Friday, August 26, 2011

MLB Races Heating Up

Taking a look at the playoff picture in both leagues, there seems to be a lot of similarities. Both leagues have two Eastern teams that are pretty much guaranteed playoff spots, with the Yankees and Braves holding large leads with just a month left in the season. The Yankees are very much in the race for the division as they are just 1 game behind the Red Sox, but the Braves are 6 games back of the Phillies, who are determined to reach the 100 win plateau.

Those four teams are truly the elite of the league right now, though there are a few teams who have emerged from a muddled pack. The Brewers in particular, have been playing outstanding baseball, as they have opened up a 9.5 game lead on the Cardinals. Milwaukee has put a lot of money into this season's roster, so it's nice to finally see them play up to their potential. The Brewers have a ton of talent at the front end of their rotation, to go along with their great lineup and elite bullpen. Meanwhile the Tigers have opened up a cushion in the AL Central, as the rest of the division's struggles continues. Justin Verlander has 19 wins and is putting together one of the best seasons we've seen in awhile.

Out West, we have ourselves a pair of close races with the Angels trailing the Rangers by 2 games and the defending-champion Giants are 3 games behind the Diamondbacks. Arizona shook off a 6 game losing streak and has won 3 straight since then. The Giants have played poorly in the past month, but they have 6 games left against Arizona in the season, making for a great race in the NL West. The same could be said about the AL West with the Rangers losing their last 3 games against the Red Sox. The Angels have been able to climb back in the race by winning 6 in a row.

Even with six playoff spots with clear front-runners, we do have two races out West that will get quite interesting in late September.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Must See Head First Slide

Here is an absolutely ridiculous head first slide by a Double-A Jacksonville Suns pitcher. Hopefully he's okay, but somebody please tell me why he didn't go feet first?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Isaiah Armwood Leaves Villanova

CBS's Jeff Goodman reports that Isaiah Armwood has decided to transfer from Villanova. Armwood is a captain of the team this year and averaged 2.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game in his two years with the program. Armwood is from Maryland, so there is some speculation he could go to Maryland or George Washington.

There have been rumors in the past two years that Armwood didn't exactly enjoy Villanova, but it is still shocking to see a fellow Wildcat leave. He sat down with Jay Wright after the EuroJam trip and decided it would be best if he transferred. He wasn't forced out by the program, as Jay Wright said he didn't want him to go. With Armwood leaving, it actually proves to be beneficial to the program in terms of scholarships. Villanova would have had to revoke a scholarship from one player because it has 3 recruits coming in next year, but only 2 scholarships to offer. Now that Armwood's scholarship is gone, the Cats won't have any problems in that regard, unless they continue their recruiting efforts on Amile Jefferson, who is still considering Villanova.

As for Isaiah, he is freakishly athletic, but he never really got into a rhythm at 'Nova. He struggled mightily offensively, although he did show some signs of promise. He played well defensively, but really needs to add some weight and strength to be competitive with the rest of the country. He is a raw talent and he will certainly find a place in another program's rotation.

With all that being said, we wish you luck in the future wherever you go Isaiah. (unless it's to another Big East school)

Offseason NFL Rankings

With the first week of Preseason done, we can put a wrap to the off-season. As we get closer to the season, we will have a ton of different preview items for what will be one of the most anticipated seasons in NFL history. The first part will be based on the offseason that had all of us fans waiting in anxiety. I will give you my top 5 teams in terms of offseason acquisitions. Feel free to comment!

1. Green Bay Packers - The Superbowl Champions aren't usually the team that is most improved from the season before, but with the amount of injuries the Packers suffered last season, this team is so much better than they were against the Steelers. 16 Packers were on the IR at the end of last season, headlined by Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant. With those two coming back, the Packers improve dramatically on offense. The Packers are a fairly young team, with budding superstars in Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and Greg Jennings. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Pack is truly the "Team to Beat".

2. Philadelphia Eagles - No team has signed/acquired as much talent as the Eagles, all headlined by the signing of Nnamdi Asomugha. The addition of Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie from the Cardinals is a great pick up, as he is the best #3 CB in the league. The move that will prove to be the most beneficial is Cullen Jenkins, who they stole from Green Bay. He is an absolute beast. His size will allow the very skilled defensive ends opportunities to rush the QB with one-on-one coverage. Signing Vince Young, Steve Smith, and Jason Babin are all very good pick ups for a team that will certainly contend.

3. New England Patriots - Chad Ochocinco certainly brings in a lot of drama, but there really isn't a personality that this franchise can't handle. Ochocinco is one of the best route-runners in the NFL and that is bad news for everybody else in the NFL. Tom Brady will have three of the smartest WR's in the game with Ochocinco, Branch and Welker. The Patriots have also signed Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, and Mark Anderson on defense, giving them a deadly DL. They were also able to lock up Logan Mankins to a long-term deal, who is arguable the best interior offensive lineman in the game.

4. Houston Texans - The signing of Jonathon Joseph is huge for the Texans, who were also in the Nnamdi race. Joseph is an elite cornerback and will help shore up one of the worst secondaries in the game. Danieal Manning was an important pickup as well, with the loss of Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson. The Texans have the offense to compete with the best in the NFL, but they needed to get better defensively. Hiring Wade Phillips, who struggled as the Dallas Cowboy Head Coach, as the defensive coordinator could be one of their most important acquisitions.

5. New Orleans Saints - This is not a popular pick, but hear me out on this one. Drew Brees and the Saints run a spread offense with a ton of skilled wide receivers. RBs also line up out there and are very involved in the passing game. The Saints' major addition this year was running back Darren Sproles. Sproles is best fit in this offense, as he has great hands and is one of the quickest players in the league. He will prove to be a 3rd down killer. The already solid OL got a little boost with the signings of Olin Kreutz and Alex Barron, giving Drew Brees the depth he needs with his line.

Overall I think it's fair to say that the Eagles are definitely the team that went out and did the most this offseason, but the Packers are better than they were when they won the Superbowl last year. Aaron Rodgers has put himself with the elite quarterbacks in the game and they are the favorites to win the title this year. However, football is like no other sport. Nothing is decided on paper, so it will be interesting to see how this season plays out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Franchise: A Glimpse Into the World Champs Locker Room

Remember the first season of Survivor? There was a strong buzz around the country about the newest form of television. Watching real people, unscripted, saying whatever came to mind when and where they wanted? Unheard of. Since then we have been graced and disgraced alike by a glut of Paradise Island, Big Brother, The Bachelor, and the ultra popular Jersey Shore. Survivor is in what seems to be its 32nd season, and the reality show genre is taking another turn, right into the locker rooms and clubhouses of our favorite sports teams.

Favorite might not be the right word. While it is true that a show about the Yankees, or the Cowboys, or any other of the more popular, ESPN driven teams that find their way into America's living rooms month in and month out would undoubtedly fetch more viewers, television is a different game all together. Television programs have one criteria altogether. Be compelling. Show me a program that isn't compelling, and I'll show you one that is cancelled after one season. Sports and TV are different in that respect. Fans of teams will still follow the team year in and year out, even if the team is horrible. Fans will always have hope for their team. They have no patience for a struggling TV program. They will move on to the next good one.

It is important to make this distinction. Television thrives on characters. And any sports driven TV program needs strong characters. That's why Rex Ryan of the New York Jets was such a great choice for the inaugural season of HBO's Hard Knocks. The foulmouthed coach held nothing back from the microphone that sat on his hip, and the country got to see how training camp worked from start to finish. It was a fresh take on reality television, and most of all, it was a compelling and entertaining look into something that hardly anybody in the country gets to see: a professional locker room.

And now, HBO's rival station Showtime is trying to get in on the sports reality scene. But instead of football, it is tackling the world of Major League Baseball. What better team to follow then the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants? If we return to the point that television needs a compelling cast of characters and a strong story line to retain viewers, then this year's Giants team is almost a no-brainer.

While the focus is on the season of the team, there are definitely overarching storylines of individual players and their plights. Perhaps the most impressive, heartwarming, and generally amazing baseball stories of the last 10 years, Ryan Vogelsong is having a season for the ages. At 34 years old, and being relegated to Japan since 2008, the prodigal sons return to San Francisco has been truly something to behold. As of today he leads the NL in ERA.

Perhaps one of the most amusing characters is Giants Closer Brian Wilson. While he is a polarizing figure around the country, he is nothing if not entertaining. Say what you want about his beard, and his love for the spotlight, the man delivers memorable quote after memorable quote, especially at the end of the first episode. There are many other characters in the group of misfits who overcame the odds to win the World Series last year, but there is just not enough room here.

Now here's the big question, the one that makes this such a risky idea. Who's going to watch it? Giants fans, obviously. Being one myself, I eat this crap up. I can't get enough of anything Giants. Hell, I'll even stop everything I'm doing just to watch ESPN air a rare piece about them. But who else? I'm not sure. While I could beg and plead my Phillies fan (phan?) friends, or my Yankees fan friends, or anybody else, they probably have no interest. My hope, and I'm sure Showtime's hope is that the characters on the Giants are so compelling that even non fans will keep coming back to the team of loveable castoffs.

So I beg, plead, implore, and urge you to check out this series. It wont switch your allegiance from the Red Sox, or the Yankees, or the Phillies, that's not its attempt, or mine for that matter. It is simply a very interesting look into the lives and homes of a group of professional baseball players and their families and their lives. Check out the first episode and I guarantee you'll be coming back for more. Unless you're a Dodgers fan.

The AL Central Champion....Chicago White Sox?

Ranked 19th in the league in runs and 15th in ERA, how could I even consider them playoff contenders? The Chicago White Sox have been very disappointing this year to say the least, stumbling through the first three months of the year. After defeating the Cleveland Indians last night, they've managed to get a game over .500 and reach within 3.5 games of the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers. The White Sox' struggles all start with big Adam Dunn and his .162 batting average. He has just 11 homeruns this year, while driving in a measly 40 runs. So with an automatic out in the lineup, how could this team win the division? The answer is simple: strength of schedule.

The White Sox actually have the lowest strength of schedule in the AL so far this year, but their schedule gets even easier for the rest of the year. After this patch of games against contenders (Indians, Rangers, Angels), 10 of their next 13 games are against the Mariners and Twins. The Sox also have 7 games left against the Royals, before finishing up their season vs. Toronto. Of course they have some tough division games against Detroit and Cleveland (6 and 10 respectively), but that puts matters in to their own hands. 16 more games against AL Central contenders, 5 against AL West contenders, and 20 against non-contenders are all that remain for the regular season. Going 25-16 the rest of the way would give them 87 wins on the year and probably get them into the playoffs. The 25 wins are definitely possible for the White Sox, who have won 9 of their last 11.

A lot of this falls on to rookie Tyler Flowers, who will be starting a lot of games with A.J. Pierzynski gone to the DL. Juan Pierre and Paul Konerko are both putting together great years once again, but if the other bats in the lineup start to heat up, watch out for these White Sox. Quentin, Dunn, Ramirez, Beckham and Rios have all struggled this year, but are way too talented to perform this poorly.

The pitching rotation is doing okay with Buehrle leading the way, but John Danks is pitching a lot better as of late. This team is built like a playoff contender and they are playing their best baseball of the year right now. Coming into the season they were the easy pick to win the AL Central, but they haven't lived up to the hype. The South Side of Chicago is yearning for yet another playoff run, so Ozzie better get his troops lined up or this team could be blown up this winter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

600 and 300

One was drafted in 1989. The other in 1991. Neither were selected in the first ten rounds of the draft. Despite all of the factors preventing them from being MLB stars, they both accomplished huge feats last night. Jim Thome socked his 599th and 600th homerun in Detroit last night, while Jason Isringhausen notched his 300th career save in San Diego. Both have been around the league, playing in both the NL and AL. Thome has played for five teams compared to Isringhausen's four, except he is currently in his second stint with the Mets.

Let's start with Thome. In an age marked by steroids and doping, this feat should not be overlooked. Thome is clean, I can assure you that. More importantly, he is one of the "good guys" in baseball. Everybody loves him. He's a model citizen, doesn't complain, suits up every night, and hits for a lot of power. He's putting his 10 nieces and nephews through college, while also being voted as one of the most friendly players in baseball by his peers. He doesn't speak much through the media and it seems as if everybody in the game has the utmost respect for him.

On the baseball side of his career, Thome is a definite Hall of Famer in my mind. If you happen to follow ESPN's Skip Bayless on Twitter, he still says Thome is NOT a Hall of Famer. I don't even think there's a chance he doesn't make the Hall. He has a career .960 OPS, which is 17th all-time. He's produced for a long time, as he has 11 homeruns in 64 games in his 21st season this year. His career year was in 2002, which was his final season with the Indians. He hit .304/.445/.677 with 52 homeruns and 118 RBI.

Last night, Thome hit two homers to left field, showcasing his strength to the opposite field. He received a standing ovation from the Detroit crowd, as he was congratulated by teammates and family at home plate.

On the other hand we have Jason Isringhausen. He grew up in the New York Mets farm system, forming a part of "Generation-K" for the Mets in 1995. Although that group didn't live up to the hype, Isringhausen found success as a closer. He struggled as a starter and was traded to the A's, where he was used as a relief pitcher and closer. He made a name for himself as a top-notch closer in Oakland, before signing with the Cardinals in 2002. In 2004 Izzy led the league with 47 saves and in 2005 he had an ERA of 2.14.

Izzy's career has been tarnished by injuries, but he enjoyed a lot of success in the past ten years. This past off-season he was signed to a minor-league contract with the Mets in February and was promoted to the team on April 10. He settled in as the setup man to Francisco Rodriguez, but when Frankie was traded to the Brewers, Isringhausen found himself as the closer, needing just 7 saves to 300. Isringhausen has completed a full circle now, as he also recorded his first career save when he was with the Mets.

Congratulations to both Jim Thome and Jason Isringhausen!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Approaching NFL Season- More of the Same?

The NFL preseason games are already underway and the regular season itself will begin in a few weeks. This is arguably the most anticipated NFL season in recent memory. For a time it was unclear whether or not the season could be saved in the face of the lockout. When a new agreement was reached, the floodgates opened and free agency began with a bang. The shortened off-season and preseason required teams to make drastic free agent moves, which produced a flurry of media sensation. Obviously, some teams made a bigger splash then others (I'm looking at you Philly). However, in spite all of the last minute drama and built up excitement that's occurred, I can't help but think: isn't all of this hype a little unnecessary?
Now, to be clear-- I am ecstatic that the NFL season is going to happen (even though I'll be halfway around the world and will only see what ESPN decides to throw my way). But the historical record of Super Bowl winners indicates this: your team needs to have a very good quarterback and a very good defense to win it all. Only two teams within the past decade have won the Super Bowl without a Pro Bowl quarterback (Baltimore and Tampa Bay), but they had defenses that could quite literally score points on their own and they reliably allowed minimal offensive progress. Obviously, this is mostly common sense. Anyone who knows football knows this to be true. But I think its extremely important to keep this in mind heading into the regular season-- because it truly does eliminate some of the unpredictability of the game moving forward.
All games are dependent on chance and luck to some degree. Injuries play the biggest role. One injury could easily rob a team for a chance at the title. Sometimes teams gel together in an unpredictable fashion, and sometimes they falter out of the blue. But football, unlike other sports, realistically comes down to one man: the quarterback. If a team doesn't have a championship caliber man directing the offense, they probably can't win it all. That should hold true this year-- no defense out there brings back memories of the 2000 Ravens. So if you told me that Green Bay, Philadelphia, Atlanta or New Orleans was going to play New England, Indianapolis, the Jets or Baltimore for the Super Bowl, you'd probably be right. This is not to say that teams expected to succeed in other sports don't or won't-- but rather that the NFL has two requirements that are consistently there on championship teams. Since there are only a handful of teams that seem to have those requirements as of now, it just seems a little less exciting.
But that doesn't really matter. It's football season. Let's go.
FYI-- Eagles are bringing home the Lombardi trophy.

The State of the NL West

Before I begin this post, I would like to apologize to all of the readers out there who waited and waited and waited for me to publish a post. I was in the middle of the wilderness with hardly any internet access, which means almost no sporting world coverage, which means that it would be generally irresponsible for me to chime in on any of the world's goings on. Or maybe it was just my mom who was waiting for months for me to publish. Whatever the case, I am now, once again, a regular contributor to The Point After! Lets get on with it...

The Wild West indeed. Well...maybe not. Looking at the standings on this sunny day from my home in San Francisco, the West is a two team story. Forget about last year's plucky Padres, or '08 and '09's dynamic Dodgers. You should even forget about the horrible Arizona Diamondbacks of last year. Why? Because the Diamondbacks went from the 3rd worst team in all of baseball to a team that is currently two games ahead of last year's World Series Champions the San Francisco Giants. And while the rest of the NL West is almost completely out of the picture (barring a minor miracle), the landscape of the NL West really comes down to two teams. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants.

Lets start with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After a series of moves to strengthen an absolutely wretched bullpen in the offseason, a team that always had a collection of young superstars in waiting is starting to bloom. Led by the ultratalented Justin Upton, the recently broken Stephen Drew, a resurgent J.J. Putz and a very underrated collection of starters led by former Yankee Ian Kennedy. At 68-53, the Diamondbacks have made a complete 180 from last season, already improving on their win total from last year with a month and a half to play. As a Giants fan I believed that they were a mirage a month ago. Now, with them taking the lead from the Giants, I'm not so sure.

The Diamondbacks suffered a huge blow in the losses of Stephen Drew and, more recently, Jason Marquis yesterday. Stephen Drew is the bigger of the two losses, as he plays everyday and Marquis only affects a game every five days. So far the Diamondbacks have been able to keep pace with the Giants, but as we get deeper into the dog days of the summer, will the Dbacks fade or surge past the Giants? Only September will tell.

Meanwhile, the Giants have been just awful in the last month. Their offense ranks among the lowest in the majors in almost every single statistical category, they are scoring almost a run less per game then they were during last years title run. Their big trade deadline acquisition, Carlos Beltran, hasn't played in week and has been considered a bust by many for what they gave up to bring him to the City By The Bay. And yet, they are still in middle of this race for one reason: Their pitching staff.

By pitching staff, I'm talking about the entirety of their 13 man pitching staff. The starters are well heralded, to be sure, but their bullpen is one of the best in the Majors. Brian Wilson and his beard are tied for 2nd in saves in the MLB. Sergio Romo is having an almost historical season. And let's not forget what Javier Lopez did to the Phillies left handed juggernauts in the NLCS and continues to do this season. Every single member of the bullpen is a strength. Of course there are relievers that Giants fans would prefer to have in the game at any point, but realistically, each one is having a great season and can shut the door at a moments notice.

The West is going to shape up to be an unbelievable run at the postseason once again. Wild West indeed.

Are the New York Giants Contenders?

Interesting to note that in a division with teams from Philadelphia and Dallas, the team from New York is the one nobody is talking about. The Eagles, or the "all-hype" team according to Dallas Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, has added a ton of superstar-type talent. The Dallas Cowboys will always have the spotlight on them, due to the "America's Team" designation by Owner Jerry Jones. Additionally, Redskins QB Rex Grossman, declared that his team will win the NFC East, even though Washington has 10 wins in the past 2 seasons combined. Then we have the New York Football Giants. It hasn't been a good offseason for the Giants, but even with all of the talk going on about the other teams in the NFC East, I think that the Giants will actually be better than most people think.

The aging offensive line of last year has been changed, as they have entrusted William Beatty to be the new LT. David Diehl will move over to LG in the revamped Giants offensive line. There aren't any flashy additions to the Giants roster, but they've put together a team that will compete. Their defensive line is still among the best in the NFL and with news that Osi Umenyiora will rejoin the team at training camp, the defense will get even better.

Eli Manning will need to find another safety blanket now that Steve Smith and Kevin Boss have left via free agency, but the Giants do have some young options. Travis Beckum is their answer to replace Boss, even though he isn't as good of a blocker as the new Oakland TE. Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon, and Victor Cruz will all be crucial pieces of the offense as they play along side Hakeem Nicks, who had a breakout season last year.

Bradshaw is back to the starting RB role and as long as he stays healthy, he will have a solid season. Despite all the hatred and criticism, Eli Manning is a solid QB. He's shown his clutch playmaking ability and he has fully embraced the role as the veteran leader on the offense.

Defensively, the Giants are relying heavily on Kenny Philips, who is coming off a disappointing year. Along with Antrel Rolle, Terrell Thomas, and Corey Webster, the Giants have enough talent to be a above-average defense.

The Giants don't ever look pretty playing football, but they have a lot of fight in them. They will win games and compete in the NFC. There is no doubt that the Eagles are the most talented team in the division, but the Giants will definitely be in the conversation for the Wild Card spots.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Much Anticipated 2011 NFL Season

It's that time of year again when we all prepare for the beginning of the NFL season. With a very busy free agency period, there may be several shifts of power in the NFC, but very little in the AFC. In shortened offseasons like this, only the most organized teams will succeed, and my playoff teams reflect that. Feel free to comment or criticize. Here are my predictions for this coming season:


1. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) This team is not even close to a dream team, but they are compared to the rest of the division. The linebacking core needs help, but barring any serious injuries, the rest of the team is set.

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) The Cowboys look to rebound from last year's dismal season, and with a healthy Romo, and Jason Garrett at the helm, they should rebound nicely. I see Wildcard.

3. New York Giants (8-8) The Giants are the Giants. They have 40 Pro Bowl caliber defensive ends, and not much else. They will be somewhat respectable, but this will be Tom Coughlin's final year with the G-men.

4. Washington Redskins (6-10) Mike Shannahan lives a tough life. He has two delusional QBs. John Beck thinks he's better than McNabb, and Rex Grossman believes the 'skins will win the East. If I were Shannahan, I'd start Kellen Clemens.

1. Green Bay Packers (11-5) The defending Super Bowl Champs will be back to the playoffs again in a relatively weak division.

2. Chicago Bears (9-7) Before the Bears take the next step, Jay Cutler needs to become a man and the O-line needs to step up.

3. Detroit Lions (8-8) The lovable Lions will dramatically improve this year with one of the best defensive lines in the league.

4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10) Leslie Frazier has a tough road ahead. McNabb has seen his best years pass him by, and I don't expect much out of this team.

1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4) With the addition of Julio Jones, this offense will be one of the best in the league. Their secondary is a bit suspect, but I think they will have no problem winning the South.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) I love what Raheem Morris has done with this team. They didn't do much of anything during the free agency period, but I think this team will be ready to go, and will get a taste of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

3. New Orleans Saints (10-6) I'm sorry Saints fans. The roster is solid, and the schedule is favorable, but 2 losses to the Falcons and another to the Bucs will send them to the living room couch for the playoffs.

4. Carolina Panthers (2-14) This team is making moves, but it is still a huge work in progress. Having the toughest schedule in the NFL will toughen them up.

1. Arizona Cardinals (7-9) This division is the worst in North American professional sports. You could pick these teams out of a hat to determine who will win the division. I happened to pick the Cards. And for the second straight season, a loser steals a playoff spot in the NFC.

2. San Francisco 49ers (7-9) It seems like no matter what this team does, they just can't meet expectations. Luckily there aren't many high expectations for this team. I personally think they should throw the whole season so that Coach Harbaugh can reunite with Andrew Luck in next year's NFL Draft. But for now, 55 year old Joe Montana might be a better option at QB

3. St. Louis Rams (7-9) Sam Bradford is a great young quarterback, but this team is not ready to make a playoff run. Their first half schedule is also known as "death".

4. Seattle Seahawks (6-10) This team is going to have some trouble this season. The other three teams in the West have gotten better, and with trips to Pittsburgh and Dallas, and visits from Baltimore and Philadelphia, it's going to be a long season for Pete Carroll and co.


1. New England Patriots (14-2) I honestly do not see this team slowing down for anyone. A split with the Jets and a loss to the Eagles will be the only hiccups this season.

2. New York Jets (12-4) The Jets will play second fiddle to the Patriots this season. This is a very good team, but the Patriots will be too tough to overcome.

3. Miami Dolphins (8-8) The Dolphins feel like the Toronto Blue Jays of football. Forever stuck behind the Red Sox and Yankees.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-13) The Baltimore Orioles (to continue the MLB analogy) of this division have absolutely no upside and will stay in the basement this season. The defense is okay, but the offense will drag them down.

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3) The dark horse in the AFC. This team has almost all the pieces in place to make a serious Super Bowl run. With one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, combined with veterans on both sides of the ball who know how to win, look out for the Ravens.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) The defending AFC champs are still a solid team. Just not as solid as Baltimore. This team is getting old, and I think it's going to catch up to them this season. A loss to the Chiefs in late November will cost them a playoff spot.

3. Cleveland Browns (6-10) Peyton Hillis is the talk of the town and the cover of Madden. They will get off to a 5-3 start, but the second half of their schedule is also known as "death".

4. Cincinnati Bengals (1-15) Dreadful.

1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) Peyton does it again, leading this team to yet another division title. They looked vulnerable several times last season, and will be tested this season. But don't sleep on them.

2. Houston Texans (9-7) The Texans have the pieces in place to contend, but will have a tough road ahead with games against Atlanta, Tampa, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and two against Indy.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) Jack Del Rio is on the hotseat, and will most likely get his ticket out of town after this season. The Jags have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, and will take a step back from last season.

4. Tennessee Titans (6-10) With the losses of Jeff Fisher, Jim Washburn, Jason Babin, and Vince Young, this team has little hope this season. Chris Johnson could have a career year, facing a slew of bad rush defenses.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) I am very impressed by the job that Todd Haley has done with this team. They have a tough road ahead of them, but going 5-1 in the division should help them tremendously.

2. San Diego Chargers (8-8) The Bolts will take yet another step back from the previous season. Norv Turner gets his walking papers, and it's time to rebuild in San Diego.

3. Denver Broncos (5-11) In John Fox's first year with Denver, it shouldn't be too hard to improve on that bum Josh McDaniels' record in 2010. This team is still bad.

4. Oakland Raiders (5-11) As long as Al Davis is in charge, this team will go nowhere. The departure of Nnamdi will take a toll on this defense. There are high expectations in Oakland after an 8-8 finish last year, but I think they take a step back this year.

NFC Playoff Teams

AFC Playoff Teams

The rest is up to your imagination. Enjoy the 2011 NFL season.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What's the Point: How the Wildcats get to D1

As a die-hard Villanova sports fan, nothing would make me happier than seeing Villanova football move up to division one, via the Big East Athletic Conference. Recently, there has been mutual interest on both the part of the school and the Big East about a move. The move makes sense for many reasons. In short, the Big East wants to expand their stable of football teams to keep up with the bigger, more powerful conferences. Villanova is a logical choice because they are already a member of the Big East in basketball, and have had much success lately in the FCS, (Football Championship Series) which is one level below division one. They have recently recruited many players worthy of playing division one football. My colleague Greg Thompson goes into more detail on the merits of the Villanova-Big East union here. However, two things stand in the way of a happy Villanova-Big East marriage: a subpar stadium, and a lack of enthusiasm for Villanova Football.

The first reason, the stadium, is by far the biggest obstacle to Villanova joining the Big East. As the Big East was considering the addition of the Wildcats, several schools had a big concern with Nova's stadium, which only holds about 18,000 people, and the ability of Villanova to help the conference generate revenue and not be a financial drag on the Big East. In all honesty, the stadium looks a lot like my high school stadium, which is not saying much. It is unlikely that the school will build a division one appropriate stadium. So, the Cats would have to play elsewhere. This is totally feasible, seeing as Nova basketball has many of its games in downtown Philadelphia, about 45 minutes from school. Some options include Ben Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania, which is a cavernous stadium, or PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union, which seats only 20,000 or so but would generate much more revenue than Villanova Stadium. There are options here. But clearly, playing at a football field reminiscent of a high school stadium is not one of them.

While Nova and the Big East wrangle over stadium size and revenue, there is another issue that must be addressed: Villanova football's flaky support from the student body. I understand that Villanova is a basketball school and that that takes precedence in the minds of many students. Maybe it is the fact that we are not currently competing at the highest level. But, when I see the majority of our student section arriving in the middle of the first quarter or hear only a few students really cheering, I do not think division one football. I think high school football, consistent with the size and look of our stadium.

There are times when the Villanova student section is really into the game and fully cheering the team on. But these instances are too few and far between. In order to get into the Big East and take that big next step, we, the student section, must fully commit to Villanova football. By showing passion and true support for the team, we will have the opportunity not only to cheer our Wildcats on to victory, but to send a message to administrators and decision-makers that Villanova is ready and capable to support a Big East football program. We can make a difference, we just have to let our voices be heard.

The best way to support a team is with force and coordination. Luckily, my friend and colleague Brendan Garrity has just what we need. Recently, Bendan has started an organization called "Talley's Troops," affectionately named after Coach Andy Talley himself. This group will be used to organize support for Villanova football, including chants, team information, and everything you need to know as a Villanova football fan. This is the same guy who started the "I believe" chant at Nova basketball games, so he has some experience with this kind of thing. United, we can show our support for Villanova football while sending a message that we, the fans, are ready to take the next step with this team.

There are many things as fans we cannot control. The stadium issues are a perfect example of this. But, by joining an organization such as Talley's Troops and really going out and supporting the team, we can change the perception of Villanova football. We can make a difference, and by showing our support as a true student section, we can do our part to help the team, and Villanova itself, take the next step.

What's the Point is a column written by David Straple. Feel free to comment.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

PGA Championship Preview

WGC Bridgestone is in the books, and with its completion comes a great deal of drama. Rickie Fowler did in fact finish in the top 10 (second to be exact), but this rising star took a backseat to the Steve Williams and Tiger Woods “feud.”

When all was said and done, Adam Scott (Stevie’s new employer) had won the tournament with a final score of 17-under, with Tiger finishing tied for 37th at 1-over. Williams felt a great deal of satisfaction with this win, even saying that it was the “MOST satisfying win he’s ever had.” Adam Scott put together a phenomenal performance at WGC Bridgestone, but Stevie made it sound like he won the tournament, just for the purpose of taking a shot at Tiger Woods.

Will this scuffle between Woods and Williams carry over to the PGA Championship? I doubt it. Both needed to let off some steam, and they have. Now it’s time to purely focus on golf.

With that being said, who is the favorite to win this weekend’s 93rd PGA Championship? For starters, the guy who won last week looks like a top candidate. I couldn’t help but notice that Adam Scott’s swing looks a lot like Tiger’s old swing, the one that won him 14 majors? I like Scott’s chances in the final major of the season, especially with the consistency he has shown with that long putter.

Even though Scott is my favorite to win, there are a few other golfers to watch. Both Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlory put together strong performances at WGC and will be in the hunt come Sunday. I also expect Jason Day and veteran Steve Stricker to be towards the top of the leaderboard when all is said in done. My wild card for the tournament is Hunter Mahan. Mahan struggled last week at Firestone, but he has performed well all year and is due for his first major victory.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Are the Blue Jays stealing signs?

Stealing signs has gone on for decades, but is one team taking it to another level? ESPN's Amy Nelson and Peter Keating take a deep look into multiple reports of the Toronto Blue Jays stealing signs at their home ball park, The Rogers Centre: Signs of trouble in Toronto

Here's a little taste of the article:

"The players weren't exactly sure how the man in white knew what was coming -- maybe, they thought, he was receiving messages via his Bluetooth from an ally elsewhere in the stadium who had binoculars or access to the stadium feed. But they quickly picked up the wavelength of his transmissions: He was raising his arms over his head for curveballs, sliders and changeups. In other words, anything besides fastballs.
A few of the players in the bullpen turned their backs to the field to fixate on the man in white, while others watched the stadium's radar gun. As soon as each pitch was thrown, those watching the man would call out what they thought he was signaling, and those focused on the radar gun would confirm his signal. Sure enough, the man in white was raising his arms above his head before every off-speed pitch and doing nothing when the pitch being called was a fastball."
                                                              -Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating

Monday, August 8, 2011

Phillies are the Clear Cut #1

Just about 50 games remain in the regular season of the baseball season and only a few teams have truly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. In the American League, the division leaders are the Rangers, Tigers, and the Red Sox. The Yankees hold a large lead in the wild card, as the Angels are 7 games back. The AL West is becoming one of the best races of the summer, with the Angels pulling within 1 game of the Rangers. The Central is still undetermined, but the White Sox and Indians have struggled so much lately that the Tigers seem to be the only consistent team in the division.

In the National League, the Giants have fallen back a bit, which has allowed the Arizona Diamondbacks to climb back in the race. The Snakes are just a half game back and play their next seven games against the Houston Astros and New York Mets. The Giants play Pittsburgh this week, before travelling to Florida during the weekend. Despite the surge by the Diamondbacks, they still trail the Braves by 4 games in the Wild Card. The only other team with a realistic shot at the Wild Card are the Cardinals, who are 4.5 games back. With the recent 10 game losing streak of the Pirates and the fall of the Cincinnati Reds, the NL Central has become a two-team race, with the Brewers leading by 3.5 games.

With all of these close races, there is one team in the NL that has basically cemented their name for October. The Philadelphia Phillies have won 9 of their past 10 and have a ridiculous record of 73-40. They own the best pitching staff in baseball, but more importantly their offense is doing enough to win games. The addition of Hunter Pence will be crucial for this team in October, as it adds a right handed bat to protect Ryan Howard. The Phils seem to be unstoppable right now. They hold a 8.5 game lead on the Braves and have proven they have the guns to beat the Giants this timearound. The Phillies are a battle tested team and are clearly the best team in baseball right now. With all the hype around the Red Sox and Yankees, the Phillies are better than both. Just looking down the roster, the Red Sox and Yankees don't have enough pitching to match the Phillies. The only team with the rotation to give Philadelphia a problem is San Francisco.

VU Hoops: 2011 Football Preview

For all of you die-hard Villanova Football fans, be sure to check out VU Hoops' detailed position-by-position preview. There's even some videos of training camp and a projected depth chart!

VU Hoops 2011 Football Preview

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bright Clothes; Bright Future

It seems that the next generation of standout golfers is making its way up the leader board and up the world rankings. Over the past few years, the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, and Rory McIlroy have established themselves as legitimate contenders on the PGA tour.

Johnson, Day, and McIlroy all have at least one PGA tour win under their belt, McIlroy being the only one with a major victory. Each of these three have page one leaderboard experience in a major. I’m sure we all remember Dustin Johnson’s breakdown at Pebble Beach in 2010 and Rory McIlroy’s similar meltdown at Augusta earlier this year.

However, Johnson and McIlroy have bounced back nicely from their recent struggles. McIlroy had a historic win at Congressional in June, shooting a 72-hole score of 16-under par, a U.S. Open record. Johnson had a runner up finish at The Open Championship in July. Jason Day has also fared well in recent majors, finishing second at both the Masters and the U.S. Open.

So, where is Rickie Fowler?

The 22 year old has yet to win on the PGA Tour but is coming off of a top 5 finish at The Open Championship. When I had the opportunity to watch the Oklahoma State star play at the AT&T National earlier this summer, I liked what I saw. He has a quick, yet consistent pre-shot routine and a compact, yet powerful swing. He ranks in the top 25 in driving distance and has better putting statistics than that of Johnson, Day, and even McIlroy.

Rickie Fowler is the definition of a young gun. He has charisma, flashiness, power, and confidence. What he does not have at the moment, however, is accuracy. Nearly every other one of his drives misses the fairway, and this certainly hurts his chances to put up a low score.

Despite his wild tendencies, I believe that Rickie will make a serious run, both in the FedEx Cup and in the world rankings. He hits nearly 70% of his greens in regulation, despite his driving troubles, and when he makes the cut, he is a contender, shooting under par in every tournament this season. Fowler has less experience than Day, Johnson, and McIlroy, which means that he can be easily molded into a more accurate player.

Rickie tees off this weekend at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, and despite the hype of Tiger’s return, I would not be surprised to see him finish in the top 10.