Articles By Charlie Miller
Okay, I could take the easy way out this week and just recap some of the top unexpected performances from Week 9, like Brett Favre reigniting the flame and leading the Vikings to a win over Arizona, or jocking San Diego's Seyi Ajirotutu and anointing him the next Colston — but I’m not going to do that. Mainly because Favre won’t take on the Cardinals again this season, and Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson are all likely expected back shortly after the Chargers’ Week 10 bye. There are some legit risers, however, that are worthy of analyzing.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys WR - I’ve constantly jocked the rookie WR since draft day from a dynasty perspective. The future number one WR in Dallas, with a solid QB like Tony Romo, looked like he was long term gold. What I didn’t expect, however, was for him to start producing at a high level halfway through his rookie season. He has 22 catches for 255 yards and four TDs in his last four games, and is looking like a viable starting option each week. Check that, a mandatory starting option each week. The Cowboys are getting blown out, and with Interim Head Coach Jason Garrett now at the helm, expect Bryant to see even more snaps and more targets. Seasonal owners take note, he could be clutch during your playoff run.
Jimmy Graham, Saints TE - Another guy that dynasty owners who have read my stuff often know that I’ve been high on - is Graham, the collegiate basketball project from Miami. New Orleans took him in the third round as what appeared to be an eventual replacement for Jeremy Shockey. My eyebrows raised when he caught all four of his targets in Week 7, and now he hauls in three balls including a score in Week 9. With Shockey nicked up, Graham’s time could be now. I recommend stashing him now in dynasty leagues and considering him a decent flyer TE moving forward in seasonal leagues.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins WR - While his role is still up in the air in terms of starter vs. reserve, the second year man from Ohio State is getting on the field enough to make a consistent impact each week despite the presence of Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess. 14 team leaguers should consider Hartline a solid WR3/flex play in PPR leagues, as he's caught three or more balls in each game since his Week 1 goose-egg.
Javarris James, Colts RB - He may just be a flash in the pan, as Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Donald Brown are all still technically on the depth chart in front of him, and the Colts just signed Andre Brown for additional depth, but James scored on each of his two goal line carries in Week 9 against Philly and may have carved out a role for himself moving forward. While he's not worth an add in any format just yet, keep a close eye on him, as stranger things have happened in the NFL.
Jacoby Ford, Raiders WR - There’s a new Jacoby in town. Ford, not Jones. The speedster made a big impression in Week 9, catching six balls for 148 yards and returned a kick for a score. Not only should return yardage leaguers be excited about his new role on offense, but dynasty owners should snag this guy now. As Oakland improves, there will be an opportunity for a WR on that squad to blossom. So far, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey haven’t been consistent, meaning Ford is now in the running.
Sidney Rice, Vikings WR - Word is that the 2009 breakout star very well could return in Week 10, just in time to seriously help some owners vying for playoff berths, and his dynasty owners will breath a sigh of relief when he catches his first TD. If he’s available in your seasonal league, snag him now, while long term owners need to get ready to watch his value rise once again.
Pat Angerer, Colts LB - In Week 6, the second rounder from Iowa started in place of an injured Gary Brackett and was extremely active, racking up 11 tackles (four solo), a sack and two passes defensed. In Week 8, he started in place of SLB Phillip Wheeler and judging by his seven solo tackle Week 9 performance, it looks as though he may have won that job. Angerer could be a viable IDP option with upside heading into 2011.
DeAndre Levy, Lions LB - The 23 year old from Wisconsin is finally healthy after battling a groin injury all season. He returned to limited work in Week 8, and recorded four solo tackles against the Redskins. In Week 9 against the Jets, he not only recorded nine solo tackles, but he also displayed solid speed all game, especially when catching Santonio Holmes from behind on a 50-plus yard reception. If he’s available in your league, I’d recommend snagging him.
Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter Texans WRs - Where have these guys disappeared too? Despite Arian Foster taking over the offense, there was an opportunity for both of these guys to step up with Andre Johnson injured, but Joel Dreessen was the only pass catcher worthy of fantasy lineups in Houston this week, as he hauled in five balls for 66 yards. They have been relegated to fantasy wasteland and no longer roster worthy in any format.
For more risers and fallers, check out our weekly rankings on Wednesday.
This week strikes me as a time of particularly obvious waiver-wire adds. The names jumping out or being thrown around are either guys who have probably been picked up in at least half of the serious leagues or players whose Week 9 numbers scream “Own me!”
Because of that, I go through the list of players below not to recommend adding each guy listed, but to give my expectation for what he will actually provide going forward. Each probably has some circumstance in which he makes sense to pick up, but not everyone will be particularly useful in the season’s second half.
Jacob Tamme, TE, Indianapolis
Tamme was worth a shot before his first start and looked like an obvious pickup after that game resulted in six catches, 64 yards and a touchdown. His performance at Philadelphia on Sunday made him an absolute no-brainer for any league of any size in which he’s still available.
Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, San Diego
This was one of those semi-predictable breakouts. The Chargers had Houston and its horrible secondary with no healthy receivers and Antonio Gates out. On top of that, Ajirotutu spends most of his time on the side of the field away from Glover Quin, the better of the Texans starters at corner. The result was a huge game, and he should obviously be claimed in pretty much any 12-team league. Unfortunately for those claiming, Ajirotutu figures to head back toward irrelevance pretty soon after the Week 10 bye. Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee will heal at some point, and Vincent Jackson is due back for Week 12. Claim Ajirotutu just in case something goes wrong with one of those guys, but don’t expect to have a fantasy starter for the stretch run.
James Jones, WR, Green Bay
There hasn’t been much doubt about Jones’ ability, and he had to be one of last week’s most popular pickups in leagues in which he wasn’t already owned. Jones headed into 2010 with plenty of fantasy folks expecting him to surpass Donald Driver, but he had yet to deliver. That changed Sunday night. Frankly, it’s not a shock that Jones had such a game in him, and it’s even less shocking to see it come against a Cowboys defense that just finished allowing David Garrard four touchdown passes. The Week 10 bye likely means that Driver will be back when next the Packers take the field. Jones will still be the No. 3 receiver and see plenty of work, but I’m sure we just saw his best game of the year. Jones figures to be in the discussion as a starter at No. 3 fantasy spots or in the flex but isn’t yet a must-start.
Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland
Ford looked really good in Sunday’s victory over Kansas City, but he’s not the first Raiders wideout to enjoy a big game this season. Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey have each put up 100-yard lines and let down fantasy owners who picked them up as a result. Murphy reportedly says he’ll be back in Week 11 (after the bye), so Ford might not even be in the starting lineup when next we see the Raiders. Based on that, the fact that he’s a rookie and that we’ve yet to see him play with Bruce Gradkowski – who is also expected to return to the huddle soon – this game seems more like one to tuck away for next year’s projections than a sign of what’s to come for the rest of 2010.
Bernard Berrian, WR, Minnesota
Welcome back, Mr. Berrian. We’ve had a table waiting for you since draft time. Actually, that’s not true. We had all sat another patron there by at least Week 4 after you came out invisible. In fact, Berrian caught no more than two passes in any game before Week 9, which means he has to do it at least one more time before it would be wise to trust him. Unfortunately for Berrian, Sidney Rice looks about ready to return – perhaps for Week 10 – which will leave only so many balls for anyone other than him and Percy Harvin. I’m not chasing Berrian this week.
Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota
Rice, on the other hand, I’ve been hanging on to all year anywhere that I drafted him. NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi Tweeted before the Arizona game that Rice looked healthier in warm-ups than Percy Harvin did. Of course, all Harvin managed in the game was nine catches, 126 yards and five kick returns. The connection Rice had developed with Brett Favre by the end of last year makes plausible the possibility of starting Rice in his first game back – depending, of course, on one’s other options.
Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego
Jackson’s in the same boat as Rice for me. I only drafted him in one league, but I’ve kept him on that team this long. Jackson will return to not only find the best quarterback of 2010 (inarguably), but also injuries to pretty much every other wideout on the roster. Jackson is a dynamic talent who should be good to go as long as he’s in shape. The time he will have had between returning to the team and returning to the field should make that easy.
Shaun Hill, QB, Detroit
We don’t yet know the results of Matthew Stafford’s Monday MRI as I write this, but he has already said that he at least doubts his availability for Week 10. Enter the guy who tossed eight touchdown passes in his four full games in relief of Stafford earlier this year. (Hill entered in Week 1 after Stafford’s injury and left early, himself, in Week 6.) Hill returns – assuming he’s healthy enough -- to face a Bills team tied for third most touchdown passes allowed this year. If he gets another start after that, it’ll come at Dallas. No word yet on whether the Cowboys will be in attendance for that one.
Athlon Sports: Are you surprised that after all you have accomplished, people still seem to undervalue your program and assign specific characteristics to it?
Jamie Dixon: We were picked No. 1 in the Big East and No. 4 in the country, so it’s hard to say we’re overlooked. But part of it is where you come from. When you look at the schools who compete with us, they’ve had 40 to 50 years of tradition. The run we’ve had here has been nine years.
Do you think part of it is just coming from Pittsburgh?
There are just certain things that are going to be assumed about our program. When you come from Pittsburgh, there are assumptions that you’re going to be a tough, physical, hard-nosed defensive team, even the years when we led the country in offensive efficiency.
How important was it to the program to spend 10 days in Ireland in the late summer?
It was good, but you have to keep it in perspective. We had 10 practices before we went to Ireland, but we didn’t do it with a whole team. Most teams that do a trip like this have a lot of returning players, and when they have good years, people think it’s because of the trip. It’s more about the returning players.
How important is it to have that experience in a conference like the Big East?
We do have returning players, and that’s generally a good thing. But the reality is that we have three seniors, two juniors and eight underclassmen. Last year, the media was calling us the youngest team in the country. Now, we’re experienced. Is there any in-between? The guys we have returning know what to do, how to play and how to be successful.
The players you recruit are generally bigger, taller players. Even 5-11 Travon Woodall goes 190 pounds. How important is it to have strong players?
We’re generally always somewhat bigger than most teams in the conference, so that means we’re bigger than most teams in the country. We recruit big guys, but we also develop them through our strength coach. We have a culture of getting into the weight room.
There’s a lot of talk about the Big East becoming an all-sports conference and moving away from schools that don’t play football. Is that something you see on the horizon?
I can’t speak for other people in the conference, but I wouldn’t force anybody to do that. It wasn’t stated that was a requirement to be in the conference, and I don’t think they’ll change it to make it a requirement. But there’s always the possibility of realignment. That’s college athletics. We’re in a unique situation without every member playing every sport.
How do you feel about the expanded tournament?
I was pretty shocked when they were talking about going to 96. But I thought it was a foregone conclusion. From what I know about the dollars and the TV, I understood this was the best financial arrangement. I think  is good. I don’t think you can extend it another week. If you go to 68, you keep it in a three-week timeframe.
How is it possible to keep agents and their reps from getting to players?
You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t. The only way I know to do a better job is if you’re communicating with agents to know what they’re doing.
Your team has a 132-11 record at the Peterson Events Center. All teams are good at home, but why are you so good?
Our road record is really good, too, compared to other teams’ road records. We take great pride in playing here. There’s no question. It feeds upon itself.
Your program has had so much success, but you haven’t reached the Final Four. Does that frustrate you?
I don’t know if it frustrates me. Our goal is to win a national championship, and anything less that is not satisfactory in my mind. I also had higher expectations for this program than anybody else did 12 years ago when I came here [as an assistant under Ben Howland]. Nobody else thought we would do what we have. You didn’t hear anybody else talking about going 132-11 at home.
Do people understand how hard it is to go to the Final Four?
People do realize how hard it is, but at the same time I think coaches, players and fans want more. That’s to be expected. Whatever you’ve done, in sports or anything else in life, generally your next goal is to do more. At times, people do forget what you have done or how hard it is to get to that spot. That’s part of setting goals and trying to reach them.
How important is the continuity you have benefited from in terms of players staying in the program?
There’s a lot of value to continuity. But I continue to say it’s not just guys leaving early for the NBA; it’s retaining guys and keeping them from dropping out of the program or flunking out or leaving for other opportunities. You need to have guys to continue to graduate and enjoy their time at Pittsburgh. You don’t want them to transfer. When you think about guys who leave early for the NBA, there aren’t many of them. At the end of the day, a program is going to suffer more because of guys transferring or flunking out.
Back by popular demand are our weekly predictions. I took a week off to write about a dynasty matter last week, and even the dynasty owners filled up by inbox asking where the weekly predictions were. So, they’re back, and it’s probably safe to say they’re not leaving until Week 17. After all, I guess I’ve got all offseason to write about preparing for 2011, don't I?
Anyway, after a week featuring plenty of big news, including the return of Mike Vick, Randy Moss getting his bye week after all due to ending up in Tennessee and Shawne Merriman resurfacing in Buffalo, let’s get to it.
Bears at Bills
Uh, oh. This could be a shootout, folks. Johnny Knox is a borderline must-start against a suspect Bills secondary. Jay Cutler is actually worthy of a look this week despite horrible play earlier this year behind a putrid pass protection scheme. Even TE Greg Olsen could get into the end zone. I don’t trust Matt Forte at all this week, as Mike Martz could throw Chester Taylor into the mix quite a bit. On the Buffalo side, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Steve Johnson and Lee Evans are all solid bye-week fill-ins, and don’t be surprised if C.J. Spiller finally busts out a big play or two.
Patriots at Browns
I have to be honest. I’m not seeing much here. Guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Peyton Hillis have been very useful to fantasy owners this season. Even Ben Watson has performed well on occasion. But this has to be the week that things return to normal. These guys just aren’t that good, and it’s time for then to come back down to earth. You may want to start Hillis if you have him, and that’s fine, but I expect this to be a mess of a game, and other than IDPs like Jerod Mayo and T.J. Ward, I’m staying away.
Jets at Lions
This one could be very interesting. The Lions’ offense torched Washington last week as Matthew Stafford tossed four TD passes. While the Jets have a premier defense, they’re actually not that great against the pass. I think Stafford is actually a solid start this week, as is an injured Calvin Johnson. While Jahvid Best appears to be losing touches to Kevin Smith, I only recommend him as a flex play in PPR leagues. I really like Mark Sanchez, Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes to have big weeks. LT is a must start, and don’t be surprised if even Shonn Greene gets in on the action. All IDPs on the Jets’ side of things are full go, and look for Detroit MLB DeAndre Levy — a preseason sleeper — to finally get on track after battling injuries all season.
Cardinals at Vikings
With Brett Favre less than 50 percent healthy, Randy Moss gone and Percy Harvin nursing a serious ankle ailment, this one is a really tough game to gauge. Many think Visanthe Shaincoe is a solid play with Moss gone, but I’m not so sure. However, one thing is clear, Adrian Peterson will have a huge game. On top of that, expect another five-catch performance out of Toby Gerhart — who has apparently taken over third down duties. On the Cardinals’ side of things, Derek Anderson will start, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see DEs Ray Edwards and Jared Allen have a nice little sack party. Steve Breaston and Larry Fitzgerald are full go and will probably do just fine in PPR leagues.
Brandon Tate’s touchdown last week was a fluke – a broken play that gave his quarterback, Tom Brady, added time and gave Tate an opportunity to slip behind the coverage. But the ‘why’ is not nearly as important to fantasy owners as the ‘what.’ The fact that Tate got involved – a 65-yard catch as part of a 101-yard day – is all that really matters.
This week, Tate’s prospects look even brighter. The Patriots visit a Browns team that is ill-equipped to stop downfield passing. They allowed Roddy White a 45-yard catch, Mike Wallace a 50-yarder, and old man Terrell Owens had a catch of 78 yards in Week 4. Tate is New England’s big-play target and should be the recipient of one or two long strikes in this contest.
Considered by most to be a No. 3 or 4 fantasy receiver, Tate is worth the gamble as a No. 2 for this week.
Here are a few other fantasy players facing favorable matchups in Week 9 (all of the players listed are considered backups or ‘fringe’ starters in most fantasy league formats):
>> Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Chicago’s pass defense
Based on his last few outings Fitzpatrick is a top 10 fantasy quarterback. Try selling that one to fantasy owners. In most leagues, Fitzpatrick remains a backup for those cautious of the Buffalo signal caller and his checkered past. This week those fantasy owners would be wise to buy into his success. Facing a Chicago pass defense that ranks 15th in passing yards allowed per game, Fitzpatrick should go to work on his home turf. He has registered 40 or more attempts in each of the last two games, and in his only two home starts this year he has five touchdowns and zero interceptions.
>> Marion Barber vs. Green Bay’s run defense
Yes, really. The Cowboys may be in a desperate spot, but that doesn’t mean the team will abandon the ground game altogether (at least not until they have to). Barber’s 3.0 yards per carry and two touchdowns have certainly been frustrating to fantasy owners, but he matches up nicely against a 3-4 Packer defense without many of its top playmakers (most notably linebackers Nick Barnett and Brad Jones). And Dallas may be without a banged up Felix Jones for this contest. In Barber’s trip to Lambeau two years ago he collected 157 yards of offense and a touchdown.
>> Mike Williams vs. Atlanta’s pass defense
Fresh off a career-best 105-yard performance Williams heads to Atlanta for a pivotal NFC South matchup. The Falcons are ranked 27th in the league against the pass, and in the team’s last contest the Atlanta secondary allowed three Bengal receivers to catch touchdowns (both Jordan Shipley and Chad Ochocinco gained 100-plus yards). Williams remains a fringe No. 2 or 3 fantasy receiver in most leagues, but this week he just might put up top-shelf numbers.
>> Dustin Keller vs. Detroit’s pass defense
Keller’s owners are starting to yawn – just seven catches and no scores over his last three games. Help is on the way, however, as New York’s trip to Detroit should provide Keller with plenty of open space to work with. Detroit has made average receivers look sensational this season, and the team’s secondary gives up yards in chunks (7.3 yards per pass attempt). Sounds like the perfect fit for Keller, whose 14.9 yards-per-catch average ranks 20th in the league and second among tight ends.
1. Jim Brown
In his short, nine-year career with the Cleveland Browns, the talented runner ran through and around defenses to lead the league in rushing eight times. He led in touchdowns five times, scoring 21 in his final season in 1965 at age 29. His first four years in the league, teams played just 12 games in a season. The schedule expanded to 14 games for his final five seasons. He gained more than 1,000 yards seven times, topping out at 1,863 in 1963, an average of 133.1 yards a game. He averaged 104.3 yards a game for his career. Chris Johnson, in his third season with the Tennessee Titans, is the only other player with an average of more than 100 yards a game.
2. Walter Payton
Sweetness played 15 seasons for the Chicago Bears, leading the league in yards from scrimmage twice, and topping 2,000 yards from scrimmage four times. At the time of his retirement in 1987, he was the all-time leading rusher in the NFL with 16,726 yards. He scored 110 rushing touchdowns and another 15 receiving. He was a leader on the Bears’ team that won Super Bowl XX.
3. Barry Sanders
A 10-time Pro Bowler, Sanders spent his entire 10-year career laboring with Detroit after the Lions made the Heisman Trophy winner the third overall pick in 1989. He has four rushing titles to his credit, and one season of more than 2,000 yards. He owns a career average of 5.0 yards per carry. In his second season, he led the NFL with 1,304 yards. That was the lowest total of his career save an injury-plagued season in which he ran for just 1,115 yards.
4. Emmitt Smith
The all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. He ranks first in career rushing touchdowns with 164, and has 175 (2nd all-time) total TDs. While playing for the powerful Dallas Cowboys, Smith led the league in rushing four times, made eight Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowl rings.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson
Tomlinson owns two rushing titles and two seasons with more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage, both ranked in the top seven seasons of all-time. Currently suiting up for the New York Jets, L.T. has 158 touchdowns in his career and is on pace for his ninth 1,000-yard rushing season. His 143 rushing TDs rank second all-time.
6. Eric Dickerson
While the featured runner for the Los Angeles Rams in 1984 in just his second season, Dickerson established the all-time mark for rushing yards in a season with 2,105. He led the NFL in rushing four times and was best in rushing yards per game five times. In four different seasons Dickerson had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. He was named to six Pro Bowls in the 1980s. The SMU product entered the Hall of Fame in 1999.
7. Curtis Martin
Martin is one of only two players to lead the NFL in rushing at age 30 or older. He was 31 in 2004 when he ran for 1,697 yards for the Jets to lead the NFL. He ended his career with 14,101 rushing yards and another 3,329 receiving.
8. Tony Dorsett
In 11 years with the Dallas Cowboys, Dorsett totaled 12,036 yards on the ground and more than 3,500 through the air. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
9. Marshall Faulk
Faulk spent time with both the Colts and Rams, amassing four seasons of more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. He led the league twice in that category and led three times in yards per rushing attempt. He caught more than 80 passes for five straight seasons from 1998-2002. Last season, Chris Johnson broke his record of 2,429 yards from scrimmage in a single season.
10. Earl Campbell
The 1977 Heisman Trophy winner was selected first overall in 1978 by the Houston Oilers. With a punishing style of running, Campbell led the NFL in rushing his first three seasons. In 1980, he ran for 128.9 yards a game, gaining 1,934 yards in just 15 games. He carried the ball more than 300 times in five different seasons.
Just a quick thought before we get rolling … The kid at the Safeway checkout line wants to know, Cowboy fans: paper or plastic. …
The worst job in America? It’s gotta be playing quarterback in Dallas. Six quarters into the gig and Jon Kitna already has had the h knocked out of him. …
Randy Moss, after being fined 25 grand by the league for not talking to reporters, says he’ll spend the rest of the season interviewing himself. Hey, it beats what Brett Favre was doing with himself during his days with the Jets. …
In Favre’s defense, I get the Jenn Sterger-is-so-hot-I’m-willing-to-make-a-complete-butthead-of-myself-to-make-a-pass-at-her thing. Just typing her name got me fined by the league for excessive celebration. …
And to think, Favre still has a half-season of fun ahead of him. Let me put the rest of the Vikings’ year in terms the Wrangler Man can understand: Real. Uncomfortable. Situation. …
The Vikings waived Moss on Monday before we had a chance to hear his first press conference with himself. I guess I'll just have to ad lib it. Randy: “Randy, let me ask you this, Randy. Randy, aren’t you ashamed of how Randy has gone through the motions the past two weeks, Randy?’’ Randy: “Randy is not ashamed of Randy, Randy, but thanks for asking Randy, Randy.’’ …
Who says there are no more nice guys in sports? Pro golfer Pariya Junhasavasdikul, who finished among the leaders at last week’s PGA Tour stop in Malaysia, spends two hours after every round signing his autograph. …
In case you missed it, the 49ers beat the Broncos in London. Things got so bad for Denver’s beleaguered offensive line, Josh McDaniels considered signing a Buckingham Palace guard at halftime. … McDaniels on his team’s 3-0 halftime deficit: “Duh, we’re standing in a soccer stadium.’’ …
With a chance to close out the World Series, the Giants send ace Tim Lincecum to the mound tonight in a Game 1 rematch with Texas starter Cliff Lee. The Giants dealt Lee the first postseason loss of his career in Game 1. Will Lee allow the Giants to clinch the series against him in Texas? It probably won’t matter. Can Texas beat both Lincecum and Matt Cain to stretch this to a Game 7? Doubtful.
Every button Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy pushes seems to hit the jackpot, or at least pushes San Francisco closer to gold. Benching Pablo Sandoval in favor of Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. Playing Cody Ross and putting him in the middle of the order. While on the other side, Ron Washington hasn’t fared as well. Vlad Guerrero made two errors in Game 1, then sat out the Game 2 loss. The reliable Derek Holland threw 12 of 13 pitches in his first appearance out of the strike zone. Alexi Ogando, the Rangers’ most reliable reliever, left last night’s game with an oblique injury.
The Giants are brimming with confidence — as they should be. The Rangers’ postgame demeanor has the look of a team convinced that it can’t come back. The confidence the team built with Lee on the mound has been shattered. The first sign of trouble tonight will push the snowball over the edge, and it won’t stop rolling.
San Francisco hitters have confidence facing Lee, and Lincecum is hot. San Francisco will close this out before going back to Frisco.
Just having a little fun researching during the World Series, we select our All-Time Giants-Senators/Rangers Team. This exclusive club is for players who spent time with both organizations. With the Senators entering the American League in 1961, the player pool is limited, but two members of the Hall of Fame made this team, and a future Hall of Fame shortstop is on the list as well. The criteria is based on the entire careers of players who suited up for both franchises, not just their time with the teams. Our thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for all the baseball information fans could ever want, right at their fingertips.
The Rangers’ Colby Lewis was just what the Texas fans ordered last night to get the home team back in the series. Mitch Moreland and Josh Hamilton supplied the offense. Tonight Texas will send Tommy Hunter to the mound to even the series. Hunter was 13-4 during the regular season, but struggled in two starts against the Rays and Yankees. The Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner has had better results this postseason. But as the Rangers’ bats are warming up, the Giants’ bats are cooling off. Both pitchers will be on short leashes, but it will be interesting to see just how much Ron Washington trusts his bullpen.
It was clear last night that the Rangers improved their team by moving to their ballpark with American League rules than the Giants did. Getting Vlad Guerrero back in the lineup was a much more dramatic improvement than the Giants getting Pablo Sandoval into the lineup. Bruce Bochy hasn’t indicated if he will stay with Sandoval, who went 0 for 3, or make a change. Options include using Audrey Huff as DH and insert Travis Ishikawa, who is a better defender, at first. Other options would be playing Aaron Rowand or Nate Schierholtz in the outfield and using Pat Burrell as the DH. Burrell who struck out four times in four trips last night now has 19 whiffs in 38 postseason at-bats. How much longer will Bochy be loyal to Burrell? That may end tonight.
The keys tonight will be the bullpens. It’s unlikely that either starter will go deep into the game, putting pressure on the managers to pull the right strings and relievers to get big outs. To this point, that would seem to favor the Giants, but the Ron Washington continues to speak highly of his relievers, and Darren O’Day — one of the first arms he’ll call on — was effective in a pressure situation in Game 3. Derek Holland, who was so effective all season and in the first two round of playoffs, was a disaster in Game 2 when he couldn’t throw strikes. Tonight’s game has the feel of the perfect situation for Holland. If he can regroup, the Rangers could gain the upper hand. If he hasn’t found his control, that takes an important piece of the pen away from Washington.
The Giants’ pen is full of situational pitchers that Bochy uses in specific situations. So it will take more pitchers to get fewer outs than the Rangers. If the game remains close, this could be another factor in favor of the home team.
The crowd gave the Rangers a big lift in Game 3. Expect the same tonight. After lots of runs, pitching changes and managerial decisions, the Rangers even the series at two games apiece.
How important is Game1? Today in the Giants’ clubhouse, it’s huge. On the other side, it’s no big deal, just one game. But the reality is that of the 41 World Series played since the playoffs expanded in 1969, the winner of Game 1 has won the Series 27 times. That’s a 27-14 historical record the Rangers are dealing with today. Game 1 winners have been more successful of late, winning 18 of the past 22 series. However, the Yankees lost to Cliff Lee and the Phillies last year in Game 1 before winning in six games.
But that’s all history, which is cool for the media and fans, but the players don’t really care. For players and managers, it’s all about tonight.
Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson will take the mound tonight. Cain hasn’t allowed an earned run in the postseason. And he tossed eight shutout innings against the Rangers back in 2009. But these teams are vastly different now, so we’re discounting that.
Tonight’s atmosphere should be a little calmer for both pitchers. Game 1 jitters are out; now it’s time to get down to business.
A key for the Rangers will be to make Cain work. Usually when Cain gets in trouble it’s related to walks. When he’s in the strike zone, he’s tough to hit. So if the Rangers don’t chase pitches and aren’t overly aggressive, they should be more successful. Earlier in his career, Cain had trouble holding runners, but he’s been above average in the last few years. Having Posey behind the plate has helped. Elvis Andrus is 7-for-8 in steals in the postseason, so if he gets going, the big hitters behind him can feast. Cain is Josh Hamilton’s type of pitcher. Cain won’t be overpowering inside, and isn’t the kind of pitcher that will induce Hamilton to chase pitches in the dirt — which he has been susceptible to. The likely AL MVP hit over .400 against right-handed pitching this season. Expect the Rangers to live and die offensively with Hamilton tonight.
Wilson was terrific against the Rays in the ALDS, but shaky in two starts against the Yankees in the ALCS. He was fine for most of Game 1, but the Yankees got to him in the seventh. Wilson has had trouble holding runners, so the Giants will be running tonight at every chance. Look for Ron Washington to have him on a short leash tonight. With Derek Holland available for extended innings, and a day off tomorrow, Washington will be quick to go to his bullpen.
The opposite could be true for Cain. With a 1-0 lead in the series and a bullpen that was busy last night, Bruce Bochy will be patient with Cain. Unless he’s having control issues, Cain will be allowed to battle through rough innings.
Many fans and members of the media are suggesting that Washington bench Vlad Guerrero in National League parks due to his weak defense in right field. And his two errors last night fuel that fire. But expect Washington to leave Guerrero in right field and in the cleanup spot. This lineup needs him.
Expect Game 2 to look more like what was expected in Game 1 — with runs at a premium and little margin for error. The Rangers offense will come alive and head back to Texas with the Series tied at a game apiece.
• The Giants share one World Series record with the rival Dodgers. Both franchises have lost 12 World Series. The Dodgers have won six, the Giants five. The Yankees, winners of 27, have also lost the most, 13.
• One of the four longest current World Series droughts will be broken. The Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954, the year of Willie Mays’ famous catch, (when the team was still in New York). The Texas Rangers’ string of 49 seasons without a World Series win is the fourth longest current streak behind the Cubs and Indians. Going into the season, the Cubs had played 101 seasons without a World Series win.
• It could be argued that Bengie Molina of the Rangers will be the biggest winner no matter what. Having played with the Giants until a trade to Texas at the end of June, Molina is assured of a full players’ share for both the winners and losers. Not bad, a double share. Last year’s shares were a little more than $365,000 for the winners and just north of $265,000 for the losers. That’s about $630,000 for Molina — win or lose.
• Now that the Rangers are making their first appearance in the World Series, just two franchises — the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals — have never appeared in the Fall Classic. Now, 27 of the 28 franchises will have played in the World Series since 1979. The other franchise shut out since before then is the Chicago Cubs. Their last appearance was in 1945.
• There are six franchises that have hosted World Series games in more than one city. The Giants, A’s, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles have each played in the Series representing two different cities. Do you know the only franchise to represent three different cities in the World Series? (Answer below)
• In 1993 the Giants won 103 games, the most regular season wins for the franchise since moving to San Francisco in 1958. But that was a year before leagues were split into three divisions and wild-card teams were included in the postseason. Atlanta won 104 games that season to win the NL West. In a streaky final month, the Giants held a 3.5-game lead on Sept. 6. But eight consecutive losses were devastating prior to winning 14 of 17 to end the season. Going into the final weekend the teams were tied. The Braves swept the Rockies in Atlanta, while the Dodgers defeated the Giants in L.A. on the final day of the season.
• At age 25, Matt Cain is the longest tenured Giant. As a 20-year-old in 2005, Cain made seven starts posting a 2.33 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP. Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson and Travis Ishikawa joined the club the following year.
• The longest continual tenured Ranger is third baseman Michael Young. Arriving as a second baseman, Young played in two games for Texas in 2000. He was 0-2 with a strikeout at the plate and played a total of three innings at second base without a ball hit his way. Reliever Darren Oliver came to the majors as a Ranger in 1993 was dealt to St. Louis in 1998, then rejoined the Rangers for 2000-01 and returned yet again prior to this season. He’s made 256 of his 593 career appearances while in a Texas uniform; 137 of his 229 lifetime starts were made with the Rangers.
• Speaking of Young, he now tops the Rangers’ career lists in at-bats, hits and triples. By the end of next season he will likely add games, doubles and times on base to that list as well. He’s currently fourth in total bases and RBIs, with his sights set on third next season. The former Toronto farm hand is signed through 2013.
• The Rangers acquired Young from the Blue Jays with another player for pitcher Esteban Loaiza. But that may not have been the best deal the Rangers made in building their AL pennant-winning club. Josh Hamilton was acquired from the Reds for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. Elvis Andrus and Netali Feliz came from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal. Bengie Molina was acquired from the Giants for Michael Main and Chris Ray. Ian Kinsler was a 17th round draft pick. Derek Holland was a 25th round pick. All good deals, but the best one: Nelson Cruz was acquired WITH Carlos Lee from the Brewers for Julian Cordero, Francisco Cordero, Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. What are the Brewers doing with those guys these days?
• The Giants, on the other hand, were built much differently. All good deals though. Matt Cain (drafted #25 overall in 2005), Tim Lincecum (#10 in 2006), Madison Bumgarner (#10 in2007) and Buster Posey (#5 in 2008) were all drafted in the first round by the Giants. Jonathan Sanchez was also originally signed by San Francisco. Brian Wilson (24th round) is really the only player drafted in late rounds. Prominent free agent signings (Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand) haven’t contributed much in the playoffs. Then there were the scrap heap guys: Andres Torres, Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe.
The Braves’ franchise has won three World Series titles, in three separate cities. 1914 as the Boston Braves, 1957 in Milwaukee and 1995 in Atlanta.
Why the Giants believe they can win….
Pitching, pitching and pitching. Then there’s that little matter of clutch hitting up and down the lineup. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have been terrific this postseason. Combined in their two previous series: 52.1 innings, 49 combined hits plus walks, 70 strikeouts. That’s pretty dominating against the Phillies and Braves. The Giants also believe in their manager, Bruce Bochy, and his ability to pull the right strings setting up favorable matchups. The Giants have won six postseason games this month by one run. They know how to win close games and believe in their ability to get clutch hits. If the pitchers keep the Rangers’ offense in check, San Francisco has a chance to win close, low-scoring games.
Brad Stevens orchestrated one of the most compelling NCAA Tournament runs in college basketball history last spring — just 10 years after quitting the business world to accept a volunteer coaching position at Butler. Stevens, 34, had his Bulldogs in the national championship game against Duke in Butler’s hometown of Indianapolis. The Hollywood script almost played out perfectly, but a last-second half-court shot bounced off the rim and Butler fell to the Blue Devils 61–59.
Stevens has enjoyed a measure of celebrity since: He threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field in May, his team served as the Grand Marshal of the Indy 500 Festival parade later that month, and the Bulldogs were honored by the Colts at their home opener in September. In his first three years as a head coach, Stevens has won more games (89) than any other coach in NCAA history, and his fourth team is expected to be strong once again. The former DePauw guard who married his college girlfriend Tracy and now has two young children, has become college basketball’s hottest young coach. Athlon Sports caught up with Stevens as he prepared for the upcoming season.
Athlon Sports: Do you have a moment that sticks out to you more than any other of the six-game NCAA tournament run?
Brad Stevens: The moment that sticks out to me was driving on I-70 past Lucas Oil Stadium at about 3 a.m. when we were getting back from Salt Lake City (after winning the regional). That was the only time we allowed it to be surreal. The stadium was lit up. The Final Four banners were out. To know we were going to be playing in there in seven days was a pretty unique feeling.
AS: When you were at the Final Four with Duke, West Virginia and Michigan State, did you feel like Butler received the 'little brother' treatment from the national media?
BS: No. I don’t mind being called an underdog, and I certainly don’t mind being called a ‘mid-major.’ I take it more of a compliment if you can be successful. It is known in basketball circles and now hopefully in the general public that we’re not a ‘mid-major’ in terms of results. I don’t think it is ever a bad thing to be called an underdog.
AS: Since your team plays in the same gym that Hoosiers was filmed in, and the Final Four was in Indianapolis, the obvious storyline was to plug Butler into the Hickory High role. Did you or the players tire of that angle at all?
BS: Our players are pretty young. We didn’t have anyone born when Hoosiers was filmed. That shows how great the movie is because it has stood the test of time. I think they embraced the comparisons, but I don’t think we ever thought we couldn’t be successful.
AS: What was it like going toe-to-toe with Mike Krzyzewski for the national championship? Did you catch yourself glancing down the sideline and saying, 'Is this really happening?'?
BS: I didn’t, and maybe it is because I’ve had some experience with this before. Six games into my head coaching career, we were playing Coach (Bob) Knight and Texas Tech in Alaska. To be an Indiana kid coaching against one of the true giants of the game, who had a huge mark on your impressions of basketball growing up, that was an ‘ah-ha’ moment. But since then, it has been about preparing our team. I know who is on the other sideline and how good of a coach they are. Mike Krzyzewski has been the standard-bearer in college basketball for a long time.
AS: Did you try to treat the national title game as just another game, or did you realize this might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for everyone involved and treat it as such?
BS: We tried to treat it is a regular game and our kids did a good job with it. They went to class that morning, we did our shootaround, we did our film that we usually do. We wanted to do what we do. There are always things you would like to have back within the course of the game, but as far as preparation, there are no regrets.
AS: Butler has become familiar to college basketball fans at this point, but for sports fans that don't follow college hoops that closely, how would you describe what makes Butler unique and how it came to be that reaching the Final Four was surprising but not necessarily impossible to believe.
BS: There are a lot of people that poured their hard work into this. Barry Collier set the foundation in the mid-1990s and I’ve been lucky enough to ride it. Thad Matta did great work. Todd Lickliter did great work. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Final Four was hearing from every player I had coached and every coach I had coached with after every game. It was pretty neat.
AS: You decided not to pursue more lucrative opportunities at bigger schools after the season. Why?
BS: Lucrative just refers to money, and I was given a really good piece of advice— resources aren’t dollars, they’re people. That is something we really put a lot of thought into and we are really happy at Butler. We know we are fortunate and we are thankful to have the job we have, and I’m talking about my staff and people in administration. This is a really good place to be.
AS: What ultimately made you decide to leave the business world for the coaching world?
BS: I was only 22 and didn’t have any financial responsibilities other than myself. I had been fortunate enough to save a little money and fortunate enough to have parents, family, friends and my girlfriend who is now my wife who all supported me a ton. They all said, ‘Go for it,’ and that was a big part of it.
AS: Did you have any 'What-have-I-done?' moments when you were stuffing envelopes in the Butler basketball office in 2000?
BS: Certainly, you question things, but the people at Eli Lilly were so great. They wanted me to do it and they were great about saying, if it doesn’t work out, let us know. That gave me a sense of ease in the transition. Whether or not I would have gone back for a job, I don’t know. I just had to jump in with both feet.
AS: Describe the day when you got the head coaching job at Butler at age 30.
BS: You are excited, but then it is right back to work. I never really had the moment of, ‘Wow, this is what I’m doing.’ You just go out and do it. The first thing that goes through your mind is, are all the players in the program going to stick with you, and are all the recruits who are coming still coming? Unanimously, they were all great, so that was a great start. Then you are moving on to the next group of recruits.
AS: You didn’t have to pitch going for the head coaching job to your wife, I assume.
BS: She loves being a part of the team. She was a soccer player in college so we both have always valued team sports in general and all that you can learn from being a member of a team and competing.
AS: How has she handled the lifestyle change of going from no children, to one, to two, during your time on the Butler staff?
BS: We’ve been fortunate in that we have been surrounded by a lot of friends and a lot of family. She grew up in Cleveland, so the farthest family we have is five hours away. I grew up here, so we have friends from high school and college here. The biggest change is she stopped working in the last couple of years, and that was an adjustment. She calls it ‘temporary retirement.’ I think she’s going back at some point.
AS: Were your two children able to go the NCAA tournament games last spring?
BS: My four-year old loves airplanes. He could care less about the basketball games. He was excited to fly to San Jose and Salt Lake City. He may have been the only person in Indianapolis who was mad that the Final Four was in Indianapolis. It was hard for both of them to make those long trips, but they went. My wife considered not taking them to the national championship game because it was a 9:18 p.m. tip, but we figured if they look at pictures later on in life and they weren’t there, they aren’t going to be very happy.
As has been the case all season and throughout the playoffs, we expect outstanding pitching in the World Series. The Giants feature four starters (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner) capable of shutting down the best of lineups. Their bullpen has been a little shaky in the postseason, but closer Brian Wilson has been dependable. But the Rangers shouldn’t fear the beards in front of Wilson.
The Rangers have a Wilson of their own in C.J., who was tremendous in defeating the Yankees in the ALCS. But of course, the dominant lefty for Texas is Cliff Lee. He has earned a place among the greatest postseason pitchers of all-time. Lee made his postseason debut in 2009 with the Philadelphia Phillies and has won seven of his eight starts with no losses and a 1.26 ERA.
During the final few weeks of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Giants have found a way to win close games. With stingy pitching, the offense has manufactured just enough runs. Six of their seven wins over Atlanta and Philadelphia were by one run. The other was a 3-0 shutout of the Phillies. So the Giants know how to win close games.
The Rangers, on the other hand, have dominated their opponents. Josh Hamilton, the ALCS MVP, has found his stroke after missing most of September. The Yankees were intimidated enough to issue him three intentional walks in one game.
Don’t expect the Rangers’ bats to let them down. Even with an extra home game possible for San Francisco, the Rangers should dispatch their NL counterparts in six games.
Going into the season, most baseball experts expected the Yankees and Phillies in the World Series. Coming out of the season, most experts still expected the powers from New York and Philadelphia to face each other in a rematch of the 2009 series.
But Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe had other ideas.
An unlikely scenario, for sure, having the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers meet in the World Series. The Rangers have never been there in their 50-year history that dates back to the Washington Senators. The Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954 when the team was based in New York and called the Polo Grounds home. The team has played in three since moving to the Bay Area in the late 1950s, but lost two Game 7s and were swept by their neighbors, the Oakland A’s, in the 1989 Earthquake Series.
Back in January, some odds makers had the Giants at 16:1 to win the World Series and the Rangers at 20:1. Of course, no one knew in January that Lee would be the rangers’ ace by this time and that Ross would be in a Giants’ uniform.
But here we are.
We are all usually skeptical about trying something new. Trying a new restaurant or entrée, relying on a new co-worker for a project, or checking out a new band or album push us too far outside our comfort zones. Anything unproven can cause a little trepidation. So, it’s natural that fantasy owners haven’t given some of the following names any love yet, but I’m here to tell you that it’s time. You’ll notice that most of them are WRs, but there’s one non-pass catcher that is the biggest shock/value – and is likely available in your league.
On the other side of the coin, there’s a couple of RBs that it may be time for seasonal owners to give up on.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills – Who would have thunk it? The 27-year-old journeyman just may have found a home in Buffalo. Despite being 0-6, the Bills are thrilled with their new starter. After tearing up the Ravens’ defense for 374 yards and four TDs in Week 7, he has now thrown for 11 TDs and only four interceptions in his last four games. After finishing the 2008 season with less than 2,000 yards and only eight TDs in 13 games taking over for an injured Carson Palmer, it was hard to believe that he could turn Lee Evans and Steve Johnson into legit fantasy options, but he appears to have done so. But seriously, while he may still be unproven, it sure looks like a legit starting option moving forward, especially with the Chiefs, Bears and Lions up next.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs – After a putrid first four games, the ultra-talented Bowe has found the end zone four times in his last two contests. With the Chiefs’ offense clicking on all cylinders, and Matt Cassel certainly playing better, “the show” is definitely on the rise. Dynasty owners should be smiling, while seasonal owners can consider him a must-start moving forward.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans – Speaking of dynasty owners smiling, those that hung onto Kenny “Legit” Britt through thick and thin have been rewarded, big time. He’s a legit must-start, when active, after his seven catch, 225 yard, three TD domination of the Eagles’ secondary in Week 7. Not only was that with Kerry Collins throwing him the ball, but it occurred in only 2½ quarters – which leads me to the “when active” part. Seasonal owners should take note that Britt could face further punishment, either from the league, or from the Titans, for his alleged involvement in a bar fight last week. The good news is two-fold. A, it’s his first offense, and B, he will not be in the “doghouse” following any punishment, as Tennessee clearly needs him on the field. The 6’3” 218 pounder is a must-keep dynasty gem.
Jordan Shipley, WR, Bengals – When the rookie from Texas caught five balls in each of his first two games, dynasty owners definitely raised their eyebrows. Entering Week 7, he had been quiet, mostly due to a concussion suffered early on in the season. However, Shipley burst back onto the scene against the Falcons, catching all six of his targets for 131 yards and a score. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this guy will continue to see a growing role in his rookie season, and I wouldn’t be surprised with Chad Ochocinco (32) and Terrell Owens (37) if he’s not catching 75 balls a year starting in 2012. Shipley is certainly someone to keep an eye on, as he’s already proving he can be productive at the pro level.
David Gettis, WR, Panthers – Could the rookie sixth rounder from Baylor be the Panthers’ version of Marques Colston? After an eight catch, 125 yard, two TD breakout performance against the 49ers in Week 7, it’s possible. Fellow rookie Brandon LaFell added six catches for 91 yards, while Steve Smith only had four balls for 50 yards. Despite playing in a horrible offense, Gettis should probably be added in all formats, especially dynasty.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders – Much like Kenny Britt, McFadden had his doubters heading into Week 7. He started the season strong, but injuries opened the door for Michael Bush to take carries away. But after rushing for 165 yards and three TDs, and catching two balls for 21 yards and an additional score against the Broncos, he has now solidified himself as a must-start when healthy. And, oh yeah dynasty owners, despite being in his third season, he’s only 23 years old.
Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings – Hello, were you scared of Percy Harvin heading into the season? Come on, admit it. The hammy, the migraines, and the lack of Sidney Rice? Well, all those worries are out the window. Harvin is clearly one of the best players on the field, as he’s racked up 20 catches for 245 yards, 72 rushing yards and five total TDs in his last four games. He’s an all-purpose threat and commands the ball. With Randy Moss on board, defenses cannot keep up with Harvin. Regardless of Brett Favre’s status, Harvin should be in lineups.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers – What the heck is going on? Norv Turner is really irking me right now. He will not play his rookie stud that the Chargers traded up to number 12 overall in the NFL Draft to select. Who cares if you fall behind early? Is it a rule that you can’t run the ball if you’re behind? Come on, Norv. At this point, seasonal owners should look in a different direction, with Mike Tolbert getting goal line carries. Dynasty owners need to stay patient, but bench him for now. Mathews will be “the guy” one day, but not any time soon, it appears.
Justin Forsett, RB, Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch has taken command of the featured back role in Seattle, after gaining 133 yards and a score on 41 carries in his first two games. Forsett is a change of pace guy now, and will see three to seven carries a game, depending on the situation. He’s not really roster-worthy in any format.
Eat you hearts out, couch commandos. I’m typing this column while Jenn Sterger whispers sweet nothings in my ear. …
That NFL P.R. machine never misses a beat. Take Sunday’s Broncos-49ers game in London. It was originally billed as a battle between two teams that don’t particularly care for one another. Now it’s been changed to two teams that don’t particularly care. …
Mike Singletary says the Niners, at 1-6, can make the playoffs. My initial reaction? Enough already with the federal bailouts. …
Allen Iverson has signed a two-year contract to play with a pro team in Turkey. Apparently, the sweetheart deal with that team in Iceland fell through. …
Brett Favre reportedly has admitted to NFL officials that he sent racy texts to Sterger, the five-tool player who once worked for the Jets. Luckily for Favre, the lewd pictures he tried to send her were intercepted. …
Favre threw three picks against the Packers at Lambeau Field, but that wasn’t the worst of his problems. His cholesterol went up 20 points when the Vikings’ charter crossed the Wisconsin state line. …
How bad are the Vikes? Randy Moss has demanded a trade back to New England. …
Oh, before I forget, how’s the fair weather down there, all you Auburn fans who wigged out when Gene Chizik got the head-coaching gig? …
Texas coach Mack Brown said after Saturday’s home loss to Iowa State that his players weren’t ready to play. Henceforth, Brown vowed, his players would take them one embarrassment at a time. …
My mini-scouting report on the World Series: Dick Cheney says it could be dangerous for Vlad Guerrero to put a glove on when the Rangers play at San Francisco. …
For the record, I like the Giants. Josh Hamilton is going to find out you can’t hit a ball out to right field at AT&T Park unless you know Barry Bonds’ personal trainer. …
Then there’s Giants closer Brian Wilson. Have you checked out that beard of his? From the looks of him, he’s the only player in baseball who wants to get traded to the Pirates. …
Meanwhile, word out of the Big Apple is the Yankees have fired pitching coach Dave Eiland for not keeping CC Sabathia’s ERA or weight under 3.00. …
How could the Saints lose to the lowly Browns in New Orleans? Dude, you didn’t watch the game? Drew Brees missed the first half because his Mardi Gras float got stuck in traffic. …
The NBA regular season tips off this week. Good thing. I was so wrapped up in the exhibition season, I was about to fall off the edge of my chair. …
Not to, you know, ruin the suspense, but since Kobe kept his talents on Manhattan Beach, the Lakers are going to win the title again. …
My darkhorse pick is the Cavs. Not really. I just figured folks in Cleveland could use a little pick-me-up, what with winter and another blown No. 1 draft pick by the Browns the only things they have to look forward to. …
The Heat? I like their chances, too, now that they’ve trimmed their roster to three players. …
TCU may be the best team in the country, Baylor is leading the Big 12 South and Texas can’t beat Iowa State. Hey, don’t ask me. I’m just the piano man.
Week 7 gave us some screwy results on the NFL landscape, including lots of numbers that will send folks dashing to the waiver wire in the coming days. But who among Sunday’s big performers are really worth grabbing for help the rest of the way?
It’s easy to simply say “go get these guys” who just produced strong stats, but if you need to be told that Kenny Britt is worth adding at this point, you probably need more help than this column will offer. (Besides, he was already recommended here three weeks ago.) Instead, I’d like to run through some of the top Week 7 producers who are still free agents in many places and play a little game that I call “For Real or Get Real.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo
I’m not sure anyone had a better week than this guy, who nearly led his winless Bills to a victory no one was projecting, and it’s time now to believe in him. Fitzpatrick is the only quarterback in the league who has produced at least two touchdown passes in every one of his outings this season. Granted, he didn’t play in weeks 1 or 2, but would you have pegged him for 11 scores through four games? Neither would I. His matchups don’t look especially strong overall, though meetings with Detroit, New England and Cleveland won’t hurt. Additionally, the fact that his team is allowing a ton of points – 34 or more in five straight games – should mean plenty of passing to play catch-up. Fitzpatrick won’t be a yardage monster and will produce some turnovers, but he has shown he can also offer touchdowns. For Real
Matt Moore, Carolina
I liked Moore heading into the season, and he finally delivered in his return to the starting lineup: 308 yards and a pair of scoring passes. I’d love to believe that this was a sign of Moore delivering on the promise I thought he carried into the year, but it’s not enough to outweigh the play that got him benched in the first place. These numbers came against a Niners D that has allowed five of seven opponents to score at least 23 points and three other quarterbacks to post at least two touchdown throws. Moore’s schedule is very favorable going forward, and there’s a chance he’ll provide fantasy relevance going forward, but I’ll have to see more than one game before I can recommend dropping any other passer to claim him. Get Real
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay
He didn’t run up huge numbers on the Rams on Sunday, but Tampa Bay’s weak 2010 running game has been crying out for an answer. Eleven carries for 72 yards could be the first line of that answer from a guy who has been creeping onto the fantasy radar for a few weeks now. However, let’s remember that this performance came against the Rams -- 4.6 yards per carry allowed to date – and with Earnest Graham inactive. Another similar game might have me saying something different, but for now I don’t believe there is a “the guy” in Tampa’s backfield. Get Real
Willis McGahee, Baltimore
He might be owned in nearly 100 percent of RapidDraft.com leagues (99.42), but McGahee found himself a free agent in more than 60 percent of Yahoo! leagues as of Monday afternoon despite scoring touchdowns in three straight games now. The Baltimore backup opened 2009 with a goal-line hot streak before petering out, and it’s always risky to count on a team’s second back, but he’s not a fluke. McGahee has garnered 10 carries or more in three straight outings and still has favorable matchups ahead with opponents such as Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Houston and New Orleans. McGahee should continue to help Ray Rice shoulder the load on one of the league’s strongest offenses and is worth flex consideration in non-PPR formats. For Real
David Gettis, Carolina
The rookie wideout is clearly carving out a role of regular usage for a team on which two fellow rookie receivers – Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards – garnered more attention heading into the season. After missing the Week 1 game, Gettis has seen at least five targets every week, topping out at nine in Sunday’s eight-catch, 125-yard, two-touchdown effort. It was, however, the first time this year that he caught more than three passes, the first time he reached 40 yards and the first time he found the end zone. Gettis certainly seems to have a bright future and no shortage of opportunity, and as I said, I think there’s potential in Moore going forward. For now, though, if I’m not quite ready to trust his more experienced quarterback, I can’t really buy into the rookie wideout as a dependable option in redraft leagues. Get Real
Steve Johnson, Buffalo
Before his monster Week 7 outing, Kenny Britt had somewhat quietly put together a string of scoring games, and Johnson has done the same. The touchdown at Baltimore made it four straight weeks in which Johnson has scored, and he has caught at least three passes in every game. That’s not an overly impressive number but better than it sounds when you consider Buffalo’s Trent Edwards start and general malaise. Johnson has size (6-2, 202) and a veteran big-play threat on the other side of the field (Lee Evans) to keep defenses honest. Plus, there’s that trustworthy quarterback mentioned earlier and the impetus for plenty of passing in Buffalo. For Real
Lee Evans, Buffalo
I think this one is fairly obvious based on the Johnson call. Evans is a terrific player who has only been missing a quality quarterback. He doesn’t have Johnson’s scoring streak, but Evans has caught five passes or more in three of Fitzpatrick’s four games and has rekindled the deep passing game now that Captain Checkdown (Trent Edwards) has been exiled. No Buffalo receiver will give you big numbers every week, but, heck, neither will Miles Austin or Hakeem Nicks. For Real
Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati
The rookie’s final line of six receptions, 131 yards and a touchdown from Sunday looks fairly similar to the results of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, but it’s important to note the separation in targets. Ocho drew 16 looks, Owens 13 and Shipley six. The fact that he caught each and took one for a 64-yard touchdown speaks to Shipley’s reliability and explosiveness – he was one of the NCAA’s top return men at Texas – but his numbers will often suffer from lack of opportunity. Carson Palmer did throw 50 times on Sunday (albeit for the second time this season). Get Real
The multitalented signal-caller led the Auburn Tigers to a hard-fought win over LSU, giving Auburn the inside track to the SEC West title, an a No. 1 ranking. Newton threw for just 86 yards, but ran 28 times for 217 yards and two scores, one a dazzling 49-yard jaunt. The Heisman favorite has 1,077 rushing yards this season, establishing a new SEC record for rushing yards for a quarterback.
1. Two franchises in the National League — Atlanta and Arizona have collected the Cy Young award four consecutive seasons. But only one franchise in the AL has won as many as three consecutive awards. What American League team had three consecutive Cy Young winners?
2. Who is the only active major leaguer to have won a batting title in the 1990s?
3. From 1970-2000, only two Hall of Famers won National League batting titles. Can you name them? Hint: One player won eight titles, the other won just one. OR Hint: Between them, they won nine titles.
4. In the 1970s, Hall of Famers won or shared home run crowns nine times. In the 1980s it was 10 times. But in the 1990s only once did a Hall of Famer win a home run title. Can you name him?
5. Scoring 150 runs in a season has been accomplished 14 times, but just once since Ted Williams did it in 1949. Who is the most recent player to eclipse 150 runs in a single season?
6. Who is the only player active in 2010 to have won a home run crown in the 1990s?
7. Who are the only teammates to ever tie for the league lead in home runs?
8. Can you name the only two battery mates to win Gold Gloves in the same season twice? Hint: They did it for different teams.
9. Who was the last player to lead the majors in home runs with a total of less than 40?
10. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson is the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues. How many pitchers can you name that have won the Cy Young award in both the American and National League. There are four.
1. Toronto Blue Jays, 1996-98 with Pat Hentgen and Roger Clemens twice
2. Alex Rodriguez, .358 with Seattle in 1996
3. Tony Gwynn is the easy answer, winning eight titles. Billy Williams of the Cubs won the NL Batting title hitting .333 in 1972.
4. Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs hit 40 home runs to lead the National League.
5. Jeff Bagwell crossed the plate 152 times for the Houston Astros in 2000.
6. Ken Griffey won four with the Seattle Mariners in 1994, 97-99. Griffey retired during the 2010 season.
7. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig each swatted 46 in 1931 for the Yankees.
8. Kenny Rogers and Ivan Rodriguez, Texas 2000, Detroit 2006
9. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas swatted 39 homers in 1982 to lead the majors.
10. Roger Clemens (1986-87, 91, Tor. 1997-98, N.Y. Yankees 2001, Houston 2004) Randy Johnson (Seattle 1995, Arizona 1999-2002), Pedro Martinez (Mon. 1994, Boston 1999-2000) and Gaylord Perry (Clev. 1972, S.D. 1978).
Let there be Sports Lite. …
Now this is getting downright ridiculous. First, the NFL bans its players from helmet-to-helmet hits on wide receivers. Now the league says players can’t hit on defenseless cheerleaders. …
The Broncos added a new dimension to their offense last weekend by implementing the Tim Tebow package. The Vikings, meanwhile, are hoping Roger Goodell doesn’t suspend Brett Favre’s package. …
If he gets bounced, Favre would become the first NFL player ever to miss a game because of an attempted pulled groin. …
Tebow, by the way, ran for a five-yard touchdown with the help of some key blocking by his 10 disciples. …
No really, I’m not making this up. Favre is the 28th-ranked passer in the league. On the plus side, he’s making some serious jackamundo for the old alimony fund. …
With the NFL trading deadline a few days away, the Raiders reportedly have put their entire roster up for sale. Hence, their new team slogan: Commitment to eBay. …
So far, all the Raiders have been offered is a seventh-rounder for the dude with the eye patch. Not that it’s all bad in the business department. An Elvis impersonator last week offered Al Davis 50 bucks for his wardrobe. …
With the race for the Cup winding down, NASCAR officials can’t figure out why TV ratings have been shaky at best. Um, because it’s NASCAR? …
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is kicking himself for not buying the Mariners before the trading deadline to make sure Cliff Lee would pitch in pinstripes. …
In case there was any doubt in your mind, Lee will be pitching for the Bronx Bombers next season. The Yankees also plan to purchase Venezuela and Puerto Rico to provide depth for their bullpen. …
Let me see if I’ve got this straight. The Yankees paid $82.5 million for A.J. Burnett? What would he have gotten if they actually wanted him to pitch? …
The Badgers hammered Ohio State, but Wisconsin fans weren’t happy last weekend. Why? They still have bar time in Madison. …
Give it a rest, all you Buckeye bashers. Terrelle Pryor isn’t overrated in the least. He just isn’t very good. Though, to be fair, he did hit Bucky Badger in stride on that one sideline route. …
Oh, before I forget, that poor sap reporter who Urban Meyer went Freddie Krueger on a few months ago asked me to mention something: Mississippi State 10, Florida 7. …
Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner has faced some tough questions from the media during the playoffs, including this one: Do you, like, have a brother named Tiffany? …
Ryne Sandberg apparently was bummed out that he didn’t get the Cubs’ manager’s gig. Um, Ryno? You might want to check out the last century of highlights at Wrigley Field. …
Having lost the Throes Bowl in Minneapolis to fall to 1-4, Cowboys coach Wade Phillips has switched to the run-and-hide offense.
By Mike Beacom
Hard to believe but Kansas City’s rookie tight end Tony Moeaki has more catches than veteran wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (18 to 15). If there is a silver lining for Bowe’s fantasy owners it’s that he has made big plays this year, evidenced by his 17.3 yards per catch and two touchdown catches of 40-plus yards.
Jacksonville’s defense allows more passing yards per attempt (8.8) than any other team in football, and has given up a league-worst 14 passing scores. Big-play receivers like Lee Evans and DeSean Jackson have had their way with the Jaguars so far.
Fantasy owners need to have faith that Bowe can build off of last week’s 108-yard effort. This may be his most favorable matchup of the 2010 season.
Here are a few other fantasy players facing favorable matchups in Week 7 (all of the players listed are considered backups or ‘fringe’ starters in most fantasy league formats):
Jay Cutler vs. Washington’s pass defense
Cutler is an unwanted man right now. He doesn’t rank among the top 15 in the league in passing yards, or the top 20 in touchdowns. So much for Mike Martz’s genius, eh! This week provides the signal caller with an opportunity to save his season. The Redskins allow the second-most passing yards per contest and do not possess enough speed in their secondary to keep up with the Bears fleet of receivers. No longer feeling the effects of his Week 4 concussion, Cutler will give the Redskins defense trouble.
Justin Forsett vs. Arizona’s run defense
Marshawn Lynch may be in Seattle colors now, but it means little if he is unable to out-perform Forsett, as was the case last week. Maybe the acquisition has motivated the 25-year-old back, who had his best game of the season last week. This week, Forsett hopes to feast on a Cardinals defense ranked No. 29 in rushing yards allowed per contest (140.8). When Forsett faced Arizona in Week 10 last season, he caught five passes, scored a touchdown and gained 123 yards on just 17 carries.
Jabar Gaffney vs. Oakland’s pass defense
Eddie Royal’s status is in question this week, leaving the door open for Gaffney to post bigger numbers. The ninth-year receiver has just one big game so far, but has consistently posted solid catch and yardage totals. In fact, he’s had at least 80 yards in each of the past two weeks and has caught five or more passes in each of the past four. His biggest knock is that he has only caught one touchdown (Week 1). Gaffney must like his chances this week against a Raiders secondary that has allowed 12 passing scores (30th in the league).
Davone Bess vs. Pittsburgh’s pass defense
Brandon Marshall has been a catching machine for the Dolphins, but Bess still gets enough attention to be helpful to fantasy owners. He has caught a touchdown in each of the past two weeks and is on pace to approach the 1,000-yard mark this season. Pittsburgh may own one of the league best run defenses, but that isn’t true of their pass defense (No. 24). Heck, Pittsburgh made first-time starter Colt McCoy look special last week. Miami’s Chad Henne is a better passer than McCoy and has better weapons, including Bess, who had five catches, 85 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in the final week of the 2009 season.
Roy Williams warned us. Told us before last season his Tar Heels weren’t top-five material. Probably didn’t deserve the top 10, either. But did we listen? Nope. It’s hard to pay close attention when coaches poor-mouth their teams, but we should have believed Old Roy on this one. Instead of defending its 2009 national title with gusto, North Carolina stumbled, finishing 20-17 and a dismal 5-11 (T9th) in ACC play.
As the ’10-11 season dawns, UNC is ready to get back into the national discussion. It won’t be easy. The offseason transfers of David and Travis Wear hurt, and the dismissal of Will Graves from the team just before practice began is a big loss. Still, thanks to the arrivals of a some quality newcomers, most notably Harrison Barnes, Carolina will still be dangerous. Here’s how Williams sees things as the season commences.
ATHLON SPORTS: Do you think part of last year’s trouble was that the team didn’t understand that they had to treat every season differently and can’t live off the past?
ROY WILLIAMS: No, I don’t think so. Each and every year, you want to be proud of or mad at whatever you accomplished the year before, but you have to put it behind you. Tradition is important, but each year is different.
AS: After last season’s disappointments, how happy were you with the team’s offseason attention to getting back on track?
RW: Our preseason conditioning program from September 15 on was the most difficult we ever had. I am ecstatic about how our players responded to the tests we gave them before practice began. They also worked hard over the summer.
AS: Could you be encouraged by the fact that last year’s team regrouped at season’s end and made a run to the NIT final?
RW: I was worried the team wanted to stop playing hard, but I saw some positive things in the NIT. But we’re not going to hang banners for runner-up finishes in the NIT around this place.
AS: How much of a role will your freshmen have this year?
RW: One of the tough things last year was that we had trouble scoring. The freshmen shoot well. Harrison and Reggie [Bullock] have good range and can put the ball on the floor. Kendall [Marshall] is an attacking point guard. We’re going to put a lot on them. The good news is I think they’re good. We have told them there are expectations.
AS: How difficult is it to remain an elite team, year-in and year out?
RW: I’ve been at two places as a head coach, Kansas and North Carolina, where the fans expect it. It is hard to do over a long period of time. You look at Jim Calhoun at Connecticut, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and they do it. It’s hard to win at any point, but when you are expected to win every year at a high level, it’s very hard. I like the expectations, and they help us with recruiting kids. It’s great to have history and tradition.
AS: Agents have become a larger problem in college football, and they have been a concern in basketball. Can anything be done to keep them under control?
RW: It’s hard to know all the time what’s going on when you have 800 student-athletes, like we do at North Carolina. We talk about it a lot. I check the ticket list for home games to see who’s sitting in the players’ seats. On road games, I do the list myself. I know who’s coming and where they’re sitting. But you still don’t know. There are a select few people who have given the agent profession a bad name, and because of them, it’s hard to like any of them. The whole profession has been torn down by a few. The solution has to come from the NBA and the NFL. The NCAA has no jurisdiction over agents. Only the things that can police them are the leagues where they work. It’s probably a minority of people, but they kill the whole profession’s reputation by not doing things ethically. They know what they’re doing, my gosh, but it’s hard to legislate morality.
AS: How do you feel about the expanded tournament and the idea that it might get even bigger?
RW: I can make an argument on both sides. It’s one issue where I sit on the fence. I love the specialness of 65 teams. I love that it’s difficult to get in, even though that excluded us last year. At the same time, some teams get excluded that could make a little run. Maybe we could have been one of them. People on both sides could make arguments to me, and I could understand.
AS: How hard was it to dismiss Will Graves from the team in October?
RW: It was the most difficult two days I’ve had in 23 years [as a head coach]. I hated it for the young man. I didn’t want it to happen. I hate it for the team, because he was going to be an important part of the team. You end up punishing other people for one person’s mistake. But you have to do it. If you’re going to do things you’re not supposed to do, you have to pay the consequences.
AS: You said you were going to be “a little meaner” this year. How will that happen?
RW: I won’t do it outside of the locker room. Our preseason conditioning was the toughest we’ve had. Some of the older players have said I’ve mellowed, and I’ve been allowing them to make mistakes and saying, ‘Come on, son, you’re better than that.’ I won’t be there this year. Some teams could handle that because they were more mature. If I need to create some fear this year, I’m okay with that.
AS: Did it bother you that Duke won last year’s national championship?
RW: It didn’t bother me. I said before the season started that I thought that was the best Duke team since I’d been back at Carolina. If you’re going to say that, you can’t be upset if they win the national championship. I’m probably going to be saying the same thing this year, because they have so much back and added a marquee freshman [Kyrie Irving] who can really help them. It’s a great rivalry, and it’s a great thing for both teams to be really good, so it can be the best rivalry in college basketball. We didn’t hold up our end last year. I like it more when we win the national championship, like in 2009, but I’m glad to be part of the rivalry.
I didn’t watch the national championship game. I watched Dancing With The Stars. I was with my daughter, and it worked out well.
By Matt Schauf
Every week folks grab the Keiland Williamses and LeGarrette Blounts of the fantasy world off the waiver wire in hopes that they luck into some gem of a bye-week cover. The wide receiver position is far more open to breakout performances, though, simply because there are more of them around and more variables involved in their production.
Just this past week we saw DeSean Jackson rank among the top fantasy scorers despite catching just one pass before leaving early with a concussion. We saw rookies Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant wind up in the end zone with their only receptions. We saw Mario Manningham for the first time in three weeks.
And there were plenty of other noteworthy happenings at wideout. That’s why I’m choosing to lock in on my receivers for this week’s trip to the wire and rank the top options for Week 7 and beyond.
1. Deion Branch, WR, New England
Is this an overreaction to his nine-catch re-debut with the Patriots? Perhaps, but Branch led the team with 12 targets. He previously spent four seasons working with Tom Brady and is in the middle of his ninth year as a pro. Thus, the only question with Branch should’ve been how quickly the Patriots would work him into the mix. The fact that he started his first game and led the way in targets and receptions sure seemed to answer that one. The biggest advantage that Branch has on just about everyone else in this list is playing with one of the league’s top quarterbacks. New England has a lot of options around in the passing game and more talented players than Branch in that group, but there’s something to be said for connection between quarterback and receiver. Branch has shown a lack of durability throughout his career, but you can’t look at that too much when fishing for free-agent help in Week 6. Just pick him up and use him when you can.
2. Mike Williams, WR, Seattle
This guy surely isn’t available in all leagues, but odds are that plenty of players can find Big Mike available after he tallied just seven catches and 74 yards over his previous three games. We can’t overreact to the 15 targets and 10 catches Sunday at Chicago. After all, it was only two weeks earlier that Brandon Stokley led the team in targets. That said, Williams has started all year amid a very young corps of pass catchers and drawn 14 more looks than any other wide receiver on the team (three more than tight end John Carlson). He’s not going to put up fantasy-starter numbers every week, but point-per-reception owners should be able to at least consider him in the weekly mix. For comparison’s sake, he has just two fewer catches than Tampa’s Mike Williams – a rookie who has looked terrific and emerged as a top option for a team in need – and a nearly identical per-catch average (12.4 to 12.3). Seattle’s Williams is lacking the touchdowns, and that will continue in a weak offense. In PPR, however, he clearly brings upside.
3. Robert Meachem, WR, New Orleans
Were I playing without PPR, I would most likely place Meachem at the top of this list. That he ranks just sixth on his own team in targets (one behind No. 2 tight end David Thomas) tells you a lot about the reliability of his usage. That said, Meachem has scored from at least 35 yards out in each of the past two games and plays for a team that needs to rekindle it’s deep passing game. Drew Brees has always professed to be a fan of this young playmaker, and the two connected for a touchdown once every five completions (on average) last year. Playing Meachem will mean frustrating empty weeks, but some big ones also lie ahead.
4. Danario Alexander, WR, St. Louis
There’s a chance that this ranking will look too low within just a few weeks. Alexander was a college star just last year, hauling in 113 catches on a team where no other player topped 46. That season that also included 1,781 yards and 14 touchdowns, however, also ended with him tearing up a knee. That led to a fourth surgery on that part of his body, which happened to be sore following Sunday’s four-catch, 72-yard effort.
I wouldn’t worry about that knee soreness, but at least make note of it, combine it with the fact that he’s a rookie who joined his team in-season and the fact that he’s playing with a rookie quarterback and try to keep any expectations in check. The Rams’ receiver group is searching for a leader at this point with Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton gone for the year and Laurent Robinson constantly in and out of the lineup, but there were also three other Rams who matched Alexander’s five targets against the Chargers. St. Louis activated Alexander so early because he’s a talented, big (6-5, 215) wideout who can help a young team, and there’s no way to quantify his upside right now. Just don’t break the bank for him in a typical redraft league.
5. Louis Murphy, WR, Oakland
Murphy ranks only slightly behind Alexander because he actually has to deal with a worse quarterback situation than a team starting a rookie. That fact is evident in any league that finds him on the waiver wire this week, as Murphy has followed a promising start to the year with just four catches over his past three outings. The last of those three, however, provided some hope. Jason Campbell looked terrible against the Niners in Week 6, which should make it easy for the Raiders to turn back to Bruce Gradkowski as soon as his injured shoulder will allow. Already this season, Murphy has enjoyed two five-catch games with Gradkowski under center – the first of which coming all in the second half of a game started by Campbell. Murphy disappointed in the last game he shared with Gradkowski, but the good ones plus some 2009 success is enough to breed optimism for when the two reconnect.