily on Freeman as he makes the transition from the collegiate head coaching ranks to the NFL.

Tennessee Titans
It reads like a fairy tale – former University of Tennessee star returns to his adopted home state to lead the Titans back to postseason glory, no doubt some of that coming at the expense of his former team and division rival, the Colts. Titans and UT fans can dream all they want, but it’s not going to happen. For one, the Titans already have a 36-year-old quarterback on their roster in Matt Hasselbeck. More importantly, they also believe they have their franchise quarterback of the future waiting in the wings in Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in last year’s draft.

Now You’re Talking:

Cleveland Browns
Although he is signed for two more years, Colt McCoy’s future in Cleveland is uncertain at best. While Manning would appear to be an upgrade, the Browns will probably look to the draft to find their future franchise quarterback. With two picks, Nos. 4 and 22, in the first round, Cleveland is seemingly in prime position to select Baylor’s Robert Griffin III early or wait for either Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill or Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler later. Besides, I’m not sure Manning’s that thrilled about having to play the Ravens and Steelers twice each season.

Kansas City
Yes, Kansas City was a nice landing spot for Joe Montana in 1993, but I don’t see history repeating itself. The current incumbent is Matt Cassel, who is under contract through 2014 and the Chiefs have already invested a good deal of money in him. This is a team looking to establish its identity under new head coach Romeo Crennel and brining in a new quarterback does not appear to be part of his plan.

New York Jets
Peyton and Eli in the same city? I can just hear the New York media types and football pundits everywhere salivating at the sheer thought. However, I suggest you go ahead and wipe that drool from your mouth because I don’t see this happening. For one, that would mean the departure/demotion of the Big Apple’s current favorite whipping boy, Mark Sanchez, who is signed for two more years and put up his best numbers yet last season. Second, I don’t think Peyton longs to play in New York and he is certainly aware of the ramifications that would come with it, for him personally and his family as a whole.

San Francisco
This appears to be an appealing destination because the 49ers are a team on rise under the leadership of head coach and former Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh. However, Manning doesn’t seem to fit what Harbaugh is looking for in a quarterback, as Alex Smith made plays with both his arm and his legs last season. Smith is a free agent, but even if he does not return, the 49ers still have 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick on their roster.

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting:

Arizona Cardinals
Why it could work: Two words – Larry Fitzgerald. Just the thought of Manning throwing to Fitzgerald is enough to get anyone, other than Arizona opponents, excited. Manning has played with some Hall of Fame-caliber wide receivers in Indianapolis, most notably Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but Fitzgerald tops them all. Arizona being in the NFC West also presents an opportunity to possibly return to the playoffs right away. And don’t forget that Kurt Warner had a decent five-year stretch in the desert after arriving in 2005 at the age of 34.
Why it won’t happen: Two other words – Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles for Kolb last July and then promptly signed him to a five-year, $63 million contract, $21 million of it guaranteed. Kolb is signed through 2016 and even though he struggled last season (9 TDs, 8 INTs in just nine games), the Cardinals have a lot invested in him and it’s probably too soon to simply cut ties.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Why it could work: Blaine Gabbert (50.8 completion rate, 12 TDs, 11 INTs, 65.4 passer rating) struggled mightily in his first NFL season with the Jaguars, so Manning would not only represent an upgrade under center, he also could help develop his young backup. New head coach Mike Mularkey comes from an offensive background and spent the past four seasons working with and developing Matt Ryan in Atlanta.
Why it won’t happen: The Jaguars are several years away from competing for a playoff spot. Besides a new head coach and uncertainty at quarterback, the Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill, including wide receiver, and it remains to be seen if the team’s long-term future is even in Jacksonville. This is not the ideal situation for Manning to resume his NFL career.

Miami Dolphins
Why it could work: The Dolphins hired Joe Philbin as their new head coach in January. Before landing his first NFL head coaching job, Philbin served as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator for five seasons working first with Favre and then Aaron Rodgers, who won a Super Bowl in 2011 and was the NFL MVP last season. The only quarterback under contract right now is Matt Moore, the Dolphins have an appealing target to throw to in Brandon Marshall, and an All-Pro, franchise left tackle in Jake Long.
Why it won’t happen: The weather may be nice in South Beach, but I don’t see Manning taking his talents there should the opportunity present itself. The Dolphins play in AFC East, the same conference that the Patriots and Jets are in, and both teams appear to be ahead of them from a competitive standpoint in both the present and immediate future. The Dolphins have a new head coach taking over and appear to be a team in transition. I don’t think Manning will want to take his lumps at the hands of Tom Brady/Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan under these circumstances.

Seattle Seahawks
Why it could work: Seattle’s current quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks, like the aforementioned 49ers and Cardinals, play in the NFC West and could potentially be back in the playoffs with Manning at the helm. Owner Paul Allen doesn’t lack for money and seems like the type who would be willing to spend it for someone like Manning to make his team better.
Why it won’t happen: The Seahawks have several key free agents, most notably running back Marshawn Lynch. If Lynch does not re-sign that creates an enormous hole in the Seahawks’ offense. Seattle also has some question marks at wide receiver and this just doesn’t feel like a fit for Manning. And if you’re into conspiracy theories there’s also this: head coach Pete Carroll may be looking to “tank” this season so he will be in prime position to draft Matt Barkley, his former quarterback at USC, in 2013.

Washington Redskins
Why it could work: Whenever Redskins owner Dan Snyder is involved you never rule anything out. This man has shown time and time again that money is no object when it comes to getting who he wants. Albert Haynesworth anyone? The Redskins clearly have a need at quarterback, as John Beck is the only one under contract. Mike Shanahan is no stranger to coaching Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks (Elway) and desperately wants to win after posting an 11-21 mark in his first two seasons in Washington.
Why it won’t happen: The Redskins may be targeting the aforementioned Griffin or another quarterback in the draft, looking to land their next franchise signal-caller instead of trying to win now with Manning. Snyder’s free-spending days also may be a thing of the past. Otherwise, the Redskins appear to be the one of the best possible landing spots for Manning should he become a free agent.

Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay are reportedly meeting soon to discuss No. 18’s future with the only team he has every played for. So for all intents and purposes the talk about a new place for Peyton could soon be a moot point.

However, should the Colts decide to end their 14-year relationship with Manning and he become an unrestricted free agent, all eyes will no doubt be watching closely to see what happens next. In the end, it could come down to Manning’s preference where (Arizona? Washington? Somewhere else?) he wants to play, or if he decides he’s thrown the last pass of his illustrious NFL career.

Teaser:
<p> A look at possible fits for Peyton Manning should the Colts cut ties with their long-time quarterback</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Florida Gators, Kentucky Wildcats, News
Path: /news/college-basketball-kentucky-dominates-florida-keep-home-winning-streak-intact
Body:

By David Schuman

It’s getting a little repetitive to say at this point, but John Calipari has one hell of a team on his hands. That fact was proved yet again Tuesday night, when the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (24-1, 10-0 SEC) ran No. 7 Florida (19-5, 7-2 SEC) out of Rupp Arena. The ‘Cats will only be shedding crocodile tears for these Gators though.

 This was supposed to be the first test of a difficult week for Kentucky. Florida’s four-guard lineup spreads the floor and has been too quick for many opponents this season. Plus, they came in leading the nation in 3 pointers. It was a bad night to go cold.

 They shot 6 of 27 from deep, a pitiful 22.2%. It was the worst first half Billy Donovan’s squad has played all year, with season lows in points and three balls made. It’s no surprise they were down by 12 at the break.

 What more can you say about Kentucky? Anthony Davis is making a strong case for National Player of the Year honors; he is a true difference-maker on defense. There was a distinct feeling Florida was reluctant to drive the lane, especially after Davis recorded two monster blocks in the same possession early in the second half. He scored 16 points as well, but that’s not so hard when seemingly all you’re doing is finishing alley-oops from point guard Marquis Teague.

 Yes, the freshman has come a long way from the early season and you get the feeling that this team will go as far as he takes them. That’s a scary thought when you see how much Teague is improving. Tuesday night he had his first career double-double: 12 points and 10 assists.

 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had another strong performance, with 13 points and 13 rebounds. He’s got crazy athleticism and it’s easy to see why NBA scouts love him.

 With all these freshmen, Terrence Jones somehow gets a little overlooked. Need I remind you he was voted the Preseason Player of the Year in the SEC. With Jones, Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist, it’s hard to find a better frontcourt, outside of maybe Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

 Also of note, Coach Cal has still never lost at home as head coach of the Wildcats. It’s a 48 game winning streak. In other words, if Kentucky’s got a home game, you might as well not even tune in.

I would suggest turning on ESPN this Saturday night though when UK travels to Memorial Gym to take on Vanderbilt. Vandy’s not a team to overlook when they’re playing in Nashville. That place gets raucous. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance when John Wall and Demarcus Cousins came to town in 2010, and it was the most electric sports atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of. All I’m saying is there is potential for an upset.

Florida, on the other hand, should not be so disheartened by this loss. There’s a reason Kentucky’s ranked #1. Coach Donovan would be wise to have his guys move on quickly, as they take on the Tennessee Volunteers at home on Saturday. It should be a good bounce-back kind of game for them.

Overall, Tuesday night’s game wasn’t the most entertaining to watch, but if you appreciate hard-working, team basketball, then this Kentucky team is a must-see. For that, I’ll keep tuning in. Even if they are playing in Rupp Arena.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Wildcats win an important SEC match-up</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 01:52
Path: /nfl/which-super-bowl-team-was-better-1986-or-2011-ny-giants
Body:

By RALPH VACCHIANO

There was magic back in 2007 when the Giants made the run to Super Bowl XLII, just like there was something special happening when the 1990 Giants won Super Bowl XXV. Those are moments that Giants fans will cherish forever.

But there’s still nothing that can compare to the first time for the franchise – when the 1986 Giants won Super Bowl XXI.

No matter what any of the other Giants teams has done, the ’86 squad is still the measuring stick. Every team, every player, gets measured against that significant part of the Giants’ past.

So as the 2011 Giants make their run at a championship – possibly the second one for the franchise in the last five seasons – it’s only fair that they’re held up in comparison to the greats from 25 years ago. If the 1986 Giants and 2011 Giants were matched head to head, who would come out on top and how would they compare?

There may be no way to compare teams from different eras in the NFL, but for fun, it’s worth a try:

DEFENSE
The 2011 Giants are trying to find out if it’s really true that “Defense wins championships,” because the revival of their defense – particularly their pass rush – is what has fueled this Super Bowl run. But if they really want to know what a defense can do, they should look back at their own history, because defense won three Super Bowls for this franchise.

And none was more dominant than the one in 1986.

This current Giants team can’t compare to that one, even with a dominant pass rush led by Jason Pierre-Paul. He’s dangerous, but not the scary figure that Lawrence Taylor once was. And Taylor was rushing from behind Leonard Marshall, George Martin and Jim Burt.

Add in linebackers like Carl Banks, Gary Reasons and Hall of Famer Harry Carson, and it’s not even clear that many of the Giants’ current front seven would have a starting spot on the ’86 team. And when you add in the fact that the genius, Bill Belichick, was the ’86 defensive coordinator, it easily puts the Super Bowl XXI champions over the top.

EDGE: ‘86

OFFENSE
This is where the comparison gets a little more even, because Eli Manning is beginning to look like the best quarterback the Giants have ever had. He’s obliterated any numbers that Phil Simms ever put up, and he’s the first Giants quarterback to lead two teams to Super Bowls, too.

And Simms never had receivers as explosive as Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. He did a wonderful job of getting the most out of Lionel Manuel, Stacey Robinson, Bobby Johnson and Phil McConkey, but none of them were as dangerous as what the Giants have now.

What Simms had was a much better tight end – Jake Ballard can’t compare to the greatness of Mark Bavaro – and probably a better running game, too. Joe Morris was a true, No. 1, workhorse back and he was backed up by Ottis Anderson. Brandon Jacobs, in his current form, is a shell of his former self and Ahmad Bradshaw is running on a fractured foot. It’s no wonder this Giants’ rushing attack was the worst in the league.

But it didn’t matter. The 2011 teams can put up points in a hurry. It’s one of the most dangerous offenses the Giants franchise has ever seen.

EDGE: 2011

QUARTERBACK

Just a few years ago Giants fans would’ve gagged at the thought of Manning being mentioned in the same sentence as Simms, who is one of the most beloved figures out of the Giants’ past. He was tough, blue-collar, fun to watch and a winner, and he threw better than people sometimes remember, too.

This season, though, has separated Manning from the pack. He rebounded from an ugly, 25-interception season, started talking tough when he declared himself “elite”, won over New York by backing up his words, and captured the heart of the city by leading fourth-quarter comebacks six times. He’s proven to be gritty, tough (see the pounding he took in the NFC championship game), and the franchise has never seen a better quarterback when the game is on the line.

He’s already passed Simms as the greatest quarterback in franchise history, and a second Super Bowl championship could be his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

EDGE: 2011

COACHING

It’s a little eerie how similar these two coaches are. Their regular season records are nearly identical. Both were former Giants assistants (Coughlin worked under Bill Parcells). Both had sometimes prickly personalities (though Parcells was always a bit more jovial than Coughlin). Both were tough and set in their ways.

History will likely remember Parcells as the greater coach, especially if he ends up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He resurrected four different franchises in his career and had success everywhere he went. He won his two rings with the Giants, just like Coughlin, but he got his by pulling the Giants out of one of the darkest eras they ever had.

Still, when it comes to coaching these teams, it’s hard to separate the jobs they’ve done. Parcells slowly built a powerhouse, then tweaked it at the right moments to turn it into a mini-dynasty. Coughlin, in the free-agent era, was forced to rebuild on the fly and for the second time pulled his team back from rock bottom in December to make an unlikely title run.

Both are great coaches. Both are great leaders. This matchup would be a wash.

EDGE: Even

OVERALL

History has shown that the two most important ingredients in building a contender are quarterbacks and defenses. Both teams had good enough ones to win a title. But if these teams were ever somehow matched up against each other in a theoretical battle in the middle of their primes, the ’86 defense would prove to be the far superior unit and the most dominant factor on the field.

Manning could out-play Simms in a numbers game, but there was always something about Simms and his ability to find a way to win. Couple that with a smothering defense and the most dominant player in the matchup – Lawrence Taylor – and his job wouldn’t be all that hard.

The ’11 team is more explosive. It can score quicker, too. But its pass rush would have trouble getting to Simms, and he certainly wouldn’t be rattled. Simms and the ’86 offense wouldn’t have any trouble operating a smooth, efficient, ground-controlled game. Meanwhile, the ’86 defense wouldn’t give ground to anyone. It wouldn’t be missing tackles all over the field.

So yes, defense really does win championships, and the ’86 team had the far superior defense. This 2011 Giants team may win a championship, too, but there’s still no doubt the 1986 Giants were by far the better team.

EDGE: 1986

Teaser:
<p> We break down which Big Apple team was better</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 10:28
All taxonomy terms: Florida Gators, Vanderbilt Commodores, News
Path: /news/college-basketball-vanderbilt-commodores-florida-gators-preview
Body:

While Vanderbilt seemed to be approaching conference play with an undeniably improved focus compared to that of their preseason play, a mental lapse and lackadaisical efforts combined cost the ‘Dores a clutch SEC victory Tuesday night against Arkansas. However, the Commodores look to bounce back against the (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) Florida Gators this Saturday.

After kicking off conference play with a disappointing loss to Tennessee Jan. 7, the Gators have regained their swagger and dashed through conference play on a 6-0 winning streak.

Needless to say, Vanderbilt definitely has their hands full as they take on the extremely versatile guard play of Florida’s Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal, while also withstanding the jeers of 90,000 roaring fans in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. Regardless of the challenge facing the ‘Dores, Forward Lance Goulbourne believes there is an internal solution to securing the win Saturday afternoon:

“We need to make a focused effort to improve our second half difference. Last game and in previous games, our defense let us down in the second half. If we maintain our focus for 40 minutes, we have a great chance to win the game.”

This attitude may get the Commodores in the right gear to avenge their loss to the Razorbacks and to pull off an upset in the swamp.

Don’t miss this SEC Showdown Saturday, Feb 4, 2012 at 1p.m. ET.

By Jordan Coleman

Teaser:
<p> Will Vandy be able to take down a tough SEC foe on the road?</p>
Post date: Saturday, February 4, 2012 - 11:10
Path: /nfl/super-bowl-xlvi-numbers
Body:

The New England Patriots and the New York Giants will face one another in Super Bowl XLVI on Sunday in Indianapolis. As football fans across the country, not to mention the world, get ready for the “Big Game,” here are some numbers to whet your appetite.

1 – Times Indianapolis has hosted the Super Bowl. The game will be played in Lucas Oli Stadium, which is home to the Indianapolis Colts, and it will have a Manning playing in it. Only it’s Eli, and not Peyton.

3 – Times Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin have coached in the same Super Bowl. This will be the second time they have faced each other as head coaches, but the two also were part of Bill Parcells' staff when the Giants played the Bills in Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Belichick was the defensive coordinator, while Coughlin served as the wide receivers coach for that Giants team, which beat the Bills 20-19. Ironically enough, both would leave the Giants for head coaching jobs — Belichick with the Cleveland Browns and Coughlin with Boston College — following that Super Bowl victory, only to meet up once again on the same stage 17 years later.

4 – Years since these two teams faced off against each other in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008 in Glendale, Ariz. The Giants upset the heavily favored and previously undefeated Patriots 17-14 in one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent history. It also represents the number of consecutive decades each team has played in a Super Bowl. The Giants and the Patriots have each played in at least one Super Bowl during the 1980s, ‘90s, 2000s and now 2010s. They are the only two teams in the NFL to boast such a streak.

5 – Super Bowl rematches in the game’s 46-year history. Besides the Giants and the Patriots, the most frequent Super Bowl match ups have been Pittsburgh vs. Dallas (Super Bowls X, XIII and XXX), Miami vs. Washington (VII and XVII), San Francisco vs. Cincinnati (XVI and XXIII) and Dallas vs. Buffalo (XXVII and XXVIII).

9 – States that have hosted the Super Bowl with Indiana becoming the ninth this year. Florida has hosted the most Super Bowls with 15, followed by California (11), Louisiana (9), Texas (3), Arizona (2), Georgia (2), Michigan (2). Minnesota and Indiana have each hosted one.

17 – Combined sacks by the two teams in their five playoff games. The Giants have tallied nine sacks in wins over the Falcons, Packers and 49ers, while the Patriots have eight in their victories over the Broncos and Ravens. Which team is able to consistently pressure the opposing quarterback will be something to watch for on Sunday. The teams combined for eight sacks (Giants 5, Patriots 3) in Super Bowl XLII.

19 – Players (12 from the Giants, seven from the Patriots) who will be on the field Sunday and also played in Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

24 – Combined turnover differential of the two teams in the regular season. The Patriots were second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and forced a total of 34 turnovers, while giving the ball away only 17 times for an AFC-best +17 differential. The Giants forced 31 turnovers (20 interceptions, 11 fumbles) and committed 24 for a differential of +7. In the playoffs, the Giants have forced six turnovers and only committed one, while the Patriots have committed more (four) than they have forced (three).

44.4 – Percentage of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes caught by tight end Rob Gronkowski this season. “Gronk” has caught 20 (17 in the regular season, three in the playoffs) of Brady’s 45 total touchdown passes to this point. He also is dealing with an ankle injury he suffered in the AFC Championship Game that put him in a walking boot and limited his practice time. While he’s fully expected to play on Sunday, questions surrounding his mobility and effectiveness have been one of the key storylines.

83.3 – Combined percentage of made field goals by Giants’ kicker Lawrence Tynes (6 of 8) and Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski (4 of 4) this postseason. Both have picked up their games from the regular season, during which Tynes made 19 of 24 (79.2) and Gostkowski 28 of 33 (84.9) field goal tries. Most importantly, the two were on target when it counted the most – Tynes hitting from 31 yards away in overtime in the Giants’ win over the 49ers and Gostkowski nailing all three of his attempts against the Ravens – in their respective conference championship games.

156 – Passing yards Tom Brady needs to break Kurt Warner’s record for most career passing yards in Super Bowl history. Warner had 1,156 passing yards in his three Super Bowls. Brady, who already holds the Super Bowl record for career completions (100), will tie John Elway with his fifth Super Bowl start on Sunday. With a win, he will tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories, further cementing his legacy as one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.

8,785 – Combined passing yards allowed by the Giants’ and Patriots’ defenses in the regular season. That averages out to 274.5 yards per game. The two teams also surrendered a total of 54 touchdown passes and combined allowed opponents to complete nearly 62 percent of their passes. The Giants finished the regular season as the 29th-ranked passing defense in the NFL, while the Patriots came in second-to-last in that category.

10,258 – Combined passing yards of Tom Brady (5,235) and Eli Manning (4,933) in the regular season, to go along with 68 touchdowns. When the two met back in Week 9, a game the Giants won 24-20, the duo combined for 592 yards through the air.

$3.5-$4 million – Average cost of a 30-second commercial spot during NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVI, according to TIME magazine. While that’s no small chunk of change, consider this: last year’s Super Bowl drew an average audience of 111 million viewers, making it the most watched American television program ever.

— by Mark Ross

Teaser:
<p> A look at some numbers and statistics related to Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 12:09
Path: /nfl/what-makes-grumpy-bill-belichick-smile-surprisingly-its-giants
Body:

By RALPH VACCHIANO

There isn’t much that can get a rise out of Bill Belichick, the stoic, unemotional, coach of the New England Patriots. He’s been to four Super Bowls as a head coach, won three, and built himself a dynasty in New England. But talking about the power he’s built rarely elicits a smile.

It’s different, though, when Belichick is asked about the past – specifically the great New York Giants teams he was a part of in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He was the genius defensive coordinator back then under the future Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, helping to guide one of the NFL’s greatest teams.

Ask Belichick about that if you want to see him smile. Talk to him about those teams if you want an expansive answer. Even as his Patriots prepare to face the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, he was peppered with questions about his days as an assistant with the Giants. That is something he could talk about for hours.

That was an experience he described as “awesome.” It was a enough to make him smile.

“It was a great job,” Belichick said. “It was awesome. I loved that job. I loved coaching the Giants’ defense. Being in New York, being a part of that great organization and those great players I had the opportunity to coach.

“In all honesty, I wasn’t thinking then about if this was what I was going to do at some other point. We were trying to win there. We won in 1986, and it was a great year. We rebuilt the team, and we won again. I was consumed with that. I really just try to live in the moment.”

It was a great moment in time, of course, and Belichick was a major part of it. The Giants’ defense, choreographed by Belchick led the way to Super Bowl titles in 1986 (XXI) and 1990 (XXV). It helped that he had great players like Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, George Martin, Leonard Marshall, Jim Burt and so many more.

Belichick, though, is the one that put them together. Belichick is the maestro who made them sing.

“We had a great staff and great players,” the Patriots coach recalled. “One of the biggest things I learned, that I can’t do today, but I know, is how tough those players were. We practiced every day in pads -- every single day in pads. There were years that we practiced every single day on the turf before we had the grass practice fields up there on the hill

“We did 9-on-7 -- which is a good-tempo running drill -- on a regular basis. In training camp, we went out in pads every day. We hit every day. We did 9-on-7 every day. There was no way Bill (Parcells) would go out on the field without doing 9-on-7. We’d skip stretching before we’d skip 9-on-7.”

Times, of course has changed and so have the rules, which has forced Belichick to – reluctantly – change, too. Still, he made sure to have his Patriots practice at least once in pads during Super Bowl week. The lessons he learned from Parcells and those great Giants teams were not easily forgotten.

And the biggest lesson he learned is that football players – really great football players – are supposed to be unbelievably tough.

“When you get those guys crashing into each other – Jumbo (Elliott) and Mark Bavaro blocking (Lawrence) Taylor, (Carl) Banks, (Jim) Burt and all them – they just lined up and played football,” Belichick said. “I know it was a different era, but it will never be like that again. I learned players can be tough, they can be physical, they can do more than they think they can do.”

He tried to take that approach with him in his first job as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns. But when the results weren’t good, he was criticized for being too tough on his players – something he even still finds a little hard to believe.

“Maybe I took it a little too far in Cleveland, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “It was kind of the same thing when I got there. People said that we were too demanding and we were doing too much. I was thinking to myself, ‘I was with the Giants for 12 years. I saw this every day for 12 years. Don’t tell me we can’t go out there and have 9-on-7 two days in a row. I know we can.’ ”

Now, all these years later, he finds other ways to get the toughness out of his players. It’s his responsibility now, and he’s the undisputed king of the coaching fraternity. He won’t talk much about that during the run up to Super Bowl XLVI, but he will gladly talk about where all his strengths came from. He was once a Giant, and he still considers that one of the best jobs he ever had.

Teaser:
<p> The Patriots coach looks back on his time with the Giants</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 2, 2012 - 10:31
Path: /news/it%E2%80%99s-national-signing-day-anything-possible
Body:

By David Schuman

 Alabama beat LSU for the national championship 23 days ago, but for the true diehards, the second season was just getting underway. I’m talking about the offseason, the recruiting season. For those who consume college football in a manner similar to the way Morris Claiborne gobbles up an entire half of the field, today is Christmas and the Super Bowl all wrapped up into one glorious bonanza.

It’s the holiday known as National Signing Day.

Do you feel that? That tingly feeling in your gut? How about the lightheadedness? We call that hope, my friend. Hope that with this recruiting class, your program is ready to take that next step. Hope that college football’s next star just signed his letter of intent to walk on your campus. Hope that your prayers have been answered.

Nowhere is all of this a bigger deal than in SEC country. Being a Vanderbilt student originally from New York, I have only recently been introduced to the rowdy institution that is football in the South. The enormity of National Signing Day became clear pretty quickly though. Legions of fans, including grown men and women who have jobs and families, unashamedly hang on every word of 18 year olds they have never met. You can now add the Twitterverse to that as well, which brings a whole new dizzying quality to the hysteria.

I say “hysteria” because there is a potent measure of irrationality about the whole thing. You know how it goes. If your archrival picks up a commitment from a guy you wanted, the first assumption is that the rival must have bent the rules. You pull out all your defense mechanisms, saying things like, “Well, if he’s susceptible to being seduced by Rival U, he’s not the kind of kid we want anyway. We’re probably better off without him.”

Anyone who follows the recruiting battles even a little can see how heated it gets. The controversy even manages to wedge itself between families. The most recent example is what happened with Landon Collins this year. At the Under Armour All-America game, the five-star safety from Geismar, Louisiana committed to Alabama in front of the national TV audience. His mother proceeded to…well, check it out for yourself.

Now, some may say the hype has gotten out of control. With top prospects now holding press conferences to announce their choices, there is justified criticism that these teenagers are being celebrated before they have accomplished a thing. Remember Jimmy Clausen with his limousine and rings? The image still makes me nauseous, but the fact is National Signing Day has become a spectacle because there is a demand for it. Websites such as Rivals and Scout have made recruiting a year-round event that doesn’t look to be waning in popularity any time soon.

Basically, we obsess over Signing Day because of the rush. The unbeatable thrill of reeling in the big fish after months on the recruiting trail. For an Auburn fan, beating out Alabama for a prized recruit can feel almost as good as winning the Iron Bowl. And you’re not paying attention if you don’t think Michigan fans, after the insufferable Rich-Rod era, are outright giddy about their Top 5 class.

So sit back and enjoy today, the day where the wellspring of hope runs eternal. Even for non-SEC fans. Well, let’s be real. They don’t have a shot.
 

Teaser:
<p> Every college football team has a little hope today</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 08:08
All taxonomy terms: New England Patriots, Tom Brady, NFL
Path: /nfl/tom-brady-greatest-quarterback-all-time
Body:

— by Mark Ross

Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time in NFL history? Believe it or not, this may not be as far-fetched a statement as it may have seemed.

Let’s start with Tom Terrific’s numbers — a two-time NFL MVP with nearly 40,000 yards passing, 300 TDs and a career passer rating of 96.4 in his 12 seasons. He has started 159 games in the regular season and won 124 of them, which is the fifth-most of all-time. To put in another way, No. 12 has won nearly 80 percent of the games he has started in the regular season.

As impressive as that may be for the regular season, Brady has nearly the same winning percentage (76 percent) in the postseason. For his career, Brady is 16-5 in the playoffs, which ties Joe Montana for the most postseason wins by a starting quarterback.

Brady also is the in top 5 on the all-time list when it comes to postseason touchdowns (36, 3rd), passing yards (5,009, fourth) and completions (472, 2nd) in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Montana has the most career playoff touchdown passes with 45, while Brett Favre has the most yards (5,855) and completions (481).

Most importantly of all, Brady will have his chance to claim the record for most postseason wins and add to his playoff stats this Sunday when his New England Patriots take on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. This will be Brady’s fifth Super Bowl as a starting quarterback, which will tie John Elway for the most starts in the “Big Game.”

A win would be Brady’s fourth in five Super Bowl appearances, which would tie him with Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most victories by a starting quarterback. Brady also will tie Montana for most Super Bowl MVPs if he gets his third one in Sunday’s game. Brady already holds the record for most career completions in Super Bowl history and could break the marks for both passing yards and touchdowns on Sunday.

The bottom line with Brady is this – he’s a winner, a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and deserves to be in the “Greatest of All-time” conversation, even if his Patriots fall to the Giants on Sunday. Not bad for someone taken in the 6th round, no. 199 overall, of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Consider that Brady will be 35 when the 2012 NFL season starts this fall. Outside of missing basically the entire 2008 season after going down with a knee injury in Week 1, Brady has been durable. Since taking over for Drew Bledsoe as the Patriots’ starting quarterback in Week 3 of the 2001 season, Brady has started all 159 regular-season and 21 postseason games he has played in.

Brady should have several more productive years ahead of him, meaning he should only add to his already impressive statistics. Further, considering the Patriots have been in the playoffs all but two of his 11 seasons as the starter (with one of those being 2008 when he only played in Week 1), Brady should have plenty of opportunities to claim basically every postseason passing record that exists.

The point is this, all but one of the quarterbacks that have already been mentioned — Montana, Favre, Elway, Bradshaw — are Hall of Famers (Favre will be once he’s eligible) and generally a part of the “Greatest of All-time” conversation, to some degree. One would probably want to add Johnny Unitas, Dan Marino, and perhaps one or two others to the list as well.

Regardless of who is on this list, Brady measures up to them all, whether your measuring stick for greatness is statistics, wins or postseason production. And while he may not be your choice for “Greatest of All-time,” he at least needs to be mentioned any time you have the conversation.

After all, Brady already has won more Super Bowls than Favre, Untias, and Marino combined. How’s that for your conversation starter?

Teaser:
<p> Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time?</p>
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2012 - 11:51
Path: /nfl/real-and-overblown-stories-super-bowl-xlvi
Body:

Believe the hype. As far as intrigue goes, Super Bowl XLVI has the potential to be one of the greatest ever.

Yet, potential is just that. Much as we would like, there’s no way to know whether Sunday’s Giants v. Pats battle will come down the last play, like its Week 9 counterpart did. We can hope that Super Bowl XLVI will be an edge-of-your-seat slugfest, similar to New England’s Week 17 victory in 2007, but we just don’t know. It’s foolish to pencil in a game even half as exciting as either of those, let alone (arguably) The Greatest Game Ever Played.

But we know what’s on the line. Not many Super Bowls have has as many – legitimate — storylines and angles heading into media week as this Big Game does. There’s no need for manufactured stories. This is Brady vs. Eli, in Peyton’s House. Tom vs. Billy Boy. Red Face vs. Hoodie. New York vs. Boston. Part Deux.

Of course, having real things to talk about has never stopped the media from talking about other things. This is the story of those things, and why they are WTF-worthy.

As always, quotes below are paraphrases of general idiocy.

“The Giants and the Patriots Are Two of the Worst Teams to Ever Play in the Super Bowl.”
There’s some truth to this. The Giants are owners of a -4 point differential in their 9-7 regular season as well as Aaron Ross. An eighth grade substitute math teacher is their chief signal caller on defense. That defense, for parts of the regular season, was something beyond porous while their running game, ranked dead last, was even worse.

Meanwhile, the Patriots didn’t beat a winning team until the season’s 20th week and prominently feature five or six trashcans as defensive starters. Their best outside receiver, Deion Branch, had his last relevant moment nearly a decade ago, when he won the MVP of the last Super Bowl without a roman numeral ‘V’ in its title. And most recently, their GOAT quarterback was severely outplayed in the AFC Championship game by an opponent known best for his ‘goat’ status and his weird, half-goatee choice in facial hair.

Yet, everything is relative, and the Giants and Pats’ apparent shared mediocrity is no exception. The 2011 NFL season was nearly unparalleled in its parity, with 18 of the league’s 32 teams winning between six and ten games.

The Kansas City Chiefs, despite losing perhaps their three best players to season-ending injury, won seven games and finished in fourth in the AFC West. The three teams ahead of them each won eight times.

The Colts, the league’s worst team, were without services of the best damn spokesperson the quarterback position has ever seen. Conversely, the league’s best team – the 15-1 Green Bay Packers, may they rest in peace – was quite literally one-dimensional.

Never as great as we were made to believe, the Packers were able to succeed against middling competition as eventual league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the team’s 3rd-ranked passing attack compensated for a 27th-ranked rushing attack and the league’s worst defense. Once they reached the postseason, Rodgers’ margin for error narrowed. No one else was able to pick up the slack.

If the 2011 NFL Season is remembered correctly, it will be thought of as a season of the extra-ordinary, a year in which the mediocrity of the majority allowed the select talented few to look even more talented by comparison.

Matt Stafford and Eli Manning are very good players, but it is difficult to believe they are half as good as Dan Marino once was. Eli fell 150 yards short of breaking Marino’s single-season passing mark, while Stafford and Brady and Drew Brees were able to break the nearly 30-year-old record.

More important, however, the watered-down competition presented the perfect opportunity for an underdog to start gnashing its teeth. Recipe for 2011 success: get hot at the right time, do two or three things right while everyone else only does one, make as few mistakes as possible, then pray. The Giants can confidently say they followed that recipe better than anyone else. Lucky? Perhaps. Opportunistic is probably more apt. The Giants did both what they needed to and what no one else was able, and now they’re in Indianapolis as a result.

On the other side, the system meant a team as flawed as the Patriots would face as little resistance as possible on their path to Indy. Their flaws, especially in the regular season, would go relatively unexploited. Top it off with Tebow and Flacco in January, and its fair to say the Pats haven’t faced a team better team all season then they will on Sunday.

They did lose to the Giants in Week 9. But these ain’t November’s Giants. And while the 2012 iteration might not be The Best Team Ever, in the Year of the Extra-Ordinary, it’s difficult to make the case that they don’t deserve to be there.

“If Eli Wins The Big One – Again – He Might Just Be Better Than Peyton”
No, he won’t be. Not even might be. There’s no question here, no debate, not even if Eli wins, throws for 600 yards, wins the Super Bowl and somehow steals Giesel away from Tom in the process. Probably not even if he came back next year, dropped Gisele for Kate Upton, then threw for 600 yards in a third Super Bowl MVP performance.

In sports, we value two things above all else: the now and the championship. We elevate our winners while forgetting the ones who have done so in the past. Yes, winning is the most important thing. But contrary to what we’ve been told, it’s not the only thing. It’s completely foolish to eschew a decade of achievement in favor of two February nights, glorious though they may be.

Over thirteen seasons, Peyton Manning passed for less than 3,700 yards exactly never. He’s passed for over 4,000 yards on 11 different occasions, a feat Eli’s accomplished thrice. Peyton’s thrown at least 30 touchdowns six times and 49 touchdowns once and won four MVP awards and made five All-Pro first teams and three All-Pro second teams.

Eli’s thrown for 30 touchdowns once, in a season in which he threw 25 interceptions. He’s made two Pro Bowl teams. And great as he may be, he can’t make claim to any of the other accolades and statistics that make big brother quite possibly the greatest player of all time.

Before the 2011 season, Eli wasn’t even considered the best quarterback in his division, let alone his family. And while he has been consistently great this year, and while his past has been better than anyone gives him credit for, there’s no way thirteen extra wins can bring a man from good to G.O.A.T. Perspective, people. Have some.

“Tom Brady is As Good As Ever.”
Patently false. Don’t get me wrong, Brady is still the league’s best quarterback and quite possibly the best to ever play the position. He threw for five thousand yards and 39 touchdowns this season. Not exactly Rex Grossman-type numbers.

But watching him on a game-to-game basis, it is quite clear this isn’t the same unbeatable stalwart we’ve always watched. Maybe you can blame that on a weaker-than-usual offensive line and outside receivers, and maybe you’d be right. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that there aren’t a few more passes thrown astray and a few more balls held a bit too long than ever before. The numbers say this is one of Brady’s best seasons, but the eyes say something different. And if there’s anything this upside-down, Eli-better-than-Peyton season has taught us, it’s to trust your eyes. And your gut. And then give both of them a whole lot of open field and shitty defensive backs to work with.

“Lock Up Tom Coughlin, He’s Going to Be Here For a While.”
There’s no debate: Tom Coughlin has earned himself a long term contract extension. But that’s if he wants it.

Last week, Coughlin and son-in-law/Guard Chris Snee shot down suggestions that retirement might be in the old man’s near future, but it’s certainly something to still keep in mind. Coughlin is the league’s oldest coach and will also be it’s only active one – other than Bill Belichick — to have his name on multiple Lombardi trophies. There’s little left for him to accomplish and not much time left for him to do it. Even if Tom sticks around for his ninth season in New Jersey, it’s hard to see him coaching for much longer. Bill Cowher, anybody?

Jesse Golomb is the Editor-in-Chief of TheFanManifesto. Follow him on twitter, or drop him a line via email. 

Teaser:
<p> Some idiotic notions are being put forth in the media about this game. What's real?</p>
Post date: Monday, January 30, 2012 - 11:33
Path: /nfl/peyton-mannings-uncertain-future-indianapolis
Body:

What once seemed unfathomable – Peyton Manning NOT in an Indianapolis Colts uniform – seems not so improbable with every passing day. Picking up the pieces from a disastrous 2-14 season, Colts owner Jim Irsay, new general manager Ryan Grigson and just-hired head coach Chuck Pagano have a lengthy to-do list on their hands. And that list most likely starts with who will be under center for the Colts next season.

For starters, Manning is due a $28 million roster bonus on March 8 as part of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he signed last summer. Everyone knows what happened after that — he had neck surgery in September, missed the entire 2011 season during which the Colts win just two games, which in turn
“earned” them the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft where everyone is expecting them to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Irsay has already publicly stated that even if Manning is given a clean bill of health that the Colts will take a quarterback with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. Whether that be Luck or Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III from Baylor remains to be seen, but in some ways this is similar to the situation the Colts found themselves in back in 1998.

Back then the Colts had the No. 1 overall pick and were reportedly somewhat torn between drafting Manning, who played for the University of Tennessee, or Washington State’s Ryan Leaf. In the end, the Colts took Manning and the Chargers traded up to get Leaf at No. 2. The rest, as they say, is history.

Whether or not the Colts find their next franchise quarterback in April in either Luck or Griffin only time will tell, but it still doesn’t answer the question what to do with their current franchise quarterback. The good news is that under the terms of the new CBA, the financial cost of keeping both Manning and the No. 1 overall draft pick isn’t nearly as burdensome as it once was.

Two years ago, the St. Louis Rams took Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first pick and signed him to a six-year, $78 million deal. The contract had $50 million in guaranteed money and was the largest contract ever for an NFL rookie. Last year, the Carolina Panthers took Auburn quarterback Cam Newton No. 1. Under the terms of the new CBA, which introduced a rookie wage scale, Newton signed a four-year, $22 million deal, all of it guaranteed.

In guaranteed money alone, the Panthers will pay $28 million less to Newton than the Rams will for Bradford. Whoever the Colts select at No. 1 will sign a contract similar to Newton’s and that alone will make it considerably easier for the team to afford their new franchise quarterback and Manning. Remember, Manning still has $63.6 million left on his contract extension, including the $28 million roster bonus due on March 8, which goes through 2015.

In fact, because of the structure of Manning’s contract and NFL rules, in many ways it will cost the Colts less to keep Manning than it would to get rid of him, whether that be by trading him to another team or simply releasing him.

For one, while Manning’s roster bonus is due on March 8, the Colts actually can’t trade him until March 13 because of league rules. At that point, if the Colts did decide to trade him, it would cost them the $28 million for the roster bonus and then an additional $38 million towards their cap.

This just doesn’t seem like a wise move for a team that already is dealing with cap space issues. And that’s without even discussing finding a feasible trading partner, a team that has a need for a 36-year-old quarterback with an ever-growing medical file and, more importantly, the cap space to fit him.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t several teams out there who wouldn’t jump at the chance to bring Manning on board. It’s just that given all of the factors, there probably aren’t that many teams that are in a position to even consider a trade, should the opportunity become available.

It also doesn’t seem likely that they would simply cut Manning. For one, it would still cost the Colts an estimated $10.4 million cap hit to end ties with him. Although that would be cheaper than the cap hit associated with trading him, it would amount to “dead” cap space for them since Manning would no longer be on the roster.

Cutting Manning also makes him a free agent, meaning he can sign with any team and the Colts would get nothing in return. Given Manning’s success with the Colts, not to mention his rapport with fans and standing within the Indianapolis community, that doesn’t seem like a wise move either.

There’s also the option of reworking Manning’s contract and push the date the $28 million roster bonus is due back, although it remains to be seen if that’s even possible or it’s something Manning would even consider.

So while the Colts’ leadership mulls over the options and potential ramifications associated with them, the underlying question to all of this goes back to one thing – is Manning healthy? He will have to undergo a physical prior to the March 8 roster bonus due date, and if he passes, then the aforementioned options are fully in play.

If he doesn’t pass his physical, cutting him probably comes into play even more as the Colts will have to weigh the risks of keeping him on the roster in hopes that he will eventually become healthy. Failing his physical would also greatly impact his chances of signing with another team should he become a free agent. Manning himself could also take the decision out of the Colts’ hands, healthy or not healthy, and choose to retire. It still seems a little early to discuss that possibility, but you never know.

In the end, if Manning is healthy, cleared and able to play, the Colts could be looking at a situation similar to the one the Green Bay Packers had just seven years ago. In 2005, the Packers drafted Rodgers with the 24th overall pick. He backed up Brett Favre, who like Manning is a future Hall of Famer, before taking over as the starter in 2008. Two years later, Rodgers led the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV and has established himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL

To be fair, when the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005 no one had any idea that he would become the elite NFL quarterback he is or that Favre’s career in Green Bay would end like it did. That said, one cannot help but notice the similarities, or irony even, between the Packers’ situation then and the Colts’ now.

So in many ways, the Colts’ future is tied directly to Manning’s fate. If healthy, the Colts’ leadership and fans are both hoping for a path similar to one the Packers started on in 2005. If he’s not healthy, then they will turn their attention to 1998 when a young, franchise quarterback came on board and took the team to places it had never been before. Either way, it appears that No. 18’s days as the Colts’ field leader are numbered. 

— By Mark Ross

Teaser:
<p> The Colts' face of the franchise will likely be moved this offseason</p>
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2012 - 11:20
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-kevin-jones-west-virginia-hope-pull-upset-syracuse
Body:

By David Schuman

Saturday afternoon, the West Virginia Mountaineers (15-6, 5-3 Big East) travel up to snowy Syracuse to take on the No. 4 Orange (21-1, 8-1 Big East). The matchup has admittedly lost some of its luster since West Virginia got blown out at St. John’s 78-62, but it’s still a battle of top-five teams in the conference so it should be a good one.

On display will be arguably the nation’s top team in Coach Jim Boeheim’s squad as well as a favorite for Big East Player of the Year, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones.

Jones is a bona fide star, averaging 20.9 points per game and 11.6 rebounds per game. Don’t expect him to come off the court too much either, as he also averages a robust 37.6 minutes per game. In his senior season, Jones has emerged as the leader of the surprising Mountaineers. Along with senior guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant and his 17.4 per, the two make a formidable inside-out combo.

Syracuse is going to have more difficulty than usual containing Jones without 7-footer Fab Melo in the paint. The improved sophomore has missed the last two games with unspecified academic issues and it’s not looking like the matter will be resolved in time for this one. Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone is clearly weaker without Melo so that bodes well for West Virginia.

They still, however, have to contend with the rest of Syracuse’s talent and depth. With guys like Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters, the Orange will probably be favored in every game left this season. As well they should too, because this team runs the break well and uses their length and quickness to stymie opposing offenses.

As good as West Virginia has been, they are coming off a loss where they didn’t play their best and ‘Cuse is undefeated at the Carrier Dome this year. It’s hard for me to predict anything but a win for the home team, although it could be close. I’ll take the Orange, 69-60.
 

Teaser:
<p> Can the Mountaineers take down one of the best teams in the country?</p>
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2012 - 11:02
Path: /news/ball-boy-makes-amazing-catch-australian-open-video
Body:

It's not every day that a ball boy makes almost as much news than the tennis players he's working for. But this ball boy at the Australian Open made an amazing catch during the Federer/Nadal semifinal tennis match.

Nadal ended up winning the match in four sets 6-7, 6-2, 7-2, 6-4, setting himself up as officially past his rival Federer. But one of the matches highlights came when Federer hit a first serve out, which Nadal hit back. Federer then hit the ball, with a fair bit of velocity off to the side of the court. That's when the ball boy quickly made a one-handed catch in the air and the crowd erupted in applause.

Teaser:
<p> He may have a future in baseball after this awesome one-handed catch</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 18:15
Path: /overtime/very-awesome-spelling-bee-fail
Body:

How are you supposed to know what a "heron" is if you don't live by any swampy marsh? So, when you're at a spelling bee and someone asks you to spell the word "heron," it's impossible to comprehend what they're saying to you. Is it Harangue? Hairline? Hairwing?

Can you please repeat the word? Can you please repeat the word? What's the word again? Harrowing? Harrow? Can you use it in a sentence again?

And the best part of this video, it has a happy ending...followed by an ironic next word.

Teaser:
<p> Heroin? Hairline? Harangue? Can you please repeat the word?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 17:40
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-no-1-kentucky-crushes-georgia
Body:

If any normal team were to start three freshmen and two sophomores, conference road games would surely be a daunting prospect. Fortunately for Coach John Calipari, his newly minted No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (20-1, 6-0 SEC) are anything but normal. The supremely talented group went into Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday to face the Georgia Bulldogs (10-10, 1-5 SEC) and came away with an easy 57-44 victory.

 Georgia kept it close at the beginning, managing to only be down one with 6:40 left in the first half, but Kentucky pulled away from there and the game was never in doubt.

Several players contributed to the effort, as has become the trademark of this Kentucky team, but Darius Miller led the way with 19 points off the bench, including 4 of 4 from beyond the arc. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tallied a double-double, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

As easy as this win was, it never felt like the Wildcats were dominating. This was their lowest scoring output of the season and they played the second half in unimposing fashion, outscoring the Bulldogs only 19-18.

To be fair, it was clear Georgia wasn’t going to make any kind of run, but that speaks more to the tough season Coach Mark Fox’s squad is having. They just don’t have the firepower, especially after losing former stars Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Both are now buried on the end of the Los Angeles Clipper bench while Georgia shoots the second lowest FG% of any team in a power conference.

Despite Kentucky’s ho-hum offensive night, not enough can be said about their defense. The anchor is freshman Anthony Davis, and let me tell you: he is the real deal. Coming into the game, he led the nation with 4.7 blocks per game. Tonight he added five more. Get ready for this eye-popping stat though. Davis has 98 blocks on the season, which is more than Duke, Ohio State and Wisconsin have on their entire teams.

Davis’ mere presence is enough to alter shots. It seemed like Georgia got tentative about going inside, settling often for three point shots. The strategy didn’t pay off, however, as they only converted 5 of the 18 attempts.

The one strange thing about Calipari’s game plan tonight was Davis’ role on offense. The likely #1 overall pick in next June’s NBA draft only had two field goal attempts tonight. Why is this kid not getting the ball more? It was perplexing to watch.

Obviously, Kentucky is the team to beat in the SEC, and arguably in the entire country. Vanderbilt is keeping pace in the SEC standings at 5-1, and they have two games left against the Wildcats, but they can probably only hope for a split because this team is just so talented.

That being said, I would not pick Kentucky to cut down the nets in April. It’s just too risky a choice given their youth. The inexperience seems to be less of an issue this year than with any of Coach Cal’s recent teams, but to paraphrase Brad Nessler during tonight’s broadcast, every time Kentucky comes to town, it’s like the Super Bowl for the other team. Combine the intensity of the Super Bowl with the usual Madness of March, and I see a major upset in the Kentucky Wildcats’ future.

By David Schuman
 

Teaser:
<p> For once, ‘Cats triumph over ‘Dogs, as Kentucky beats Georgia handily</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 08:20
Path: /mlb/baseballs-pitching-changes-nl-arms-race
Body:

—by Mark Ross

Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.

In the National League East, not only do the Marlins unveil a new name (Hello Miami, good-bye Florida), new look (logo, colors, uniforms), open a new stadium and have a new manager (Ozzie Guillen), they also have committed nearly $200 million to free agency this offseason. While more than half of that is shortstop Jose Reyes’ six-year, $106 million contract, the Marlins also gave a four-year $58 million deal to left-handed starter Mark Buehrle and a three-year, $27 million deal to closer Heath Bell.

Besides reuniting Buehrle with Guillen, his former manager with the Chicago White Sox, the Marlins also acquired another veteran starter who pitched in the Windy City, Carlos Zambrano. The Chicago Cubs sent the mercurial right-hander and cash considerations (Cubs are reportedly paying more than $16 million of Zambrano’s $19 million 2012 salary) to the Marlins for right-hander Chris Volstad in a Jan. 5 deal. Guillen, who is friends with Zambrano, publicly stated his desire to bring Zambrano with him after he was named the Marlins’ manager, and now it will be up to him to keep his fellow fiery Venezuelan in check and under control.

In Buehrle and Zambrano, the Marlins get two veteran workhorses to team with their returning core of Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. There are lingering questions about Johnson’s health, he was sidelined for most of the season with shoulder inflammation but is expected to be ready for spring training, and the obvious questions about Zambrano’s temperament/mindset, but if everything goes right, this has the potential to be a potent starting rotation.

It also didn’t hurt that the Marlins went out and signed Bell, who averaged 44 saves in his three seasons as closer for the San Diego Padres. It remains to be seen if Bell’s production will be impacted switching from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to new Marlins Park as his home stadium. Still, considering the Marlins blew 19 saves last year compared to just five for Bell, a change at the backend of the bullpen may end up being just what the Marlins need to make some noise in 2012.

Another NL East team positioned to make some noise in the near future, if not this year, is the Washington Nationals. A young team on the rise, the Nationals already had two top-flight starting pitchers in right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman. Then on Dec. 23, the Nationals added left-hander Gio Gonzalez in a trade with the Oakland A’s.

The cost for Gonzalez was high, as the Nationals sent the A’s three of their best pitching prospects and another player in return, but it was a price they were willing to pay to add the 26-year-old who made his first All-Star team last season. With Gonzalez in the fold, the Nationals have three starters who are capable of winning 20 games and striking out more than 200 batters every season.

That being said, the trio most likely will not reach those milestones together this year, as Strasburg’s innings are expected to be limited to around 180 or so in his first full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2010. Regardless, the future looks bright for the Nationals thanks in part to their new 1-2-3 punch at the top of their rotation.

For now, the best 1-2-3 punch in the division, if not all of baseball, belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies. In Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the defending NL East champions not only have two Cy Young winners (Halladay, Lee), they have three hurlers who each won at least 14 games, pitched at least 216 innings, had an ERA of 2.79 or lower and made the All-Star Game last season. And if that wasn’t enough, they all finished in the top 5 of voting for last year’s NL Cy Young Award.

While Philly’s Big 3 is back for a second season together, there will be a new closer as Jonathan Papelbon comes over to the NL. Papelbon, the closer for the Boston Red Sox the past six seaons, signed a four-year, $50 million free agent deal that could be worth as much as $63 million over five years. He has 219 saves in his career and should add plenty more to that number closing for one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball.

Similar to the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL, the Atlanta Braves have one of the youngest starting rotations in baseball. Tim Hudson, 36, is far and away the oldest of the Braves’ starters. The rest of the rotation includes Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrgens and Brandon Beachy with Mike Minor, Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran expected to fill the fifth spot. Of these, Jurrgens is the oldest at 26 and Teheran, the youngest, will turn 21 later this week.

There are plenty of health-related question marks surrounding the front of the Braves’ rotation. Hudson underwent surgery in November to repair a herniated disc in his back, Hanson missed the last two months of last year with a partially torn rotator cuff, and Jurrgens has missed significant parts of the past two seasons due to different injuries. However, if these guys are healthy and are able to produce like they have in the past, they could combine with the young guns to form a formidable rotation with the potential to be something truly special.

In the NL Central, the Cincinnati Reds are hoping this season ends up being special as they are in “win now” mode after making several big moves. The first one came on Dec. 17 when the Reds acquired Mat Latos from the Padres for pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger and two of the organization’s top prospects in first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal.

The Reds gave up a lot to get Latos, who they hope will team with Johnny Cueto (9-5, 2.31 ERA in 24 starts last season) to give them up essentially two aces in their rotation. Latos, 24, is 23-24 with a 3.21 ERA and 374 strikeouts in 379 innings the past two seasons, but that was with the aforementioned Petco Park as his home base.

Now, he will call the launching pad known as Great American Ballpark his home stadium. Last year, 209 home runs were hit in Great American compared to 100 at Petco. And for his career, Latos has been more of a flyball pitcher compared to a groundball one (0.81 G/F ratio entering 2012). Latos, who received less than five runs of support per start last season, should figure to benefit more in that department this season with the Reds’ offense. On the other hand, it’s also fair to expect him to give up a few more runs each start, especially with him pitching his home games in a hitter-friendly environment.

Latos also has a reputation for being somewhat of a hothead and never being afraid to show his emotions on the mound or in the dugout, especially when things aren’t going his way. It will be up to pitching coach Bryan Price and manager Dusty Baker to guide him through the adjustment period with his new team, situation and home ballpark to get the front-line starter production they, in essence, paid for and, more importantly, need if they have any hopes of contending.

The Reds weren’t done with their pitching makeover with just Latos, however, as on Dec. 23 they acquired reliever Sean Marshall from their division rivals, the Cubs. The Reds sent the Cubs three players in return for the left-handed Marshall, who has thrived as a set-up man the past two seasons. He is 13-11 with six saves, a 2.45 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings in that span.

Marshall will continue his role as set-up man for the Reds, where he will precede their new closer, Ryan Madson. Madson, who won a World Series and played in another in his nine seasons with the Phillies, signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal to try and help the Reds make it back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1990.

Madson, like Latos, will be under pressure to perform, as he will be replacing the departed Francisco Cordero. Although it may not have always been pretty, Cordero was effective in his four seasons as the Reds’ closer, averaging 38 saves per season. To put it another way, Cordero’s lowest single-season saves total with the Reds was 34. That’s two more than Madson saved last year in his first full season as the Phillies’ closer.

With Latos, Marshall and Madson on board, the Reds are hoping they have the arms to take down the defending World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals and defending NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers. While the Cardinals will look to defend their championship without first baseman Albert Pujols (signed with Los Angeles Angels), manager Tony LaRussa (retired) and pitching coach Dave Duncan (leave of absence), they will welcome back a key piece to their starting rotation in Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright missed all of the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last February. Prior to that, he won 39 games with a 2.53 ERA and 425 strikeouts in 2009 and 2010, and finished in the top 3 of the NL Cy Young voting both years. Even if he’s not back to his old self right away, the Cardinals’ starting rotation is already better of with Wainwright, who will team with Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.

Meanwhile, the Brewers will look to their pitching to carry the load even more this season with the departure of Prince Fielder and the expected 50-game suspension for NL MVP Ryan Braun. Last year, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum combined for 46 of the Brewers’ franchise-record 96 wins, and will probably need even more this year to have any hopes of defending their division title.

Like the Brewers, the Arizona Diamondbacks are looking to defend their division title , and they went out and got another arm this offseason in hopes of keeping them atop the NL West standings. On Dec. 13, the Diamondbacks acquired right-handed starter Trevor Cahill, along with left-handed relieved Craig Breslow, from the Oakland A’s. The A’s received pitchers Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill in return.

Cahill, who will turn 24 on March 1, has 40 wins in three major league seasons and will join a rotation that already includes Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Kennedy, the oldest of the three at 27, is coming off a 21-win season where he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Hudson won 16 games last year and the Silver Slugger award as the best hitting pitcher in the NL. Together, the trio has the potential to each win 20 or more games this season and beyond.

Likewise, the San Francisco Giants, the Diamondbacks’ division rivals, have three starters of their own that are capable of winning 20 or more games in a season. Tim Lincecum, the two-time NL Cy Young winner (2008-09) has come the closest with 18 wins in 2008, while Matt Cain (12-11, 2.88 ERA in 2011) and Madison Bumgarner (13-13, 3.21 ERA) each appear to have the stuff to do it. And that’s leaving out Ryan Vogelsong, who led the staff with a 2.71 ERA last year, and the guy who has actually won 20 or more games in a season, Barry Zito (23 wins in 2002 with the A’s), in the process.

So just like the AL, the NL appears to be well armed, if you will, especially as it applies to teams who are planning on contending. And if any of these teams are looking for even more pitching, there are plenty of free agents still out there (Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Francisco Cordero, etc.) and probably a pitcher or two (Cubs’ Matt Garza, Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox, namely) that could be pried away from their current team, if the price is right.

What other moves, if any, are made by these supposed contenders will probably come down to one question – does my team have enough “arms” to compete, or more specifically, win? This is a hard enough question to answer once the season starts, let alone the end of January. But it’s definitely not a question they will want to revisit come the end of the season, especially if they are one of the teams watching, and not playing in, the postseason.

Teaser:
<p> A look at the significant pitching changes made this offseason in the National League</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - 06:59
Path: /mlb/baseballs-pitching-changes-al-arms-race
Body:

— by Mark Ross

Pitchers are scheduled to report to spring training in less than a month, and if Major League Baseball’s offseason is any indication, a lot of teams’ postseason hopes will be riding on those arms that will get tuned up in Florida and Arizona.

Between free agent signings, trades and injury comebacks, more than half of MLB's 30 teams will enter the season with a different starting rotation compared to the start of the 2011 season. More to the point, teams that are expected to contend this season made a majority of the biggest moves, adding significance, not to mention, scrutiny, to these transactions.

In the American League, the Los Angeles Angels struck first when they signed C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal. Adding the left-hander to a starting rotation that already features Jered Weaver, who finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last season, and Dan Haren is no less significant than the fact that adding Wilson also meant taking him away from the Angels’ division rival, the Texas Rangers.

Last season, Wilson went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA for the Rangers, earning his first All-Star Game invite and helping them reach the World Series for a second straight year. In Anaheim, he will team with Weaver and Haren, who combined to win 34 games and strike out nearly 400 batters.

The Rangers didn’t sit idly by, however, as in December they won the rights to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish with a posting fee of $51.7 million. The defending AL West champs then completed the deal with the 25-year-old right-hander by agreeing to a six-year contract worth about $60 million just prior to the deadline to sign him within the 30-day negotiating period.

Darvish, who went 18-6 last season in Japan with a 1.44 ERA, will join presumed Opening Day starter Colby Lewis, and most likely, Dexter Holland, Matt Harrison and converted closer Neftali Feliz in the Rangers’ rotation. Alexi Ogando, who won 13 games as a starter last year, is also a possibility, but at this point it appears he will take Feliz’s place in the bullpen this season.

Like their AL West counterparts, the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland A’s also joined in on the rotation makeovers, albeit following a different strategy. Last week, the Mariners agreed to send two young pitchers, Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, to the New York Yankees for top prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi. The A’s also traded away two young starting pitchers, sending right-hander Trevor Cahill and left-handed reliever Craig Breslow to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a Dec. 9 trade and two weeks later shipping left-hander Gio Gonzalez and a prospect to the Washington Nationals. These two trades brought the rebuilding A’s a total of seven players, five of them pitchers, in return.

While Gonzalez and Cahill are significant additions for the Nationals and Diamondbacks respectively, Pineda to the Yankees could turn out to be the real game-changer. Pineda, who went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings as a rookie last season, was expected to team with former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez as the Mariners’ 1-2 punch for years to come.

Now, the 22-year-old right-hander goes to a legitimate World Series contender and helps the Yankees fill what was a glaring need – starting pitching depth beyond CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. The Mariners did well by adding the young, impact bat they needed in the slugging Montero, but they did this trade with an eye towards the future, while the Yankees are focused on the present.

And if adding Pineda wasn’t enough, Yankees GM Brian Cashman bolstered the rotation further by agreeing to a one-year, $10 million deal with free agent Hiroki Kuroda the same night he brokered the trade with Seattle. Kuroda, 36, is considerably older than Pineda, but over the past four years he has posted a 41-46 record with a respectable 3.45 ERA. Last year, he went 13-16 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the right-hander was ninth in the National League with a 3.07 ERA.

With Pineda and Kuroda joining Sabathia and Nova in the rotation, the Yankees have three candidates – A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes – for their fifth spot, a luxury they didn’t have just two weeks ago. The Boston Red Sox, the Yankees’ AL East rivals, are making some tweaks to their rotation as well, but their move came from in-house as they are switching Daniel Bard from a reliever to a starter.

Bard figures to join lefty Jon Lester and right-handers Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz with Aaron Cook, Vincente Padilla and Carlos Silva coming to spring training in hopes of securing the fifth spot. Starting pitching depth will be critical for the Sox this season, who at some point hope to get Daisuke Matsuzaka back after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June. In addition, the team will be without the services of John Lackey, who will miss the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery during the offseason.

For now, one could argue that the Yankees appear to have the strongest starting rotation in the AL East, which is saying something since the division also includes the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa definitely has the youngest rotation in the league, not to mention the majors, as the Rays will trot out left-hander David Price, workhorse James Shields, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and young phenom Matt Moore, one of the early favorites to win the award this season, with either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann rounding out their starting five. Shields, who turned 30 in December, is the oldest of the six, while Davis, Hellickson, Moore and Price range from 22 to 26 years old.

The AL Central was the quietest of the three divisions when it came to pitching acquisitions in the offseason, but in case of the Detroit Tigers it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” After all, the defending division champs’ rotation is headed up by none other than Justin Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP. Following Verlander, the Tigers look to have righties Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, and possibly 20-year-old Jacob Turner, their top pitching prospect, in their rotation.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians acquired veteran right-hander Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves last October and will add him to their young core of starting pitchers Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin in hopes of competing with the Tigers for division supremacy.

And if that wasn’t enough pitching turnover to digest, some of these same teams tinkered with their respective bullpens as well. The most significant moves along those lines involved the Rangers and Red Sox, who will have new closers in 2012.

The Rangers signed Joe Nathan away from the Minnesota Twins to take Feliz’s place, while the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey from the A’s to replace departed closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Red Sox also acquired Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros in a separate deal. Melancon, who saved 20 games for the Astros last season, is expected to take Bard’s place as the Sox’ set-up man this season.

What’s more, this is probably not the last of the pitching changes that will be made before the season even starts. For one, dozens of free agent pitchers remain unsigned, including a three-time All-Star and two-time 20-game winner (Roy Oswalt), a starter who’s averaged more than 200 innings over the past four seasons (Edwin Jackson), and a closer who’s saved 34 or more games the past five seasons (Francisco Cordero), to name a few. There also are pitchers like Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs and Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox, who are reportedly available via trade.

So regardless of what other moves happen between now and Opening Day, or even during the season itself, the arms race has clearly begun. Now it’s a matter of seeing which team has the arsenal to play, and ultimately win, in October.

Teaser:
<p> A look at this offseason's significant pitching changes in the American League</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 16:05
Path: /news/prince-fielder-signs-giant-contract-tigers-cabrera-now-1st-overall-fantasy-pick
Body:

In a surprise free agent signing, the Detroit Tigers won the Prince Fielder sweepstakes and inked the ex-Brewer to a reported 9-year $214 million contract today.

And with that, the Tigers filled a huge hole after the loss of their All-Star catcher Victor Martinez to a knee injury. It also makes the Tigers a major player and gives them three starters with salaries over $20 million a year. Contrast that to 2004, when their entire payroll was close to $60 million.

So while others will debate how the Tigers will find a way to put three players into two positions (1B and DH) (Will Miguel Cabrera move back to third base when Martinez comes back from the DL?), let's look at how this signing affect baseball fantasy drafts.

The first glance is that Fielder will probably drop a little, given that the Tigers park is more of a pitchers park than his previous home in Milwaukee. But honestly, that's probably a minor issue for Fielder, who usually puts up pretty steady homer numbers.

What this is very good for, is Miguel Cabrera, who will have some of the best protection in the majors with Fielder hitting right behind him. There were questions as to how the loss of Martinez would affect his draft position, but now a very wealthy Fielder will make sure Cabbie gets plenty of balls to hit.

And as long as he's sober, he's going to crush it once again this year, and is my pick for the #1 draft slot over Albert Pujols in fantasy baseball.

Would you be happy with either one? Sure. But whenever a player moves to a new city, like Pujols did this offseason when he switched from the Cardinals to the Angels, you never know how that's going to affect a player (ahem, Adam Dunn.) A new league,a  new set of pitchers, a different ballpark could all have affects on Pujols as he gets himself settled into Anaheim.

While Cabrera, on the other hand, will have the same consistent routine he had last year, with an arguably even better guy behind him. 

To be honest, the best pick this year is #2 overall. That way you're assured of one of these guys, but if you're lucky enough to land #1 overall, as hard as it is to pass up Pujols, go for Cabrera. Just don't take him out for drinks after his games.

Teaser:
<p> Detroit signs Fielder, but it gives Cabrera much-needed protection in the lineup</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: Chuck Giampa, Funny, News
Path: /news/chuck-giampa-fails-his-announcing-debut-video
Body:

You probably didn't know who Chuck Giampa was before you watched this video. And there's a chance that you may never see him again after he completely botched his announcing debut on Showtime's Boxing show.

As you can see, he's clearly not ready to be in front of the camera. And add to that, it seems like he thinks he's not doing a live run, but a taped one. And then add to that that he looks like a human version of Eyore, you've got yourself an Internet classic.

Teaser:
<p> The ex-boxing judge may need to work on his announcing skills</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 12:50
Path: /college-football/remembering-joe-paternos-legacy
Body:

With the passing of Joe Paterno over the weekend, many people are struggling to put his career in perspective. On one hand, he was a rare coach who won without ever getting caught up in a big NCAA scandal--a rarity in college football these days--but on the other, his legacy will foreever be tarnished by the horrific Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

So we asked our Athlon editors (who know more about college football than most people have forgotten) to look back on JoePa's complicated career.

By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman

Joe Paterno’s legacy has been completely tarnished because of his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. There aren’t many acts that could have ruined the reputation of the Penn State legend with 400+ wins, but repeatedly being an enabler to a pedophile is one of them. That’s a harsh reality, and it feels uncomfortable to write. But it is reality, even if many Nittany Lions and others around college football are choosing to ignore it.

The quotes from some media and college football coaches calling Paterno “classy” and “a great man” ring very hollow because of what we now know. His choice to cover up for a child molester in order to protect the interests of a business/football program is sick and disturbing. That type of behavior does not fall under the category of “people make mistakes” or “I’ll just choose to remember the positives”.

Many people will says those words this week in regards to Paterno, but that’s just putting your head in the sand for fear of facing a tough reality. It’s difficult for Penn State fans, ex-players or just fans of football to see their belief system crushed, and many will be in denial over what happened on the Penn State campus. Joe Paterno did some amazing things on the football field, but unfortunately his legacy will now be the repeated enabling of a sick pedophile. Success with honor? Not so much.

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall

January 22, 2012 was a sad day for many college football, Big Ten and Penn State fans. I, personally, never would have thought I would be writing stories this season about the firing and death of a legend. In fact, it was an extremely surreal experience hosting my radio show on November 9, the day Paterno was classlessly (albeit justifiably) fired via phone, and then again on Sunday. The winningest coach of all-time was not a perfect man — no man is — and his mistakes will, rightly so, never be forgotten. There will be a portion of the population that will never be able to hold respect for Joe Paterno ever again, and I would never try to convince them otherwise. His final legacy will be debated until the end of time. But Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports pinpointed my feelings precisely on a day that "piling on" was totally unnecessary. Sunday was a day to have respect for the dead (and his loved ones) and to honor a man whose 70 years of good still dramatically outweighed the year(s) of bad:

"Paterno reached too many, taught too many, inspired too many. And for years and seasons, for decades and generations to come, those that drew from his wisdom will pass it on and on. That will be his most lasting legacy. No, his worst day can’t be forgotten. Neither can all the beautiful ones that surrounded it."

Joe Paterno's legacy as arguably the greatest college football coach to ever live is absolutely tarnished, but will never be erased.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven

The final chapter of Joe Paterno’s career was certainly not how most pictured his tenure at Penn State would end. Just over a week after earning the Division I record with his 409th win, Paterno’s tenure came to an abrupt end as the Penn State board of trustees fired him as a result of the ongoing Jerry Sandusky investigation. While the final chapter will certainly leave a mark on Paterno’s career, there’s no question he is one of college football’s icons and a coaching legend.

Considering the win-now mentality, coaches are afforded very little time to build a program. And college football may not see a coach spend 46 years at one school and earn 409 wins at one stop again. Another remarkable note about Paterno’s career at Penn State was the fact he never ran into any major trouble with the NCAA and his teams were near the top of the nation in graduation rates. Some are certainly going to remember Paterno for the surprising end to his tenure, but I think most will remember him for the 409 wins and being one of college football’s most influential coaches.

By Nathan Rush

Joe Paterno may have left a dark cloud lingering over Happy Valley — in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal — but the 85-year-old was undeniably the architect of something bigger than himself, once upon a time. There was a "Great Experiment" and a "Penn State Way" that were personified by the wavy-haired Brooklyn native who wore thick-rimmed glasses, a blue tie, rolled up khakis and black sneakers. More than the 409 wins and two national championships, JoePa's legacy will be defined by the countless lives he impacted — including all Penn Staters, his decades of Nittany Lion players, young coaches around the country and, yes, the victims of Sandusky, if in fact Paterno knew what he appears to have known about the actions of his longtime defensive coordinator. Even in defeat, Paterno taught us all several valuable lessons that are as timeless as the classics he once studied at Brown. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Do the right thing, even if no one is watching. In the end, the truth will come to light. Joe Paterno was a tragic hero whose story — both rise and fall — will be told for generations to come.

By Rob Doster (@athlondoster)

As a kid, I preferred my football southern-fried, so I tended to dismiss the guys in the boring blue-and-white uniforms and their odd-looking little coach in his bulky black-rimmed glasses as little more than a regional curiosity that had no business on the field with the Alabamas of the world. That perception eroded as Joe Paterno and his program elbowed their way into the college football elite, asking only for an opportunity to prove they belonged and then delivering over and over on the big stage. Dismissal gave way to grudging respect, and finally to outright admiration for the Penn State Way. Sadly, Paterno leaves a complicated legacy tarnished by scandal. But in the immediate aftermath of a man's death, I prefer to focus on the positives, and there were plenty of those. Rest in peace, Joe Pa.

By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch

Joe Paterno roamed the sidelines in the first college football game that I remember watching. I was seven years old, dressed in crimson pants, an Alabama t-shirt and an Alabama cowboy hat. It was the 1979 Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 1 Penn State vs. the No. 2 Crimson Tide.

We had recently moved to New Jersey, and my parents hosted a party to watch the game that would end up settling the national title. Seemingly all of my parents’ friends were fans of Penn State, which at that time was basically the home team for college football fans in North Jersey.

We were fans of the Tide. My dad, a 1961 Alabama grad, hung a Bear Bryant poster in my room while I was still in a crib. He was eager to show his new friends in the Northeast what SEC football was all about. Read the rest here

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Editors look back on how to view JoePa's complicated history&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 13:26
All taxonomy terms: coach, Miami Dolphins, Regis Philbin, Overtime
Path: /overtime/what-everyone-thought-when-philbin-was-named-dolphins-head-coach
Body:

This is exactly what popped in my head when the Miami Dolphins announced that someone named "Philbin" was going to be their next head coach.

Now that Regis Philbin has quit his time as co-host of the long-running "Regis and Kelly" show, it seemed like maybe this could be more plausible than originally thought. Regis loves sports in general--especially Notre Dame football. So why wouldn't he be able to lead Miami onto the field on Sundays? Some coaches are more inspiration guys than Xs and Os guys. 

And who wouldn't want to go out and beat the crap out of the Jets after a pre-game speech by Regis and his trademark cadence?

Of course, it's actually some guy named Joe Philbin who was named the Dolphins coach. But who would you rather see roaming Miami's sidelines?

Teaser:
<p> Admit it, you'd rather see this Philbin in charge of the Dolphins</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 12:57
Path: /college-football/struggling-joe-paternos-legacy
Body:

Joe Paterno roamed the sidelines in the first college football game that I remember watching. I was seven years old, dressed in crimson pants, an Alabama t-shirt and an Alabama cowboy hat. It was the 1979 Sugar Bowl, featuring No. 1 Penn State vs. the No. 2 Crimson Tide.

We had recently moved to New Jersey, and my parents hosted a party to watch the game that would end up settling the national title. Seemingly all of my parents’ friends were fans of Penn State, which at that time was basically the home team for college football fans in North Jersey.

We were fans of the Tide. My dad, a 1961 Alabama grad, hung a Bear Bryant poster in my room while I was still in a crib. He was eager to show his new friends in the Northeast what SEC football was all about.

Alabama, of course, won the game, delivering the Bear his sixth and final national title. It was a happy day in the Light household.

At the time, I didn’t know much about the man on the other sideline. But as a fan of the sport, I grew to respect Paterno and his team. I didn’t necessarily like Penn State during my formative years — in fact, I rooted against the Nittany Lions until I got to college — but it was a program that I admired.

It’s cliché, but Paterno did things the right away. Simply put, he is one of the greatest coaches in the history of team sports. But is that how he will be remembered? Or will we remember him for the final three months of his life and the scandal that ended his 46-run as the boss in Happy Valley? It’s a complicated question. And a personal question.

I want to remember Paterno for all of the good things he did for a sport I love. But then, as the father of a 7-year old boy, it’s hard for me to ignore what we have learned about this legendary figure in the past few months.

We will never truly know how much Paterno knew, but I find it hard to believe that he didn’t know that Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator and long-time friend, was committing these atrocities. Paterno was most powerful man in State College and the CEO of one of the top football programs in the nation. There is no way he didn’t know something was going on.

And for that, I can’t not think of Jerry Sundusky when I think of Joe Paterno. Whenever I hear his name, the first image that pops into my head is Sandusky — and it’s not a pleasant image. I don’t know if I will feel the same way in a year, or in five years.

But for now, my memory of Joe Paterno is more about grand jury testimony, child abuse and power than it is about Penn State football.

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Editor Mitch Light looks back at Joe Paterno's career</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 11:34
All taxonomy terms: Eli Manning, News
Path: /news/eli-manning-calls-tom-brady
Body:

We're pretty sure this is what happened after the Giants beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.

Eli probably got on the phone and called up the Pats to see if they wanted to play a little football at his brother's house in Indianapolis.

Teaser:
<p> Anyone want to play football at my brother's house?</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 10:33

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