Friday, August 31, 2012

NFL players could strike over replacement officials

Article by Ian Palmer:

There’s no players lockout to worry about this season in the NFL, but things are far from hunky dory as the league announced that replacement referees are going to be in place when the new season kicks off. The officials and league are still quite far apart in their negotiations, especially when it comes to retirement benefits and the NFL won’t hesitate to keep on using replacements.

The league said the replacement officials have undergone an extensive training period and have all been evaluated. In fact, they’ve already been working in the league’s preseason games. To help with the transition, the league said it will be bringing in former veteran officials to supervise them. The former officials will be in contact with the game officials and will let them know how they’re doing.

The league said current officials have been offered a retirement package that averages $20,000 per year, but the officials' union is seeking more. DeMaurice Smith, who is the executive director of the NFL Players Association, isn’t happy with the use of replacement officials and said payer safety is a concern. He said the league has spent a lot of years training officials and they know how to protect the players. He said it’s absurd to use replacements at this point in time. The NFL Referees Association has been locked since June.
It’s been reported that along with retirement and salary issues, there’s also a disagreement between the league and players concerning operational methods. The NFL wants to be able to recruit officials and train them, but also want the power to replace those who aren’t up to par. The league wants to evaluate officials the same way that players and coaches are evaluated and hopes to do this by hiring more officials as well as employing full-time officials.

The league wants to hire an additional three officiating crews, which would bring the total number of officials up to 140. The NFLRA said it has no problem with this idea as long as the full-time officials are properly paid for their work. The officials say they want to get back to work as soon as they can, but the NFL has so far issued a take-it-or-leave-it stance.

The NFL Players Association could actually help sway the pendulum in the negotiations though since Smith said players are concerned about the work of the replacements during the preseason. He said it’s possible that the players could stage a strike as a form of protest since it’s the job of an employer’s to provide its employees with a safe environment to work in. He said if the NFL fails to live up to its obligation the players have the right to do what they feel is appropriate.

Smith added that the NFL always emphasizes experience when it talks about its officials and combined, the current crew has about 1,500 years of it in the NFL. He said he doesn’t understand why the league would want to shun these officials and replace them with a group of inexperienced referees. He said it seems like the league is more concerned about money than it is about the experience of the officials and the safety of the players.

The NFL has gone through this situation before when replacements officials worked the first week of the 2001 season.

College Football is back

My favorite time of year is here!!!

College Football has started, and here are my thoughts for week 1.

August 30th

#9 South Carolina 17
    Vanderbilt 13

Vanderbilt is still a little undermanned for the SEC, but they are getting there.  Jordan Rodgers has some of his big brother's talent and Jordan Matthews can seriously do the damn thing.  You won't see a Wide Receiver run away from a South Carolina defense very often, and he sure as did in the second quarter.

As for South Carolina, are at least some of what we expected them to be.  Marcus Lattimore looked like himself.  He is fast and physical, and can carry this team through most of their schedule.  South Carolina has to be thanking their lucky stars that Connor Shaw's injury wasn't serious enough to keep him out.

Brigham Young 30
Washington State 6

Mike Leach already has Wazzu putting better talent on the field, and his offense is going to be exciting to watch.  But, you don't want to hear "freshman starter" that many times in the first quarter of your first game.  Yes, it says you have better talent coming in, but freshman starters should be an exception, and they should be special.  They have some very nice young players, but I don't think I would define them all as special.

That said, they looked polished early on offense, which is a scary thought because they will only get better at running Leach's version of the Air Raid.

But, it wasn't very scary tonight.  BYU was more talented, more experienced, and flat out walloped the visiting Cougars.  I don't know how good Bronco Mendenhall's team will be in the grand scheme of things, but after last night and looking at their schedule,  this could be a 10 win season.

Central Florida 56
     Akron 14

I don't know about you, but I am always happy tosee a Bowden walking the sideline in college football.  Terry is trying to work his way back to the big time, but his first game at Akron showed just how much work is left to do.

Central Florida is a decent team, but they dominated the Zips who did far too an impersonation of their namesake.  Of course, after winning 2 games in the past 2 seasons combined, it was not surprising to see that the Zips are a little short on talent against an expected bowl team.

There were some encouraging items for the Zips.  Their offensive scheme had some success.  They want to run up tempo, and they did that getting 81 offensive snaps.  However, they turned the ball over 4 times.  That is something that a team that is physically overmatched just cannot afford to do.

    UCLA 49
     Rice 24

A good football team should beat the Rice Owls by a good number.

The question is, does this mean that UCLA is a good football team?  They have made some strides back towards respectability the past few seasons, but they haven't been able to crest that hump.  Many of their hopes lie on the shoulders of Brett Hundley, their redshirt-freshman Quarterback.  They should be encouraged after his efficient performance.  75% completed with 2 TD's plus a 72 yard TD run.  He could be the kind of difference maker that they have been long in search of.

Arizona State 63
 N. Arizona 6

This just in, Todd Graham can still coach an offense. 

Arizona State should dominate Northern Arizona, and they did just that.  His quick paced spread attack, and a new found discipline, was far more than Northern Arizona could deal with.  But, like I said, they should dominate the smaller school from Flagstaff.

The tuneups are over though.  Next 3 up are Illinois, Missouri, and Utah.  For those who aren't paying attention, that's Big 10, SEC, and Pac-12 south rival.  We'll see how far Graham has brougth these boys real quick here.

 Minnesota 30
   UNLV 27

A triple overtime game to start the season, and a big non-conference win for the Golden Gophers.  Yes, I recognize that beating UNLV is not that big a win, but that is the state of the Minnesota program. 

That said, the Gophers had an athletic advantage of the Rebels.  They just didn't play well enough to take advantage of that.  But, they were mentally tough enough to put their mistakes behind them and pull out a win after repeatedly giving away the momentum.  If they can clean up the mistakes and, especially if they can settle down MarQueis Gray at Quarterback.  He is regarded as a big-time talent, but that doesn't matter if he can't throw the ball where he intends for it to go.

Kent State 41
 Towson 21

This is a largely un-remarkable game with a couple exceptions.

First, Kent State scored 41 points with 152 total yard of offense while giving up over 5 yards per play on defense.  I wish I had seen this game so that I could understand how this happened.

Second, this play is just funny.

August 31st

#13 Michigan State 17

#24 Boise State 13

Boise State's defense held up very well considering the basically lost their entire starting front 7 and best pass rush specialist to last year's draft.  Michigan State's defense and running attack, behind Le'Veon Bell, was physical and effective.  Neither quarterback was ready for primetime.  Oddly, it looked to me like both of them are better athletes than the veterans they are replacing, but neither of them quite has it down.

If you aren't sure about Michigan State's D, I have a tidbit for you.  Boise State did not score an offensive touchdown.  Let that marinade.

Tennessee 35
NC State 21

Mike Glennon was game, throwing for just shy of 300 yards for the Wolfpack, but could protect the ball as 4 of his completions were to the Volunteers who were just better across the board.  The Vols got a breakout game from JC Transfer Cordarrelle Patterson who scored twice in his first game, in the first quarter no less.  

I don't know if Tennessee if all the way back, but they beat a team that is expected to be a bowl team very soundly to start the season.

#21 Stanford 20
San Jose State 17

If there was anyone out there who wondered how valuable Andrew Luck and the rest of the outbound class were to Stanford, let them review this game film closely.  They are going to have to lean hard on Stepfan Taylor this year, because Josh Nunes looks to be a big step down from Andrew Luck, and the defense looked tremendously average against a San Jose State that does not come into this season with high expectations.

September 1st

Notre Dame 50
     Navy 10

This was the first time in years that I have seen the Irish look like the Irish.  Golson was not great, but he was athletic and made pretty good decisions in his first start.  They, frankly, just outclassed the midshipmen athletically and schematically.  Brian Kelly's offense was more run-heavy that I remember it at Cincinnati, but it was effective, and that's what matters.  His defense was not stellar, but it was opportunistic, causing 4 turnovers including a 77 yard fumble return for a TD by 300 lb Stephon Tuitt.

Northwestern 42
Syracuse 41

I know a lot of people are going to look at the rousing comeback that Syracuse had being Ryan Nassib's 4 second half TD passes, but IMHO the Orange gave this game to Northwestern.  Their comeback was made necessary because they allowed an 82 yard punt return and had a fumble returned for a TD as well.  They out gained Northwestern by 259 yards!!!  Nassib can play though, in a down Big East, if they can clean up the details they may steal a bowl bid.

#11 West Virginia 69
Marshall 34

Marshall is not a great team, but they are not as bad as the Mountaineers made them look either.  Dana Holgerson's offense is like a tidal wave.  Once it has momentum, it destroys everything in sight.  Geno Smith is in his second year running the system, and he looks to have it down.  Check this line out: 32 or 36 for 323 and 4 TD's.  That's just disgusting.   If the running attack, behind Shawne Alson, is for real we might have a true contender for the Big 12 title.

As for Marshall, keep on eye on their young QB Rakeem Cato.  This true sophomore can flat-out play. 

Illinois 24
Western Michigan 7

This Illini team is Nathan Scheelhaase's.  It is likely a second tier team in the Big 10, but has some legit athletes, but the offense just don't go without him on the field.  Their defense looks to be much better than last year.  Last year, they gave up 300+ yards passing to Alex Carder and Western Michigan....This year they game up 265 and had 3 picks.  They have to hope the Scheelhaase doens't miss any time with his ankle injury with Arizona State up next. 

Ohio 24
Penn State 14

The Nittany Lions came out firing, full of emotion, and roared to a double-digit lead at halftime.  The better team won the game.  For those of us who lived in the midwest, we knew what a raw deal Frank Solich had gotten at Nebraska.  He was fired for being the guy who followed Tom Osborne.  He led the Huskers to 6 consecutive bowl games and won 9 games in 5 of those 6 years.  His teams were in the top 10 3 times and he won over 75% of his games.  Oh, and he was teh Big 12 coach of the year twice and coach Eric Crouch to a Heisman trophy.  He was thought to be stuck in the past and inflexible, so he was let go.

He landed at Ohio, was 9-5 in his second year, and has been winning since.  They are coming off a 10 win season, and are expected to be one of the better mid-majors in the country.  Penn State can attest to that being the case.

The coach who was stuck in the past just brought an offense into Happy Valley that torched the Nittany Lion defense for 324 yards passing.  Tyler Tettleton just put himself on the map in a big way. 

#18 Ohio State 56
Miami (OH) 10

It took the Buckeyes a little bit to get going, but once Devin Smith pulled down his one-handed grab in the end zone, they took off.  It capped off a 4 play, 83 yard drive and they never looked back.  Braxton Miller showed why there is so much optimism in Columbus for and his fit in Urban Meyer's spread attack.  He ran for 161, including a 65 run for a TD to open the second half, and threw for 207.  I am sure Meyer would like to see him complete over 60%, but for his first game in a new offense, I don't think there will be many complaints. 

On the other side, the Redhawks should feel good about what they have at Quarterback as Zach Dysert threw for 303 against a very solid Buckeye defense.  However, his receivers have to hold onto the ball.  There were numerous drops, which could have made this a much closer game.

At this point, after the eggs laid by Michigan and Wisconsin, Ohio State has to the be the favorite in the Big 10.  That is a very bad situation for the Big 10 since Ohio State is not allowed to play in any post-season games this year.

#6 Georgia 45
Buffalo 23

Georgia is talented enough to be #6 in the country, but they need to iron out some wrinkles.  Of course, getting their suspended starters back may be enough to do that, but their schedule may not be forgiving enough to wait.  They are going to miss Bacarri Rambo next week they travel to Missouri.  That said, they look to have found their tailback in Todd Gurley and have great depth behind him.  Aaron Murray still has one of the strongest arms in College football, and Tavarres King looks to be their lead receiver.  They need to hope the Murray will calm down and be a bit more accurate like he was in the second half of this game.

I am not too worried about their offense though.  They have talent all over and they will run the ball and hit deep off play-action, at worst.  Their defense giving up 199 yards rushing to Buffalo is a concern.  They made Branden Oliver look like Ray Rice.  He is a nice back, but he was gashing them, especially in the first half. 

Nevada 31
California 24

Nevada brought their run-heavy pistol attack into Berkley and ruined the opening day for the Cal's new stadium.  The Bears are just a pretty average team.  They have some offensive firepower with Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen, but they have to find a way to stop the run or they are toast.  After all, if Nevada can run on  you, what is Oregon going to do to you?

Miami (FL) 41
Boston College 32

I don't know if BC is actually a decent team this year after last year's debacle, or if the Canes are in this much trouble.  I expect it is some combination of the two.  Miami let BC hang around a long time in this game.  The Hurricane secondary is young and it showed as BC threw for 441 yards.  This is not a terribly high-powered passing attack either. 

On the bright side for the Canes, Duke Johnson and the interior O-Line were dominant. 

Bowling Green 14
#27 Florida 27

Apparently Will Muschamp envisions his Florida Gators as a power rushing team.  They ran for 200 yards and only threw for 145.  Let's be honest, that is not going to get it done.

A team with the talent the Gators trot out there should blow Bowling Green out of the water.  Jeff Driskel better get it figured out quick, or they are in big trouble.
#12 Wisconsin 26
Northern Iowa 21

The Badgers thought they had it sewn up when they went up 26-7 after Danny O'Brien hit Jared Abbrederis for a 53 yard TD early in the 4th Quarter.  They were wrong.  Northern Iowa is a perennial FCS contender and they are are a proud and talented team.  They scored twice in the 4th to make this game closer than the Wisconsin fans, or anyone else, was expecting.

On the bright side, O'Brien had as good a first game as anyone could have expected (19 of 23 for 219 and 2 TD's) and Montee Ball looked like Montee Ball (120 yards and 1 TD).  Look for them to come out motivated

Oregon State is in trouble next week.

Iowa 18
Northern Illinois 17

The only bright sides for Hawkeye fans is that they found a tailback in Damon Bullock and they won.  At the end of the season, a win over Northern Illinois is going to be a solid win, but they had better find a way to protect James Vandenberg.  He was touted in the off-season as the leader of this team and a great pocket passer.  Norther Illinois beat the crap out of him.
Iowa State 38
Tulsa 23

Iowa State held the Golden Hurricane to less than 200 yards passing.  That is a tremendous accomplishment, and bodes well for the Cyclones defense going into the Big 12 season.  Steele Jantz was efficient and effective while Shontrelle Johnson chipped in 120 yards rushing at 6.7 a carry. 

They have a tough schedule, but they have to be favored against the Hawkeyes next week.  They need to win every game against a non-ranked opponent that they can this year if they want to even think about a bowl game with TCU, K-State, Oklahoma State, OU, West Virginia, and Texas on the schedule.  The problem is the that of the 4 remaining unranked teams, 3 are Iowa, Texas Tech, and Baylor.  Those are no slouches themselves. 

If you were looking for an underdog to root for, here you go.

#17 Nebraska
Southern Mississippi 20

There had been talk in the off-season that Taylor Martinez was working at becoming a better passer.  This was usually met with chuckles and "no way he could get worse" type of comments from non-husker fans.  I have to admit, I was among them.  Well, his throwing motion still looks a bit stiff, but there is no arguing with 26 of 34 for 354 and 5 TD's.  Oh, and the Huskers still ran for 278 yards.

This was the best offensive day, against a solid team, that I have seen Nebraska have in years.  It's going to be interesting to see what they can do in what could be a down year for the Big 10.  That November 3rd game against Sparty might be a big one, nationally.
Colorado State 22
Colorado 17

I keep waiting for the Buffaloes to be good again.  It looks like I am going to get to wait a bit longer.

This is not a surprise though, after all, when your QB transferred FROM KANSAS for more playing time, you know you are in trouble.

#7 Florida State 69
Murray State 3

FSU beat Murray State like they should beat Murray State, which after the last few years is news.  They were efficient, and dominant.  they had 600 yards of offense, with 285 rushing, and that is largely with backups playing in the second half.

The downside is that they lost Brandon Jenkins for the year with a foot injury.  This could be huge as he and Bjoern Werner were projected to lead one of the better defenses in the country.

Youngstown State 31
Pittsburgh 17

Wow, just wow.  I know the Panthers have dealt with some drama in the last year or so, but this is still Pittsburgh.  They were not just beat, they were dominated by an FCS team that never trailed in this game.

Duke 46
Florida International 26

David Cutcliffe has been telling us that this is his best Duke squad all summer, but that wasn't really saying much.  Well, a 30 point second quarter says something, even if it was against FIU. 

The Blue Devils were a more athletic, and better coached team than the team from Florida.  That is a sentence that I never thought I would type during football season, but there is no arguing with scores coming in 4 different ways.  They passed for 2, including one of 60 yards, ran for 2, returned a block kick 75 yards, and returned an interception 98 yards.  It's true enough the FIU is likely not a bowl team, but a good team should beat a bad team by a few scores.  Duke did that, but are they are good team?

 #3 Louisiana State 41
North Texas 14

This game was never close, and it shouldn't be.  LSU showed that with Kenny Hilliard at the forefront, their power rushing attack was going to be just fine.  They are going to need more from Zach Mettenberger than they got this first week, but he wasn't terrible.  He is going to have to play better with a solid Washington Husky team coming to town next week.
#14 Clemson 26
Auburn 19

Andre Ellington was an afterthought when people talked about last year's surprising Clemson Tiger team.  With Sammy Watkins out to serve a suspension, he remedied that for this year.  Ellington's 231 yards against an SEC team in their house was a statement for this Clemson team.  Toss in DeAndre Hopkins' school record 13 receptions and you see just how loaded this offense is. 

This was a big start for the Clemson squad after giving up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.  Say what you want about the Auburn Tigers, it's never easy to win in their place.  Oh, and Sammy is back, which makes this Clemson offense just plain scary.

#1 USC 49
Hawaii 10

Speaking of talented offenses, the Trojans are probably at the top of that heap, and showed the country why.  Their first play was a 75 yard catch and run which illustrated why Marquise Lee is never forgotten about for all the talk about the Matt Barkley to Robert Woods connection.  Lee is just as good and gives Barkley are pair of receivers who will both be paid to play football soon.....yeah, that Reggie Bush joke you are thinking is just too easy.

Houston 13
Texas State 30

This was Texas State's first game in the FBS.  Their FIRST GAME. 

Houston is in big trouble this year.
Rutgers 24
Tulane 12

The first game post-Schiano looked much like the games he coached.  The Rutgers defense was stifling, the running game was effective, and Gary Nova did enough. 

#2 Alabama 41
#8 Michigan 14

At this point in the season, Michigan is not a top 15 team, let alone a top 10.  Alabama is possibly the best team in the country.  The former surprised some people, the latter did not. 

Don't let the big numbers fool you though, the Alabama offense is not what I would call a dynamic one.  Or if it is, they haven't shown it to us yet.  AJ McCarron is still just staying out of the defense's way, but there is nothing wrong with that hen you are winning by 27. 

It will be interesting to see what happens when they face a team with a more accurate QB.  They are very young on defense this year, though immensely talented, and Denard Robinson is a QB who takes advantage of mistakes.  He is not a QB who reads and makes decisions.  Bama didn't make many mistakes, which forced Denard to try to do what he cannot.
#15 Texas 37
Wyoming 17

Two years ago, Texas let the world know they were in trouble when they struggled early before pulling away to beat Wyoming.  This year, there were no such problems.  Their O-Line opened gaping holes for the running backs, which led to 280 yards on the ground as Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown both went over 100 yards and averaged better than 7 ypc. 

David Ash was careful with the ball, which is all they needed, and the defense was very good.

#4 Oklahoma 24

The Sooners were not ready to play when this game started and were very lucky that UTEP didn't bury them.  But, the defense held, and Landry Jones and company did enough.

Still, this kind of performance to start the year has to drop them out of the top 5 and Jones out of the Heisman race.  Actually, the latter may be the best thing that could happen for OU.  Landry Jones is not mentally tough, so let's keep him focused on winning.

Arizona 24
Toledo 17

Well, RichRod won his opener in the desert, but needing OT to beat a MAC team is not encouraging, regardless of how good a team Toledo is expected to be. 

On the bright side, 624 total yards with a balanced offense is something we haven't seen out of the Wildcats...well in as long as I can remember.  They better find a way to finish drives though, or they are going to be in big trouble and avoid the kind of stupid penalties that cost them 2 TD's.

This game should have never been in OT...actually that's true in a several ways with the Wildcats missing 2 field goals as well.

Washington 21
San Diego State 12

The big question for the Huskies was if their new defense would be able to perform better.  Their offense has been solid for a few years, but their defense had not been at the same level.  So far so good as they forced 3 turnovers, had 4 sacks, and scored a defensive TD.  Mind you San Diego State is not the RGIII led Baylor Bears, but it is a start.  After all, a good defense should perform well against lesser opponents, which they did.

That said, both units are going to need to step up if they want to avoid being blown out by the Bayou Bengals next week.
#5 Oregon 57
Arkansas State 34

All you people out there who think Chip Kelly is just a cut-throat, cheating, typical football coach who spits in the face of convention and the unwritten rules of football are only half right.

His team won this game 57 to 34, but they had 50 at half time.  He took his foot off of the gas to avoid further embarrassing an opponent. 

Of course, what is the point to piling on more points, when you could get valuable experience for your second team and keep your starters healthy?  None, especially after his young QB Marcus Mariota showed that he has the potential to be the best QB to come through Oregon in Kelly's tenure.  The first time starter had 200 yards passing and 3 TD's by half time.

Oh, and just for fun, Kelly recruited a power back.

September 2nd

#25 Louisville 32
Kentucky 14

Charlie Strong's team is starting to inch towards what the Cardinal faithful had in mind when he was hired.  Teddy Bridgewater is the leader and can do a bit of everything, and this team is a tough-minded and physical team. 

They had 2 backs run for 100+ against an SEC defense and gained a total 466 yards on offense.  Bridgewater had 2 incompletions in the entire game and led 3 scoring drives of at least 85 yards.

For perspective of how utterly dominant Louisville was, both of those 100 yard backs outrushed the Kentucky team.

Baylor 59
Southern Methodist 24

Nick Florence is not RGIII, but he can play a little bit himself.  While he does not have Robert Griffin III's footspeed or agility, and who else does, Florence is an excellent pocket passer.  He has good size and plenty of arm, but most importantly he knows this offense and got some experience starting while Griffing was injured in 2009.

He came out of the gate gunning on his way to 341 yards and 4 TD's to 4 different receivers. 

Garrett Gilbert and Zach Line did what they could, but their defense could slow down the Bears enough to give them a chance.
September 3rd
#16 Virginia Tech 20   
    vs.Georgia Tech 17

All this morning I have heard people talk about how mentally tough the Hokies were to win this game late, but let's be honest here.  Georgia Tech snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Both of these teams defense played great in this game.  That is not great cudos however since this is a rivalry game that both teams had been spending the summer getting ready for. 

I did have a few thoughts though.

1. Virginia Tech needs to figure out who their lead receiver is going to be because if they don't have a go-to guy, they are in trouble.  Logan Thomas is an excellent QB and athlete, but teams will load up and kill him if there is not a threat on the outside.  Corey Fuller could be that guy.

2. I hope for the Yellow Jacket's sake that they keep the passing wrinkles in their attack that they showed late.  Take away the poorly thrown and horrible decision that was the interception in overtime, and Tevin Washington was 10 of 14 for 96 yards and a TD.  Most of that came in crunchtime, and Washington looked more comfortable than any Paul Johnson QB I can remember throwing the ball.  Their offense is so hard to prepare for on the ground, that being able to throw the ball could be devestating.

That said, if Va Tech is #16, the Jackets better be in the top 25.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fantasy Football Pre-Season Top 10: Quarterbacks

Well, we have covered the Tight Ends.

We have covered the Wide Receivers.

We have covered the Running Backs.

Now it's time for the most important position of them all.  Many would say the most important position in sports.  It's time to talk about the Quarterbacks.

We are in a period where the Quarterback position is changing as radically as it has ever done.  We had 4 of the 5 season in history with 5000 yards passing LAST SEASON.  We are about to have more starting rookie Quarterbacks in week one than we have ever seen.  The spread offense is coming in to the league, and it is arriving, not coincidentally, with the influx of the second generation of high school spread quarterbacks.  These guys have been running these passing concepts since middle school.  They have been reading defenses for years in a way that prior generations of quarterbacks just didn't get the opportunity to do.

They are more ready, and more effective.  Add in the changes in the rules which make it increasingly more difficult for defenses to slow down these dynamic passing attacks, and you have a perfect storm.  What does this mean for FFL?  It means that the Quarterback is the most important single position on your roster.  It will be the highest scoring, and therefore the one that you can least afford to take a hit.

The best of them are

1. Aaron Rodgers

Rodgers put himself clearing at the front of this list last season.  He is a prototype for the spread attack.  He has enough height, good athleticism, an accurate cannon of an arm, and he makes the right decisions.  When you combine that with a spread attack that is littered with dynamic athletes to the point where it
could easily be considered an embarrassment of riches, and you have #1.  If you can get him, get him.  Oh, and you have to love that the best Quarterback in the league is just a dork.  Really, the WWE belt thing has got to go.

2. Tom Brady
Brady is still Brady.  He is one of the mastermind Quarterbacks in the league.  He has shown that he can be effective regardless of who is catching the ball, and is always worth a top 10 pick.  The addition of the speedy Brandon Lloyd to the receiving corp gives him a full array of offensive weapons to throw to.  Don't look for the Pats to be one of the better rushing attacks in the league, but they will have 5 receiving weapons on the field for every play.  Brady will make the most of them.

I know there are a lot of people out there who think the Saints are going to fall on their face.  I admit, it will be interesting to see how their defense responds to all the drama and a new defensive system.  The offense is going to be just fine though.  They showed it in the pre-season, and most importantly, they got Drew Brees his contract and he is on board.  Expect him to light the scoreboards up one more time.  The only reason he is third is because the Saints have the backs to run the ball effectively and are going to make a point to do just that.

So, it looks like maybe Cam can play in the league after all.  He was one of the most dynamic QB's in the league a rookie, on a team that really only had one receiving threat.  The team isn't much better, but Cam will be.  I expect 4500 yards passing  and think a total 30 TD's is absolutely in reach.  But then again, people have underestimated Cam before. 

Is it just me, or does Stafford look like your drunk buddy who's always duck hunting?  I am not sure what it is, but the man just does not look like an athlete....until you see him throw a football.  His could be the strongest arm in the league.  I see no reason that his 5000 yard 2011 season should be a fluke.  With Megatron on once side and the improving Titus Young on the other, look for the pass heavy Lions offense to thrive. 

THE most explosive player in the NFL.  But he's just so damned small and takes so many hits.  They have him wearing military grade body armor now to try to keep him healthy.  If it works, look for bit things for Vick and the Eagles.  Or maybe the body armor is to protect him from PETA.

7. Peyton Manning
He is back, don't doubt it.  But, he is also 36 years old and is working with a new cast in a offense.  He could very easily overtake Vick, but I don't love the weapons he has in Denver as much as some.  Look for a very efficient offense, and a lot of wins, but I am not sure how many explosive plays we can expect.

8. Philip Rivers
Rivers does 2 things consistently.  He produces, and he loses his mind.  He is one of the more outwardly competitive and vocal players in the league and has garnered no small number of enemies for that.  Losing Vincent Jackson to the Bucs and now Vincent Brown to injury will not help, but the Chargers had solid depth at Wide Receiver and I expect another 4500 yards and 25+ TD's out or Rivers.  I also expect his Chargers to find out that their division is the toughest it has been in a few years.

9. Tony Romo
Tony Romo, the current 'can't win the big one' whipping boy of the NFL, is back for another round.  Romo had one of his best season last year, and I see no reason to expect anything different from him this year.  With DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones on his team, he isn't going to throw for 5000 yards, but 4200 and 25+ TD's is absolutely in reach.  I don't know if he will ever win a Super Bowl, but he is always a good FFL option.

10. Eli Manning
Soooo Eli, will it be Jekyll or Hyde.  Eli is as clutch as anybody in the league, but too often he forces himself into situations where he gets the chance to illustrate that ability.  There are times where he will look like the bet Quarterback in the league and then there are the games where he implodes.  I will tell you this though, if you are within a TD, there are few QB's you would rather have calling the plays at the end of the game.  He just needs to limit his mistakes the rest of the time.  Last year was his best statistical season ever, and it was a big yardage jump.  I don't know if he will be able to repeat it, or if the Giants want him to.  They want to run the ball, which limits his chances.  But if nothing else, he always has the 'Eli Manning Face'.

To be honest, you can't really go wrong with any of these guys, but I think I might be rooting for Stafford.  Seriously, that guy just seems like good fun.  How do get an invite to those boat parties?

Former MLS player sues league for $12 million over head injury

It looks like there may be another front on the battle around Concussions. 

Those of us who follow sports have heard the counter argument that Soccer was as bad as a American Football in terms of concussions due to headers and the un-mitigated collisions.  It looks like the battle the NFL is facing in the courts is just the tip of the iceberg.

Former D.C. United player Bryan Namoff, who had to retire from the Major League Soccer (MLS) club three years ago due to concussion problems, filed a $12 million lawsuit against the team and former head coach Tom Soehn on Aug. 29. Namoff claimed that Soehn and the club didn’t evaluate his injury properly and he was sent back into action too soon.

The claim said the soccer club was negligent in its treatment and care of the player after he suffered a head injury in a match in September of 2009 at RFK Stadium. Namoff played again three days after the injury and it turned out to be the last game of his nine-year professional soccer career. The 33-year-old Namoff claims that he suffers sensory and memory loss as well as brain damage because of the injury. He added that he has problems sleeping, is often fatigued, and suffers from permanent headaches.

The player’s wife Nadine was listed as a co-plaintiff. The couple is looking for a total of $10 million for the club’s medical negligence as well as another $2 million which is for the impact the injury has had on their marriage. It was claimed that Namoff hasn’t worked for the past two years and his medical expenses are still piling up. Doug Hicks, a spokesperson for D.C. United, said the club won’t comment on any pending legal issues.

Reports said that Namoff’s lawyers will name several other people in the lawsuit in the next 90 days, including the team’s former doctor and its current athletic trainer. Namoff’s case isn’t unique as over 3,000 ex-NFL players have filed a lawsuit suit against the NFL. The players claim that the league concealed information regarding the long-term effects of concussions from the players for decades.

Ex-Chicago Bears player Merril Hoge won a $1.55 million settlement from a jury in 2000 against a former team doctor. He claimed that he suffered a serious injury after he received improper care for a concussion. Also, a former Arena Football League player named Clay Rush, came to an agreement with a hospital chain in Denver after Rush was cleared to play even though he sustained two concussions in the space of 15 days.
There have been several MLS players who have retired due to concussions. Three of them were teammates of Namoff at D.C. United: Devon McTavish, Alecko Eskandarian, and Josh Gros. Namoff admitted that he suffered a concussion while he was in high school as well as one in college, but had never had a head injury in MLS until the incident in 2009. Namoff wasn’t a fringe player as he had the third-most seniority in franchise history wand is also third on the team’s all-time games played list.

The injury occurred in a match with Kansas City when Namoff attempted to head the ball. An opponent crashed into him and hit him in the head with his shoulder. Namoff stayed in the game, but complained of vision problems after it. The lawsuit claims that Namoff was told he had a concussion. He didn’t practice for the next three days, but played in the club’s next game. After the match Namoff said he had post-concussive symptoms such as dizziness, and double vision and the team’s medical staff said they’d keep an eye on him.
The symptoms became worse during the next few months, but Namoff hoped to play in the 2010 season.

However, the problems remained and in he took a front office job with the team after retiring as a player.
It’ll be interesting to see if any other former MLS players now follow Namoff’s lead and file lawsuits against the league.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drugs In Sports

It comes as no surprise to anyone, anymore when high-profile athletes get busted for drugs. Sports headlines are filled with players testing positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) or having run-ins with the law for illegal substances. This last week has been a terrible week for athletes and drugs.

In the sport of baseball, steroids have dominated the news for years. Names and legacies of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Conseco and so many more will forever be linked to scandals involving steroids. This week we saw two other big name baseball players test positive and get suspended for use of PEDs, namely synthetic testosterone. Melky Cabrera of the Giants and Bartolo Colon of the A’s both received 50-game suspensions for testing positive to the banned substance.
Whenever players get busted for such substances in the sport of baseball it spurs on a lot more talk and speculation about other players in the sport. ESPN analyst (or clown, depends on what you think of him), Skip Bayless alluded this week that he believed that the only way Derek Jeter is playing so well in the twilight of his career is because of the use of PEDs. We may never know but I do believe that it goes without being said, that there are rampant steroid, testosterone and PED problems in the game of baseball.

But is baseball the only sport with such problems?

What seems like such a simple questions tends to start varying arguments. There have been cases of juicing in professional football, cycling and even Olympic athletes. These cases tend to be smaller or somewhat brushed aside by the media but have happened.

One particular case that hasn’t been brushed aside by the media is the case of Lance Armstrong. Believed by many to be the best cyclist of all time, and even some would claim the best athlete of all time, Armstrong has been battling claims of steroid use for years and years. After winning 7 Tour de France titles, battling cancer and running one of the most successful athlete-run foundations, Armstrong has been held in high esteem his entire career. Yet claims that he was using PEDs have somewhat altered the trajectory of his legacy.

Armstrong had been fighting against the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) for quite some time when Thursday night he called it quits. He said he would not fight the claims any more. He never fully confessed guilt but that is the way it is being judged by the general population. The USADA will strip Armstrong of his titles and he will be banned from the sport of cycling for life.

Despite this trouble, no one can take from Armstrong what he has done to inspire people worldwide through his foundation or just his story alone.

Performance Enhancing Drugs are not the only type of drugs that athletes find themselves getting in trouble with. In fact, in a lot of sports steroids seem to be almost completely absent. In the sport of basketball, for instance, there has been very little talk of these performance enhancing drugs. Why?

Gerald Green of the Indiana Pacers was quoted saying, “Steroids make you too big, you need to be fluid to play basketball. You’d be too slow if you used steroids in the NBA. Honestly I don’t think steroid use happens in basketball at all.”

This isn’t to say that the game of basketball is necessarily a clean and wholesome sport, full of role models and upstanding citizens. Basketball is a sport riddled with marijuana use and players getting DUIs. The people here in Portland are all too familiar with such circumstances.

Throughout the “Jail Blazer” era, the local sports media was plastered almost daily with a new drug arrest. Literally, there were multiple players arrested for possession of marijuana. Some even tried to get through airport security with their “calming medicine” wrapped in tin foil.

I am not saying that anyone is perfect and I am really not trying to be the moral police for professional athletes, they will do what they want, because they have been blessed with the money and ability to have access to anything. But that is exactly my point. As members of the media, sports fans, or even really coaches of the teams, there is very little that can be done to alter these athletes’ decisions.

Yes, the media can go on and on about certain players and scandals. Yes, fans could boycott games or even certain products. Yes, coaches and organizations could fine, suspend or trade a player. But we have seen over and over again that these things don’t happen, and if they do, they don’t factor into the decision making of the athletes.

The only thing I really wish for in a time like this is for a little perspective. These athletes live in a whole different world than the rest of us. They get paid more, live in better neighborhoods and have access to things the masses don’t have. A lot of fans see them as gods, heroes, idols but really they are just entitled individuals that will make decisions for themselves, no matter what you think.

So next time a steroid scandal rips through the local or national news, just remember that these athletes are part of a sport that is for our entertainment. Don’t get wrapped up in the scandal and investigation. It really means nothing. Just flip to the next channel and watch the game that’s on, and don’t worry about who is and who isn’t juicing.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fantasy Football Pre-Season Top 20: Running Backs

Depending on your league's scoring settings, Running Back can be the most important position.  This value, combined with the increasing use of the platoon system makes it increasingly more difficult to identify a true lead back. 

It makes them even more valuable on draft day too, because there are so few of them.

1. Arian Foster
Foster was largely unknown to those of your who don't follow College Football, until he exploded onto the scene for the Texans in 2010.  He is suited perfectly to the zone scheme that he Texans use.  He is a big back, who thrives in the one cut system.  He has averaged 1420 yards and 13 touchdowns his first 2 years.  There were some concern s with Texas losing Eric Winston off the right side, but the Texans have expressed confidence in their replacements.  The zone system is also much more forgiving than the traditional blocking schemes.  Look for more of the same from Foster.

2. Ray Rice
Ray Rice has been the engine that makes the Ravens offense for years.  He has been making noise about being tired of the Ravens being an also-ran.  He got the contract he was looking for, and now he wants to make a run at a title.  They are going to lean on him heavily, and that is big news for fantasy football owners.


3. LeSean McCoy
The Eagles offense is full of difference makers, and I don't know that any of them are bigger than Shady McCoy.  With him at the tip of the spear, the Eagles showed a better rushing attack than Philly has shown in years.  He is also one of the better receiving backs.  Flat out, Shady is a stud.  The only reason he is third, is because of talent through the Philly roster.


4. Chris Johnson
Johnson shot himself in the foot last season.  He held out and missed an entire season while a new offense was being put in place.  This year is not the same case.  Now you have one of the most explosive running backs with a full year of getting into the flow of their new offense.  You also have a team that is going to start a new QB with their #1 Wide Receiver out to start the year.  That means that Chris Johnson is going to be leaned on in a big way.

5. Maurice Jones-Drew
MJD could very well be the best running back in the NFL.  If you are playing in a PPR league, he would likely be the best running back.  I say would, because his holdout of his cannot do him any good.  He has a young QB who is, reportedly, coming into his own.  And MJD is not there to work with him.  He is going to come in having missed the off-season workouts and the hitting that comes with it.  Also, and more importantly, he is missing the off-season work with their new Offensive Coordinator.  This is the Chris Johnson situation all over again.  I have no doubt that he will be strong by the end of the year, but the first month of the season could be lost.  He is not near as petulant, in general, as Chris Johnson, so I am expecting a faster recovery, but this is still a scary situation for FFL Owners...oh and Jags fans.

6. Adrian PetersonWe haven't seen him on the field yet.  They are protecting AD (All Day) and his rebuilt knee in Minnesota.  They say that he is recovering faster than was expected and that he should be on the field for day one.  However, there is risk when we haven't see him.


7. Matt Forte
Forte is close behind Shady, Ray Rice, and MJD in the argument for who is the best all-around back in the league.  He has been the focal point of the Bears' offense for a few years.  He finally has help this year with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffry coming in as outside receivers.  This is great news for the Bears offense as it will allow them to better allow them to make use of Jay Cutler's tremendous talents.  It is not great news for Matt Forte because, frankly, there are more talented people who are going to get touches on the offense.  It could help him stay healthy, but he will catch a lot less balls.  He is still a top back, but it will hurt his stats.

8. DeMarco Murray
Murray was known to College Football fans while he was at Oklahoma, but was never a dominant running back.  He was known more as the all-around back who was excellent in the passing game.  Well, it turns out that he was excellent in the passing game because he played in a passing offense.  He came out of nowhere as a rookie to be one of the most productive backs in the league once he took over the starting spot in Dallas.  He was lost at the end of the season with a broken ankle, but is reported to be fully healthy.  The Cowboys line is still not the best in the league, but I look for Murray to have a very good season.  I don't expect many 250 yard games though as he will not be sneaking up on anyone in year 2.

9. Ahmad Bradshaw
Bradshaw is officially the top back in New York.  I look for a season along the lines of the one he had in 2010.  1200 yards and a solid number of touchdowns.  He should be the lead back for the Giants, at least for the first part of the season.  It remains to be seen how much of a platoon will be the end result of David Wilson's development this season.


10. Steven Jackson
Jackson has played the good soldier as the Rams went downhill throughout his career.  He is still a big back, with big time speed, and he will put up 1100 yards and 6 touchdowns.  If they can get some balance to back teams out of the box a little more, he could do better.  There are concerns about the amount of wear he has left on his tired though.  That's the downside of 2100 career carries.
11. Darren McFaddenCan Run DMC give you a full season?  If he does, watch out for the Raiders.  McFadden is as dynamic a running back as there is in the NFL.  However, he has not been able to stay healthy.  He is a risk, so if you pick him, handcuff him.  But if he can 200 carries, you will get 1000 yards. 


12. Marshawn Lynch
This is more about having the Seahawks starting running back than it is having Marshawn Lynch.  Pete Carroll is going to run the ball.  The problem here is that it is looking like Lynch's starting spot might actually be in jeapardy.  If he loses it, draft whoever took it because they will get 20+ carries a game behind a solid O-Line.


13. Fred Jackson
Jackson was on pace for the best year of his career last year before being lost with a broken leg.  He is back at full speed, and is a solid all-around pro.  The problem for FFL owners regarding Jackson is that the Bills have CJ Spiller too.  Spiller is one of the most dynamic athletes at running back in the league.  The Bills need Jackson to be himself, while Spiller is the home run hitter.  It's a good problem for the Bills as Jackson is an effective back in his own right, as he proved by averaging better than 5 yards per carry last year.  But a good problem for the Bills, is still a problem for FFL owners.  In a deep league, Jackson is worth a #2 Running Back spot, but if you can  In a couple weeks, we should have a better idea of what the Bills are going to do.


14. Ryan Mathews
Mathews was looking like a #1 running back, but you have to be wary of injuries in training camp.  Mathews was looking like he was coming into his own with a near 1100 yard season last year.  His biggest issue is staying on the field, somewhat reminiscent of Darren McFadden.  The reason that Matthews is so much lower is because he may miss games.  Not only that, but his backup is Ronnie Brown, who was a star in this league not that long ago.  He could easily find himself in a platoon system if he is not at full speed for week one.
15. Jamaal CharlesJamaal Charles has looked very good in the preseason.  He has run hard, and he has run with some effectiveness.  However, there are a few items which are not in his favor in terms of FFL.  First, the Chiefs has a new offense.  This could be good or bad.  It is expected to a run-heavy offense, but it is still a new offense which they don't look to be running very well yet.  How long will it take for the team to get it figured out?  Second, the Chiefs are planning on a platoon system, having brought in Peyton Hillis to be the Battering Ram to Charles' lightning bolt.  Charles can thrive in a platoon system, but how many touches will he get, and how will his rebuilt knee hold up?  The risk may be worth it, but not as a #1.

16. Reggie BushReggie Bush had the best year of his career last year.  It was no coincidence that it was also his first year where he was treated as a traditional, primary back.  He was the most effective member of the Dolphins' offense, and he was durable.  And he did this on a team that had a very limited passing game.  However, the passing game got worse in the off-season with Brandon Marshall being traded away.  The Fins are going to be run heavy, with a rookie starting QB, and everyone knows it.  I am concerned about how Bush is going to hold up.  If he is going to last, it's going to be because either Daniel Thomas or Lamar Miller is taking some carries.  The interesting concept, that may help, is that he is probably the best Receiver on the Dolphins team.  If they leverage that, he may not be off the field when those other backs come in.  Move him up a bit if you are in a PPR league.

17. Michael TurnerTurner is a true lead back in a balanced offense.  He has averaged 1320 yards and 12+ touchdowns a year since he went to Atlanta.  True workhorse backs are hard to find, and he is one.  So, why is he so low?  First, he is 30 years old.  You have to be concerned about the wear on his body over the past few years.  Second, the Falcons have one of the better pair of outside receivers in the league, and they are going to use them.  This is going to cut into his opportunities.  In turn, it may keep him off the injured list by saving him a few carries a game, but you are trading carries for touchdowns.  That doesn't help FFL owners.  Third, Quizz Rodgers is going to get some carries, especially on passing downs.  He is a small back, who is surprisingly effective between the tackles.  I expect to see a platoon system in Atlanta, though it has not been announced.

18. Willis McGahee
McGahee snuck onto this list, and if weren't as old as he is, he would be higher.  Flat out, Peyton Manning and John Fox want to run the ball and the Broncos have the personnel to do that.  Peyton is best when running play action, and McGahee can still do the job, when he is healthy.  But, he is 31, and fought through serious knee injuries early in his career.  If he can give them 14 starts, he is a borderline #1 back, depending on the depth of your year.  I think that is a big if, but he is definitely worth a flier.
19. Cedric BensonBenson played his free agency very smartly, and he landed in a great spot.  An effective power back was the one thing that the Packers didn't have, and Benson has a chance to win a title.  Just think about this for a second with me.  The Packers are the most explosive passing attack in the NFL, arguably.  They have multiple Wide Receivers who require safety help, and one of the best receiving tight ends in the league as well.  So, you play a nickel, or a dime, and put your speed on the field.  Cedric Benson is a power back who is worthy of at least 7, if not 8, in the box.  Oh, and he is decent in the passing game.  If he can hold onto the ball, this could be the missing piece for Green Bay.  That all tells you why this is a good move for Benson and the Packers.  Why, you are probably asking, is Benson so low on this list then?  Well, the Packers throw the ball....a lot.  Benson is not going to see 300 carries for the Packers.  225 is probably a good target for him, which might get 1000 yards.  But he will get red zone carries. 

20. DeAngelo WilliamsIf only the Panthers had traded Jonathan Stewart.  Williams has averaged over 5 yards a carry in all but 2 for his seasons.  He is a perfect back to put in an offense with a dynamic talent like Cam Newton.  Williams is great in space, and catches the ball well.  He is not a big back, and so is well suited to a spread-style attack.  He loses carries to Stewart though, and in nearly a half portion of the overall carries.  Stewart is a quality talent himself, and I understand why the Panthers are in favor or rotating them, but it prevents either of them from being a starting FFL option.  Some are taking the approach that you may be better off to handcuff him by hiding Stewart on your bench.  If either of these guys can be a true lead back, you will get a season like Williams had in 2008 or 2009, where he averaged 1316 yards and 12.5 touchdowns.  Except, Cam is going to get some carries at the goal line, or Mike Tolbert might steal a few.  Williams is their 'lead' back, if there is one, and I expect 1000 total yards and a half dozen TD's, but it's going to be interesting to watch the Panthers offense settle out.