Articles By Charlie Miller
Boomer Esiason played his collegiate football at the University of Maryland, where he set numerous school passing records as a left-handed honorable mention All-America quarterback in 1982 and ’83. Chosen in the second round of the 1984 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals (and the first quarterback taken that year), Esiason played nine seasons in Cincinnati, earning the NFL’s MVP award in 1988 when he led the Bengals to the Super Bowl. He was traded in 1993 to his hometown New York Jets, for whom he played three seasons. He joined the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent in 1996 and retired after the following season.
For his NFL career, Esiason completed 57 percent of his passes for 247 touchdowns and nearly 38,000 yards. He was selected to four Pro Bowls and was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 1995 for his philanthropic work with the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which he established in 1993 to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis.
Today, Esiason is an analyst for “The NFL Today” on CBS, for “Monday Night Football” on Westwood One radio, and co-host of an A.M. sports-talk show on WFAN.
Athlon Sports: What’s the major storyline in the NFL this season?
Boomer Esiason: Ultimate parity. You have no team that has fewer than two losses. I think what you’re seeing is what the NFL hopes, and that is as many teams as you can possibly get in the playoff races until the end of the season. Right now, with the exception of maybe four teams, everybody still legitimately has a chance to make it to the playoffs, as odd as that sounds.
AS: To your point, two of what had appeared to be the strongest-looking teams, the Giants and the Steelers, lost decisively on the same day. So who is the best team in the NFL now?
Esiason: The notion of “Who is the best team in the NFL at the present moment” really doesn’t hold water because things can change on a weekly basis due to injury. In this league it’s a war of attrition. And the fact that they’re going to play 18 games is even more amazing when you watch what’s happening on the field.
AS: Is that surprising to you?
Esiason: It’s not surprising because in the salary-cap era, there are two things you have the cap for: One, to keep player costs down (even though when you look at what some of the players are making you say, “What! What are you talking about?”), and two, to create a level playing field. And even teams like Tampa Bay and Cincinnati and some other teams that don’t spend a lot of money, or have more money than they can spend, are still in the mix. Tampa Bay is a prime example of what can happen when you get a great quarterback, or a budding great quarterback, in Josh Freeman. They have probably the lowest payroll in the NFL, and yet they are right in the mix for a playoff spot as we speak.
AS: Does the salary cap work against sustained success?
Esiason: I don’t know if I agree with that. You do see the same superpowers it seems the last five years at the top, mainly because they have established, great quarterbacks. That’s Brady, Manning, and Roethlisberger. And because their defense has been so good for so long, the Baltimore Ravens are in that situation. It’s certainly important when you have a difference-maker at quarterback, because he’ll always keep you in games. But it’s nice to see some new teams, namely the Jets. New Orleans is also becoming a superpower since they brought in Drew Brees. And we’ll see San Diego back in the mix. I just think it’s great to see Kansas City and Oakland relevant again and their games meaning something. Houston had a dabble there with a little success. There are teams that are on the cusp that are going to be good for a little while, I think.
AS: Two years ago, you said that oversaturation was the NFL’s biggest challenge. Does that still hold, or does the NFL have bigger challenges now?
Esiason: With the NFL Network and DirecTV and all the different blog spots and the Internet and everything else, I still think that the game is woefully oversaturated. But you would never know it by the ratings. Thursday night ratings for the NFL Network, which is not in every house in America, still had one of the highest ratings in cable TV history. I think that speaks to the popularity of the NFL. There is some cannibalization that is going on; by going to 18 games you’ll not only add two more weeks of legitimate product but you’ll be able to spread some more of that over the NFL Network.
AS: There is a greater awareness now in the league of the danger of concussions and their long-term effects. But is the league putting too much emphasis on violent hits?
Esiason: Concussions have been a big thing for a long time, and I applaud the NFL for really putting them front and center. For a long time they had this attitude that it is not a significant issue. But as we all grow older and see the generation of football players that played before me and my generation, we can see the profound negative effects that hitting your head over and over can have. So, the NFL is doing everything it possibly can to protect the players and make sure that today’s players don’t deal with the same issues that yesteryear’s players are dealing with.
AS: And now the league is considering adding two more games to a violent sport. Does that make sense?
Esiason: Roger Goodell understands how violent this game is and I think it’s one of the reasons that they’re taking the significant steps to try to curtail the many vicious hits. It is something that is obviously at the forefront. As long as the players keep getting bigger and faster and more aggressive, injuries are going to play a profound part in the success of these football teams. And even if you do have a Peyton Manning on your team, with so many injuries around him and his current roster being depleted by injuries, I doubt that we’ll see him in this year’s Super Bowl.
AS: Who will we see in this year’s Super Bowl?
Esiason: If I had to place a bet on it right now -- which doesn’t really mean much -- I’m still saying that San Diego has a very good shot at being a very good team here in the second half of the season. They’ve lost games in some heartbreaking ways. But they have as good a defense as anyone right now and a quarterback and an offense that is as dynamic as anyone’s in the NFL. They’re going to get healthy, and I do think that they will be a force when it comes to the end.
AS: What about in the NFC?
Esiason: It’s probably going to be among New Orleans, Green Bay, and New York. If I could look in my crystal ball, I’d say that we’ll see Green Bay and San Diego in the Super Bowl.
AS: Not impressed with the Falcons?
Esiason: I think they have been really good at home. I’d like to see them do a little bit more on the road. I probably mistakenly left them off the list in the NFC, but I just think that when Green Bat is healthy, they are as good as here is in the NFL.
AS: If you were NFL commissioner for a day, what is the first move you would make?
Esiason: That’s a good question. I think I would do my damndest to change the completion/touchdown rule to make it easier for everybody to understand. And the reason I say that is because Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions were not given a touchdown in the opening game, yet Kevin Walter, the wide receiver for Houston, yesterday was given a touchdown. I didn’t really see a big difference in what happened between the two plays. There is a great amount of confusion over as to what constitutes a touchdown catch and what doesn’t.
AS: What about if you were an NFL GM: What current player would you build your team around?
Esiason: Peyton Manning. I’ve watched a lot of quarterbacks do a lot of great things in my career, as a player and as a broadcaster, but the things I have witnessed from him over the last two years have been nothing short of brilliant. Of those of us who have played the position and understand all that goes into the position -- on the field, off it, in the meeting and interview rooms, calling plays, knowing personnel, and reading defenses -- there has never been a quarterback in history who has done it the way he has done it and been as successful for as long as he has been. When all is said and done with, in my eyes he will be the single greatest football player that has ever played.
AS: Are you a fantasy football player?
Esiason: I have been in the past; this year, I’m not, and the only reason for that is because last year I had four teams in four different leagues and got burned out.
AS: It’s hard to keep track, right?
Esiason: (laughing) Oh, with the injuries and all the updates, it’s hard enough for us at “The NFL Today” to figure out who’s playing, and we’ve got up-to-the-minute knowledge, you know what I mean?
AS: What’s the biggest misperception the fans have about the game?
Esiason: That the players are inhuman, that they don’t have feelings that the fans do when their team loses.
AS: How’s your foundation doing?
Esiason: We’re doing well. We’re surpassing $85 million raised by the end of this year. We are giving millions of dollars away to cystic fibrosis patients for scholarships, organ donations, and lung transplants. We have put tens of millions of dollars into research grants and tens of millions of dollars into hospital support and patient support programs. I’m very proud of what we have accomplished. The best news of all is that my son is a sophomore at Boston College. He’s living, breathing proof that if you have a disability you can live life to the fullest and really become something special. The most important thing for me as a dad is watching my son grow into a young man.
By Matt Schauf
Well, crap. I pointed out last week in my targets writeup over on our site that Rob Gronkowski had drawn eight looks in the loss to Cleveland, which more than doubled his previous high for the season.
I also mentioned via Twitter that both of Aaron Hernandez’s touchdowns at Cleveland were set up by Gronkowski: one via the pass bouncing off Gronk’s hands, and the other coming after a fourth-down PI against Gronkowski put the Patriots at the 1-yard line.
Of course, what I didn’t do was take the next step and advise claiming Gronkowski off waivers. It would have been nice to do so in advance of his three-touchdown outpouring of value at Pittsburgh.
Instead, I’ll lead into Week 11 by saying that the Sunday night production wasn’t a fluke. Sure, he will probably never again have a three-score game, but Gronkowski has been an end zone target since the exhibition games. He scored four times in those and carried three touchdowns into the Steelers matchup. The problem was that Week 9 was the first time he drew more than three targets in a regular season game.
Now, however, Gronkowski has seen at least five passes in consecutive weeks for an offense that has been looking for passing-game answers. Even if those stand as his high-water marks for the rest of the season, the upside with him is that any one-catch game stands a decent chance of putting that one catch in the end zone. Gronkowski should be claimed this week in an ever-thinning tight end field, though he’s still probably about even with Aaron Hernandez in point-per-reception formats. Others who should find a home include …
Vince Young, QB, Tennessee
Ignore his numbers against Miami on Sunday. The important thing to take away from that game regarding Young is that he finished it after relieving an injured Kerry Collins. Young opened Week 10 as the backup because of an ankle injury but should be back in the starting saddle for Week 11. That return comes at a perfect time, too, as Tennessee faces this upcoming stretch: Washington, at Houston, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Houston, at Kansas City (and at Indianapolis in Week 17). Of those five teams, four rank among the top 10 in most RapidDraft points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Washington, Houston and Jacksonville all rank among the top four heading into Monday night. Young is a free agent in nearly half of CBS leagues as I write this.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia
This one isn’t a straight pickup recommendation, and it doesn’t fit everyone. I include Kolb because there have been several times over the past couple of weeks at which I’ve encountered questions from Vick owners about what to do at quarterback. We all know that Vick’s style of play carries inherent physical risk. He’s back healthy now and says he’ll be more willing to try to avoid harm, but the Philly offensive line hasn’t been terrific and it’ll be tough for Vick to stifle his playmaker spirit on every run. Obviously, the solution is to have a quality backup on board. What’s unique here is that Vick has a handcuff available. Kolb’s numbers haven’t been amazing, but he has averaged 270 yards and totaled five touchdown passes versus three interceptions in the three games he has started and finished. For those fantasy players still able to make trades, that means you can try to deal your current backup for help at other positions and claim Kolb, who doesn’t carry much value for those who don’t own Vick.
Jason Snelling, RB, Atlanta
It should be a no-brainer for folks to pick up Fred Jackson where available after the game he had in Week 10, but Snelling is a bit less obvious, despite scoring a touchdown Thursday night. That’s because Snelling isn’t a very good fantasy starting option right now. He hasn’t carried more than seven times in a game since Week 3, though Snelling has tallied 14 receptions in his past three outings. The real value comes, however, in the frequency with which Michael Turner leaves the field. He did so without warning against Baltimore and apparently missed the time because of illness, but Turner has also been dinged up at various points over the past couple of years. Snelling has proved a strong option when Turner has been out this season, carrying a 4.2-yard average for the year and most notably running for 129 yards in Week 2. An easy handcuff option for Turner owners, Snelling makes sense for anyone with a roster spot to play with and some forward thinking. He’s unowned currently in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville
Like Gronkowski, Thomas probably won’t have another stat line like he did against Houston on Sunday, but he has no business roaming free in 69 percent of CBS leagues. The second-year wideout has only had two weeks with fewer than four catches all season and, at the least, faces positive matchups in Week 11 (Cleveland) and Week 16 (Washington). In between, he’ll still be in the starter discussion.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis
Come on, folks. I’ve been ignoring this guy for waiver-recommendation purposes for a while now, because I just figured that he’d be owned in most places. As of Monday evening, though, more than two-thirds of Yahoo! leagues have him free, as do nearly half of CBS leagues. To be fair, the difference is likely that I play almost solely in PPR formats, and although that system is growing, the majority of fantasy leagues still don’t use reception scoring. For those places, though, Amendola has found the end zone in three straight games. His quarterback is on the rise, and there aren’t a bunch of other options in town. Amendola should be picked up pretty much anywhere.
Sports Lite. So easy a caveman could read it. …
The biggest surprise of the college football season? Texas’ collapse. The Longhorns have lost six out of seven and are in danger of not playing in a bowl. According to veteran sports writers in the Lone Star State, the last time Texas was this bad, Davy Crockett was the offensive coordinator. …
Wisconsin led Indiana 69-13 in the fourth quarter on Saturday. What to do? What else? Throw a 74-yard touchdown pass. Sportsmanship. It’s what’s for dinner in Madison. …
Timberwolves forward Kevin Love set a franchise record the other night with 31 rebounds, 12 on the offensive end. Afterward, he thanked his mother for driving him to all his games as a kid and God for giving him such crappy teammates. …
Brett Favre says he’s glad he came out of retirement despite a broken ankle, sore elbow, bum shoulder and lacerated chin. Favre also says he’s holding out hope that the Vikings can make the playoffs and he can pick up his first case of jock itch. …
Who says Favre is a lock to retire after the season? He got personalized license plates last week that read: “Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Interceptions.’’ …
Not that things are getting ugly with this Cam Newton story, but his dad, Cecil, recently called Roger Clemens for advice on how to handle the P.R. nightmare. …
The elder Newton is neither confirming nor denying that he tried to extort $180,000 out of Mississippi State for his son’s services. He has, however, confirmed that he’s a raging dufus. …
Sports Lite. The official column of all those happy campers in the Vikings’ locker room. …
According to reports, a representative for quarterback Cam Newton demanded money to play at Mississippi State before he chose to sign with Auburn. Apparently, reporters became suspicious of Newton when he asked the Heisman committee if he could have cash instead of the trophy. …
Newton and Auburn officials are vehemently denying the story, saying they’ve never heard of this alleged rep or, for that matter, the Mississippi State football program.…
Then there’s LSU coach Les Miles, who eats grass on the sideline every Saturday. Hey, don’t laugh. Anybody in the SEC who has a hobby that doesn’t entail getting arrested ought to be applauded. …
Mario Manningham is a tough fantasy play due to New York’s crowded receiving corps. Hakeem Nicks has been a world-class fantasy receiver this year and Steve Smith is starting to gain momentum. Good thing for Manningham that Eli Manning averages 34 attempts a game, leaving plenty of balls to go to “secondary” receivers in the New York passing game.
This week’s opponent (Dallas) has not given up many yards through the air, but ranks second-to-last in the league in touchdowns allowed (18). In his last three games against the Cowboys, Manningham has caught 14 passes for 200 yards and two scores.
When New York last played Dallas Manning threw four touchdowns. This game could be just as kind to the receiving corps, and fantasy owners can expect Manningham to steal a piece of the pie.
Here are a few other fantasy players facing favorable matchups in Week 10 (all of the players listed are considered backups or ‘fringe’ starters in most fantasy league formats):
Ben Roethlisberger vs. New England’s pass defense
Big Ben’s numbers have been so-so the past two weeks. Fortunately for him and his Steeler teammates, this week’s contest provides a favorable matchup. The Patriot defense is ranked 29th in average passing yards allowed and tied for 21st in touchdown passes allowed (13). In a game that will help to determine the AFC playoff picture, fans can expect plenty of passing from both clubs. And based on the statistics, Roethlisberger should have his most efficient game of the year – New England ranks dead last in the league in terms of opposing quarterback completion percentage (70.1).
LeGarrette Blount vs. Carolina’s run defense
Blount stalled last week but should rebound against a Panther run defense ranked 25th. And, in terms of carries, only two NFL teams have been run on more than Carolina – Buffalo and Denver. Blount and the Buccaneers would love nothing more than to control this game on the ground, perhaps mimic what they did in their Week 2 victory (34 runs, 25 passes). Blount wasn’t in the backfield for that contest, so the Panthers have no clue what they’re in for. Here’s a glimpse: #27 using all 247 pounds to crash into linebackers and defensive backs, all afternoon.
Tim Hightower vs. Seattle’s run defense
For as long as Chris Wells is banged up, Hightower is expected to see the bulk of the carries in the Cardinals offense. That doesn’t always mean Hightower is a fantasy consideration, but he should be for this week’s game against Seattle. In Week 7, Hightower averaged 9.8 yards against the Seahawks, and in 2009 he caught nine balls over the two meetings. Seattle has allowed seven rushing touchdowns this season (tied for 21st in the league) and last week surrendered almost 200 yards on the ground to the Giants. For those fantasy owners who are shaky at the position, Hightower might be a worthwhile risk for Week 10.
Mike Sims-Walker vs. Houston’s pass defense
Any time a player faces the league’s worst run or pass defense, it should cause fantasy owners to perk up. For Sims-Walker, a meeting with Houston (298.3 passing yards allowed per game) sets the stage for a perfect encore from last week’s 153-yard effort. The Texans allow 8.2 yards per attempt and are the only NFL club to allow 20 or more touchdown passes through eight games. To top it off, last week Houston allowed an unknown (Seyi Ajirotutu) to record 111 yards and two scores. Sims-Walker was less-than-spectacular in his two starts against Houston last year; he’ll make up for it on Sunday.
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.